THE ALTOONA MOUNTAIN CITYS
Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.
Even in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
The Altoona Mountain Citys had established themselves as a prominent amateur baseball team in the early 1880s, but they wanted more. Two local men, attorney Arthur Dively and clothier William Ritz, gave them their chance in 1883 when they agreed to become the team's financial backers. In return for their support, Dively and Ritz were allowed to sell stock in the team and they found sixteen investors willing to help the popular team reach a higher level.
As a semi-pro team in 1883, the Mountain Citys did well on the field and at the gate, averaging more than 1,600 paying fans at their home field, Columbia Park-a remarkable figure in a town of only 25,000. Thanks to Dively and Ritz, in 1884 the Mountain Citys joined the professional Inter-State Association of teams from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. However, before the season even got under way, half of the ISA teams jumped to the Eastern League. Altoona tried to follow suit, but was rejected.
Then Henry Lucas came calling. Lucas was the force and cash behind the formation of a new major league, the Union Association. Lucas had tried in vain to land a Pittsburgh franchise for his new league, since the city was conveniently located halfway between the eastern teams and Chicago and St. Louis in the west. When Lucas heard about the orphaned Altoona team on his scouting mission to Pittsburgh, he met with Dively and Ritz and quickly offered them a spot in his new UA. Never one to let either facts or reality get in the way of a sales pitch, the enthusiastic Lucas told the two Altoona directors that joining his new league would no doubt encourage the railroads to invest in both Altoona, nestled one hundred miles east of Pittsburgh, and its major league team. Lucas told them the operating cost of the team would be five thousand dollars, of which he was willing to contribute half. Dively and Ritz dove in.
When the local citizenry heard about Altoona's jump to major league status, they could hardly contain their pride, especially two stockholders, tailor James Goetz and hatter Malcolm Westfall. Goetz contracted with the team to make home and road uniforms (at $18 each) as well as brown traveling suits ($35) for every member of the team. Westfall provided uniform hats ($10) and brown derbies to match the suits ($8). Together, the two stockholders siphoned off over $1,000, more than 20 percent of the team's operating capital. But boy, the team looked good when it left in April for a seven-game road trip to Cincinnati and St. Louis. Hundreds of well-wishers joined a local band at the Altoona train station to send off the team, which was led by Germany Smith, the team's rookie shortstop, who was embarking on a fifteen-year major league career.
After losing their first three games in Cincinnati to the Outlaw Reds, the Mountain Citys were embarrassed in four straight by the St. Louis Maroons, outscored by a combined 35-7. When the team stepped off the train in Altoona from their winless road trip, there was no band to welcome them and considerably fewer fans. But they sure looked good.
First up for the Mountain Citys at Columbia Park were the visiting Maroons, who were stopping off in Altoona for a four-game series before heading east on a long road trip. The Maroons resumed their dominance by routing Altoona, 15-2, in the first-ever home game for the Mountain Citys before thrashing them in the next three games as well. When the infield dust had settled, Altoona was 0-11.
Lucas informed them not only that neither the
railroad's money nor his own would be forthcoming,
but also that he had already arranged for a new team in Kansas City to take Altoona's place.
The Boston Reds, en route to Chicago, were next. The Mountain Citys managed to win the first game, 9-4, and won five of the next twelve home games against Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore, but many of their losses were embarrassingly one-sided, thanks to porous defense and pathetic pitching. Attendance dwindled to less than 1,000 a game, and sometimes as low as 200-not even enough to pay the players' salaries. By the end of May of the team's inaugural professional season, a number of the players had jumped to other teams.
In an emergency meeting with Lucas on May 29, Dively and Ritz asked about the promised railroad money as well as any further possible subsidy from Lucas himself. Lucas informed them not only that neither the railroad's money nor his own would be forthcoming, but also that he had already arranged for a new team in Kansas City to take Altoona's place! The stunned Dively and Ritz had no choice but also to cease operations after just six weeks as a major league team. With a 6-19 record, the Mountain Citys were the Union Association's first casualty.
But they sure looked good.TOO SMALL FOR BALL
THE ANDERSON PACKERS
National Basketball Association
When the National Basketball Association was created in 1949 by merging seventeen teams from two separate professional basketball leagues-the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League-there were a handful of "Davids," like the Packers from Anderson, Indiana, and a bunch of "Goliaths," like the Celtics, Knicks, and Lakers. But this story didn't play out like the Old Testament one.
