Sports Now

Sports news from Los Angeles and beyond

Category: Sports Legends Revealed

Did Johnny Weissmuller use a fake identity so he could represent the U.S. in the 1924 Olympics?


OLYMPIC URBAN LEGEND: Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller took on a fake identity so he could represent the United States in the 1924 Olympics.

Followers of U.S. politics surely know of the controversy that surrounded President Barack Obama and his birth certificate throughout his pursuit (and attainment) of the highest elected office in the United States. "Prove you were born in America" was a common refrain from certain circles (heck, even after the President did reveal his birth certificate that has not stopped some folks who still believe he was born outside the United States). Eighty-seven years ago, there was another political "birther" topic, only it was about Chicago swimmer Johnny Weissmuller.

In the days leading up to the qualification tournament for the 1924 United States Olympic swimming team, Illinois Representative Henry Riggs Rathbone expressed his doubts that Weissmuller, the swimming sensation (who later went on to become a film superstar as the portrayer of Tarzan on the screen), was born in the United States. Why won't he produce a birth certificate? Was he eligible for the U.S. Olympic team? Obviously, the U.S. Olympic swimming team allowed Weissmuller to compete, since he won five Gold Medals for the U.S. in 1924 and 1928.

But was Weissmuller a U.S. citizen when he won Olympic gold?

Let's find out!

Continue reading »

Did a panty raid lead to Auburn's first national championship in football?

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: A panty raid helped lead to Auburn's first national championship.

Fabforum Earlier this year, Auburn University won the national college football championship by defeating Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game. It was the first national championship for the Auburn Tigers since 1957, when they were voted the National Champions in the Associated Press poll (Ohio State were National Champions according to the Coach's poll). That 1957 Championship began with a number of controversies and ended with still more.

One of those controversies, though, might have been the key to Auburn's season. In fact, you could argue that they might owe a great deal of their success that year to, of all things, a panty raid.

Read on to learn about Auburn's bizarre 1957 season!

Continue reading »

Did Babe Ruth play a role in the origin of the MLB trade deadline?


BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Babe Ruth played a part in the institution of Major League Baseball's first trade deadline.

As we get closer to the July 31 Major League Baseball trade deadline, thoughts generally turn to where players like Carlos Beltran and Ubaldo Jimenez will end up later this week (if they get traded at all). However, did you ever think about why there is a deadline? It has been July 31 since the players and owners collectively bargained for it to be changed in 1986. For the previous sixty-three years it was June 15th. How did it get to be June 15th? And how did it come into existence in the first place? The answer lies with a few deals involving Boston and New York, both the Red Sox and Yankees of the American League and the Braves and the Giants of the National League. It also does somehow involve Babe Ruth.

Read on to find out how!

Continue reading »

Did India withdraw from the 1950 World Cup because they were not allowed to play barefoot?


SOCCER/FOOTBALL LEGEND: India withdrew from the 1950 World Cup because they were not allowed to play barefoot.

India surprised the world with their performance in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England. The Indian national football team, with every player playing without footwear (some players played in socks while most played barefoot), lost to France in the first round by the razor thin margin of 2-1 (and actually were tied with France at 1 all 70 minutes into the match) . This match already drew a great deal of attention as the 1948 Summer Olympics was the first time that India was performing in an international tournament as an independent nation (after gaining their independence from Great Britain). However, the fact that the Indian team did all of this in bare feet drew the most attention.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) made it clear to India that they would not be allowed to play in the 1950 FIFA World Cup without footwear. Then a curious thing happened. You see, when determining the make-up of the 1950 World Cup, FIFA determined that obviously the two defending finalists, Brazil and Italy, would be guaranteed spots. That left fourteen spots that needed to be filled. FIFA decided that seven of those spots would come from Europe, six would come from the Americas and one would come from Asia. The problem was that of the four Asian teams that were invited to the World Cup, three of them (the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma) withdrew from the tournament before the qualification round. Therefore, India earned an automatic spot within the World Cup. It would be India's first time appearing in the World Cup (and, indeed, as of 2011 they still have never appeared in the World Cup), but India, too, withdrew from the tournament.

For years, the story has been that India withdrew from the World Cup because FIFA would not allow them to compete barefoot.

Is that true? Let us find out!

Continue reading »

Did Robert Redford play high school baseball with Don Drysdale?

: Robert Redford played high school baseball with Don Drysdale on the Van Nuys high school team.

In his entertaining memoir, Bob Broeg: Memories of a Hall of Fame Sportswriter, the late, great St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg related the following story:

I broke away one weekend to watch Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley in "Barefoot in the Park." Two nights later, I attended an unusual Sunday night preview of an ill-fated Burt Lahr venture, "Foxy." At intermission, I rose, turned, stretched, and looked into the blue eyes of - Robert Redford. Impulsively, I introduced myself, mentioned his show, and said, "You're goin to be a great success..." Redford, pleased, wondered what I did. When I told him, he arched his brows. "Then," he said, "I guess you know my high-school teammate, Don Drysdale?" Redford told me he had played the outfield behind Drysdale when Van Nuys was a fruit-and-vegetable farm area. "I hope," said the actor, "that Drysdale makes the Hall of Fame one day." When I later related the story to Drysdale, he assured me, "Redford was a pretty good ball player."

