PHIL RIZZUTO | 89
This is an article from the Dec. 31, 2007 issue
WHEN HE tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937, Rizzuto—who stood 5'6" and weighed 150 pounds—was told in no uncertain terms by Casey Stengel that he was too small to play in the majors. "Go get a shoeshine box," Stengel said. Undeterred, Rizzuto latched on with the Yankees, and over 13 seasons he served as a catalyst at the top of their slugger-filled lineup. The Scooter was the AL's MVP in 1950 (playing for Stengel), when he hit .324 with 200 hits, 150 of them singles. What he lacked in pop, he made up for with his eye (92 walks that season) and his glove. (He handled 238 straight chances without an error, then a record for shortstops.) "The little guy in front of me, he made my job easy," said centerfielder Joe DiMaggio. "I didn't have to pick up so many ground balls." After his Hall of Fame career, Rizzuto became a Yankees broadcaster, earning attention for his calls of historic moments (such as Roger Maris's 61st homer) as well as his liberal use of the expressions holy cow! and huckleberry.
HOWARD PORTER | 58
A 6'8" FORWARD known for his prodigious jumping, Porter was a three-time All-America at Villanova and the Most Outstanding Player at the 1971 Final Four. The NCAA stripped Porter of the award, however, after finding that he had taken money from an agent. (Villanova also had to forfeit its tournament wins.) He had a disappointing pro career and turned to drugs before undergoing treatment and becoming a parole officer.
DARRENT WILLIAMS | 24
ONE OF THE NFL's best young defensive backs, he was killed in the early hours of New Year's Day, shortly after his Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention. In just two seasons Williams became a hugely popular player in Denver, firing up teammates with his catchphrase "All ready!" He was gunned down in a drive-by shooting after members of his party got into an altercation at a club. His murder remains unsolved.
ERNIE LADD | 68
THE 6'9" Defensive tackle was so imposing that one lineman said he "couldn't see the goalposts" when he went up against him. A four-time AFL All-Star, the Big Cat won titles with the Chargers and the Chiefs before quitting in 1968 to pursue a passion that started as a publicity stunt: pro wrestling. He became one of the ring's most notorious villains, saying he preferred wrestling to football because he could indulge his "gift for gab."
JOE NUXHALL | 79
THE YOUNGEST player in baseball's modern history, Nuxhall debuted at age 15, four days after D Day. He tripped on a dugout step on his way to the bullpen, then gave up five runs in less than an inning. Later he said, "People at Crosley Field that afternoon probably said, 'That's the last we'll see of that kid.'" Hardly. After finishing high school Nuxie won 130 games in 15 seasons with the Reds, then spent 40 years in their broadcast booth.
CLEM LABINE | 80
ARMED WITH a brutal overhand curve, a tough sinker and a love of pressure, Labine was the perfect closer. He twice led the NL in saves for the Brooklyn Dodgers and was a two-time All-Star. He could also start: In 1951 he beat the Giants 10--0 in the second game of the best-of-three NL playoff, and in the '56 World Series he followed Don Larsen's perfect game with a 10-inning, seven-hit, 1--0 shutout of the Yankees.
MAX MCGEE | 75
WHEN IT'S third-and-10," the Packers' receiver said, "you can take the milk drinkers and I'll take the whiskey drinkers." McGee, not surprisingly, belonged to the latter group. In the first Super Bowl, after a night spent on the Sunset Strip with three flight attendants, McGee had to assume a prominent role because of an injury. He caught two TD passes in the 35--10 win over the Chiefs, scoring the first points in Super Bowl history.
SHAG CRAWFORD | 90
IN 1956, SI declared Crawford, then a rookie, "our favorite umpire." He was a hustler—he'd get down on his belly to make a call—and he brooked little nonsense. He was forced out in 1975 after criticizing baseball for using a rotation system instead of a merit system (which is in place now) for postseason assignments. Arbitrating ran in the family; in '77, the NL hired his son Jerry as an umpire and the NBA hired son Joey as a referee.