The Packers, named after millionaire Ike Duffey's meat-packing business in Anderson, Indiana, first took to the court in 1945 as a semi-pro team called the Chiefs in rural Indiana, a hotbed of basketball activity. A year later, they changed their name to the Duffey Packers and joined the NBL, where they played quite well for three years, even winning the NBL Playoffs in 1949 after a 49-15 regular season. Later that summer they joined the new NBA, shortening their name to just the Packers.
While the Knicks played their games in 17,000-seat Madison Square Garden, and the Celtics often hosted 15,000 at Boston Garden, the Packers performed before crowds averaging 2,500 at the Wigwam, the town's high school gymnasium. And while the Knicks, Celtics, Lakers, and other Goliaths of the league signed marquee college players for large salaries, the Packers had to content themselves with players in the fifty to seventy-five dollars per game range, and who were willing to be paid on a game-by-game basis. Most of the Packers were young, single men who lived at the local YMCA and were employed as car salesmen, janitors, and the like when they weren't playing basketball. But while there weren't any college All-Americans playing for the Packers, they did have players like Charlie Black, a local hero known for his fifty-one flying missions over Europe during World War II, and Howie Schultz, a 6'6" multisport athlete who achieved an unusual sort of fame as the white guy the Brooklyn Dodgers let go in 1947 to make room on their roster for Jackie Robinson.
Most of the Packers were young, single men who lived at the local YMCA and were employed as car salesmen, janitors, and the like.
On the court, Black, Schultz, and the other Packers held their own against the NBA's best. The Packers, to the delight of their rabid fans, called "Packer Backers," started off the season with six wins in seven games, including an 83-80 upset shocker over George Mikan's Minneapolis Lakers, a team already in the midst of its dynasty years. Halfway through the season, the Packers' record stood at 19-13, with five of their losses by four points or less. When the regular season ended, the Packers were 37-27, just two games behind the Indianapolis Olympians in the Western Division, easily qualifying for the playoffs.
Except for the finals, a best-of-seven format, all the other rounds of the playoffs were best of three. In the first round, Anderson knocked off the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, 2-1. They did the same to Indianapolis in the second round. In the semifinals, the Packers were faced with the unenviable task of playing the Lakers, who swept them in two straight on their way to the NBA title.
Though the Packers held their own on the court, they couldn't compete with the Goliaths' large arenas. Nor could they profit by the NBA's incredibly uneven schedule in 1949-50. Some teams played sixty- eight games while others played as few as sixty-two. Also, the Packers played the Lakers (the NBA's biggest drawing card) only twice, while facing other Davids such as Tri-Cities, the Denver Nuggets, and the Waterloo Hawks seven to nine times each. What's more, the Lakers typically traveled with the Harlem Globetrotters, usually booking a doubleheader on the road with a Globetrotter game, a guaranteed sellout. What was the point of selling out the Wigwam when you could sell out Madison Square Garden?
Midway through the season, Duffey could see the writing on the backboard: the NBA's formula of including big-city teams with small- town ones, mixing large arenas with high school gyms and armories, spelled doom for the Davids. Deep in red ink, Duffey announced to his Packer Backers during halftime of a league game that he wasn't sure he could keep the team afloat for the rest of the year, but he would try if every one of the 1,500 fans in attendance that night brought at least one friend with them to the next home game. He also told them he had an offer of $25,000 from a group of Toledo investors who wanted to move the team to Ohio, but he would hold off as long as he could.
Alarmed at the prospect of losing their team, fifty of Anderson's leading citizens convened at the YMCA and formed the Packers Civic Committee. They were successful in their effort to sell $10,000 in tickets to the season's remaining games. The civic-minded Duffey then sold the team to the community for the $10,000 they had raised, but it was no use. After the season, the Packers and five other teams were forced out of the NBA when the league required all teams to post a $50,000 "performance bond" as security.
Several months later, under the leadership of Doxie Moore, the old NBL commissioner, the Packers and seven other former NBA, NBL, and BAA teams formed a new eight-team league, the National Professional Basketball League. The Packers had another fine season on the court, but when the league folded at the end of the season, so did the Packers.
As for Duffey, whose other passion was railroading, he sold his meat? packing business for three million dollars and took a job as president of the Indiana Central Railroad for a salary of one dollar a year.CLAWLESS AND CLUELESS
THE BALTIMORE CLAWS
American Basketball Association
In one of the strangest cases in all of sports history, the Baltimore Claws of the American Basketball Association can actually lay claim to being defunct before they were defunct.
The Claws came to Baltimore in 1975 after playing the previous five seasons in Memphis under various names, most recently the Sounds. While in Memphis, the team had struggled financially because of low attendance, forcing the league to take over operation of the team in midseason and subsidize it the rest of the way. After the 1974-75 season had ended, ABA commissioner Tedd Munchak gave the Sounds a three-pronged ultimatum: 1) line up some new investors; 2) sell at least 4,000 season tickets; 3) get a better deal on their lease with Mid-South Coliseum. The Sounds were unable to meet any of the conditions by the deadline, so the league put the team up for sale.
A group of Maryland businessmen agreed to purchase the team for $1 million and moved it to Baltimore. But when the group didn't meet all their financial obligations, new ABA commissioner Dave DeBusschere awarded the franchise to another Memphis group. The next day, however, the new Memphis group withdrew their offer and DeBusschere was forced to give the Baltimore group a second chance.
The Baltimore owners came up with enough of an initial payment that the league cut them a little slack in meeting their entire obligation. In the meantime, the team was named the Hustlers, but due to league and public criticism (Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine had been founded in 1974), they changed the team's name to the Claws.
A month before the season was set to begin, the Claws stirred up the basketball world when they announced the acquisition of superstar Dan Issel of the defending ABA champion Kentucky Colonels. Issel had come to Baltimore in exchange for center Tom Owens and $500,000 in cash, but when Baltimore couldn't raise the money, Issel was instead sold to the Denver Nuggets. The Claws then traded high-scoring guard Rick Mount to the Utah Stars in another move that perplexed their new fan base, a fan base that hadn't seen them play a game yet.
When the preseason finally rolled around, the Claws still had several name players on the roster, including Mel Daniels, Stew Johnson, and Skip Wise. Wise had jumped to the ABA from Clemson, where the year before he had become the first freshman ever to make the ACC's all-conference first team.
The Claws were a mess off the court too.
On October 9, 1975, the Claws played their first exhibition game, losing 131-121 to the Virginia Squires in front of a widely spaced 1,150 fans in Salisbury, Maryland. They took the court wearing red Memphis Sounds uniforms with a green "Claws" patch sewn over "Sounds." Their warm-up suits hadn't yet been altered. Two nights later in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, the Claws were 21-point losers to the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. Then they lost to the Squires again, 100-88, with only five hundred in attendance at St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
But the Claws were a mess off the court too. With only a week to go before the regular season began, Commissioner DeBusschere heard from several Claws players that not only were they not being paid their salaries, they weren't even receiving their per diem meal money. DeBusschere next received word that the Claws' bank had revoked its line of credit. He gave the team four days to post a $500,000 "performance bond" to cover team expenses or face expulsion. The Claws raised $250,000 and had another $320,000 in escrow with the city of Baltimore, but they couldn't get their hands on it. It seems the city was having difficulty with the Claws' president, David Cohan, who wasn't paying the team's bills at the Baltimore Civic Center. The city not only refused to release the escrow funds as long as Cohan was affiliated with the team-it ordered the Claws' offices locked up.
A few days later, the ABA disbanded the Claws, just days before the regular season was to open. The Claws threatened legal action, hoping to delay the start of the ABA season since they hadn't been given ten days' notice, a period called for in league bylaws. The league and the city responded with threatened lawsuits of their own.
Realizing they were fighting a losing battle, the Claws finally accepted their dissolution, allowing the players to take whatever equipment and office furniture they could carry in exchange for unpaid salaries.
While even the shortest-lived professional franchises lasted at least one regular-season game, Baltimore's ABA entry clawed its way to extinction without being able to claim even that.COLT COMFORT
THE BALTIMORE COLTS
National Football League
No franchise shift in all of sports history led to as much controversy, ill will, and legal and legislative action as the Baltimore Colts' surreptitious move to Indianapolis in 1984. The popular belief is that it was just another case of a greedy owner with an eye for greener grass and greener bucks, and the way he snuck out of town proved how slimy he was. But the real story is somewhat different.
Excerpted from Kiss 'Em Goodbye by Dennis Purdy. Copyright © 2010 by Dennis Purdy. Excerpted by permission of ESPN, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.