GUMP WORSLEY | 77
BORN LORNE WORSLEY in Montreal, the Gumper got his nickname from a cartoon character, and it fit his pudgy physique perfectly. His doughy mug was one of the most recognizable in sports—largely because he played 21 seasons without a mask. He claimed that any goalie who wore one was scared, to which fellow Hall of Fame netminder Jacques Plante replied, "If you jumped out of a plane without a parachute, would that make you brave?" Worsley was known primarily as a colorful character during the first half of his NHL career, which he spent with the hapless Rangers. (Asked as a member of the Blueshirts which team gave him the most trouble, Worsley responded, "The New York Rangers.") But in 1963 New York traded him to the Canadiens; over the next seven years in Montreal he won four Stanley Cups and two Vezina Trophies. He played his final five seasons with the North Stars and in '73--74 finally donned a mask at the behest of a former coach. After six games with it on Worsley decided to retire, at age 44.
SKIP PROSSER | 56
AMASTER MOTIVATOR, Prosser quoted Friedrich Nietzsche or Thomas Paine to his players because he wanted them to be good players and good students. It worked. Prosser made the postseason in 18 of his 21 seasons, and he's the only coach to take three teams to the NCAA tournament in his first season at the school. As for the classroom—every senior he coached during six years at Wake Forest, his final stop, earned a degree.
THE BLUFFTON FIVE
IN THE early hours of March 2 in Atlanta, the chartered bus carrying the Bluffton baseball team to Florida for a series of spring-break games plunged off an exit ramp, killing the driver, his wife and five Beavers players: Zach Arend, 18; David Betts, 20; Scott Harmon, 19; Cody Holp, 19; and Tyler Williams, 19 (SI, May 7, 2007). The administration of the Division III school of 1,100, which is located in a sleepy Ohio town, left it to the players—many of whom were injured in the crash—to decide if they wanted to continue their season; unanimously, they voted yes. With a $50,000 donation from major league baseball, the support of several teams (the Indians, Marlins and Reds sent balls, bats and gloves) and countless notes wishing them well, the Beavers returned to the field on March 30, wearing black jerseys to honor their late teammates.
BENNY PARSONS | 65
A HALL OF FAME stock car driver, he honed his skills in another profession requiring quick reflexes and a heavy foot—cab driving in Detroit. The affable Parsons won the 1973 NASCAR title with a lot of help from his friends; he wrecked early in the final race, but crewmen from several teams descended upon his pit stall and got his Ford back on the track. After retiring, the '75 Daytona 500 champ was a popular TV commentator for 17 years.
JIM RINGO | 75
IN 1953, Ringo showed up at his first Packers camp weighing a mere 211 pounds, took one look at the other offensive linemen and went home. His family persuaded him to return, and he wound up making 10 Pro Bowls and winning two NFL titles. With his speed, Ringo was the perfect center for Vince Lombardi's beloved power sweep. And Ringo was plenty durable: His streak of 182 consecutive games stood as a record for 12 years.
WILLYE WHITE | 67
BORN IN Greenwood, Miss., where she picked cotton in the early 1950s, White got a chance to see the world when she made her first Olympic team, in '56. "[Before then], I thought the whole world consisted of cross burnings and lynchings," she said in 1999. As a 16-year-old high school sophomore, White won a silver medal in Melbourne in the long jump. She won her second silver eight years later, as a member of the 4 √ó 100-meter relay team in Tokyo. In all White competed in five Games, the first U.S. woman ever to do so. In '91 she started the Willye White Foundation, which helped underprivileged girls in her hometown of Chicago, all the while coaching and encouraging them to follow in her footsteps. "The Olympic movement taught me not to judge a person by the color of their skin but by the contents of their hearts," she said. "I am who I am because of my participation in sports."
EDDIE FEIGNER | 81
SO WHAT IF it was softball? The King toured the country for more than 50 years, taking on (and usually humiliating) all nine-man comers with his three-man Court, comprising a catcher, a shortstop and a first baseman. Whether pitching behind his back, between his legs or while wearing a blindfold, Feigner was nearly impossible to hit. In his first game he struck out 19 of 21 batters, and at a 1967 exhibition he fanned six perennial All-Stars—Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente—in a row. His windmilling right arm seldom failed to work wonders; from about 45 feet, a blindfolded Feigner knocked a cigar out of Johnny Carson's mouth on The Tonight Show. Feigner claimed that he hurled 238 perfect games and 930 no-hitters in his 10,000-plus starts, thanks mostly to his heater, which was once clocked at 104 mph. But he was sly too. "I once struck out a man on one pitch," Feigner boasted. "He swung and missed three times at the same changeup."