So you can certainly understand that a story that cool has been passed around many times over the years. You can find in many different books the fact that Robert Redford and Don Drysdale played high school baseball with each other and that Redford then attended the University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship.

But is it true?

Let us find out!

Continue reading »

Did AC Milan once purchase the contract of the wrong player?

Fabforum SOCCER/FOOTBALL LEGEND: An Italian team once accidentally purchased the wrong player.

In the Summer of 1983, Associazione Calcio (AC) Milan, one of the most storied franchises in Italian football, had just recently returned to Serie A (the top level of Italian professional football) after spending two seasons in Serie B (their only two seasons in Serie B in the history of the franchise) - one in 1980-81 due to punishment over a betting scandal in 1980 and one in 1982-83 due to finishing in the bottom three of Serie A in 1981-82. On July 6, 1983, AC Milan purchased the contract of Watford Football Club striker Luther Blissett for one million pounds for a three year contract. The center/forward proceeded to have a terrible first year in Italy, scoring just five goals in thirty matches. He was booed relentlessly and he returned to Watford after just that single season in Milan (Milan sold him back at a loss of about 550,000 pounds).

As the years went by, a persistent legend began to pop up in the discussion of Luther Blissett and AC Milan. As the story went, when scouting Watford, Milan was impressed by Blissett's 19-year-old teammate, John Barnes, and it was Barnes that they wanted and not Blissett. The rub was that Blissett and Barnes were the only black players on the Watford team. So, according to the tale, Milan essentially could not tell the difference between the two black players.

Could this actually have any validity to it?

Continue reading »

Did a side bet lead to horse racing's first American Triple Crown winner?


HORSE RACING LEGEND: A side bet inadvertently led to the first American Triple Crown winner in horse racing history.

Due to his being a character on the popular HBO program, Boardwalk Empire, early 20th Century mobster Arnold Rothstein has become a well-known name again (not that he ever was obscure, of course). However known or unknown he was by the general public, though, he has always been a bit of a legend in the world of sports gambling. For decades (nearly a century now!) people have debated over exactly what role he played in the infamous 1919 Black Sox scandal. At the very least, he knew that a group of Chicago White Sox players had been paid to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds and he profited greatly from that information. At most, he financed the entire operation. I tend to believe that the latter assertion is closer to the truth of the matter. In any event, while his involvement in baseball gambling will likely be his sports gambling legacy, Rothstein was actually far more interested in horse racing.

Not just gambling on horse racing, though (which he did plenty of) or fixing horse races (which he also did plenty of), but Rothstein just plain ol' enjoyed horse racing period. He would often attend races with his wife, Carolyn, especially at Belmont Park (as Rothstein "worked" in New YorK). While he would bet remotely if he couldn't be at the track, he preferred being there for the live events. Over time, he began to fancy himself a bit of an expert on horses. And what better way to express this expertise than by gambling? This led an amazing bet between Rothstein and a horse owner, John Kenneth Leveson (JKL) Ross, which inadvertently set the stage for the first horse to win the American Triple Crown.

How did it happen and is the story actually true? Read on to find out!

Continue reading »

Sports Legend Revealed: Did the Governor of Colorado lose Pikes Peak in a football bet?

Photo: Pikes Peak. Credit: Associated Press. FOOTBALL LEGEND: The Governor of Colorado lost Pikes Peak to Texas in a football bet.

Bets between politicians are a common tradition in the world of professional sports. Just this past year, before the Major League Baseball (MLB) World Series began between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made a bet with Arlington mayor Robert Cluck that the mayor of the losing city has to travel to the winning city to do a day of community service wearing the jersey of the victorious team. In addition, had the Giants lost, Newson would have had to send to Cluck some Ghirardelli chocolate, sourdough bread, Dungeness crabs, and some Anchor Steam Beer. If the Rangers lost, Cluck would have had to send to Newson some BBQ from a local place called Spring Creek BBQ. Similarly, Speaker of The House Nancy Pelosi made a bet with Arlington representative Joe Barton. If San Francisco won, Pelosi would receive a Pecan Pie from Corsicana’s Collin Street Bakery. If Texas won, Pelosi would send some of San Francisco’s finest Ghirardelli chocolate.

So this is a common tradition. But in 1938, did the Governors of Texas and Colorado take this tradition to the next level? Did they actually bet national landmarks on the results of a football game?

Read on to find out!

Continue reading »

Sports Legend Revealed: Did the U.S. vote against sending NBA players to the 1992 Olympics?


BASKETBALL LEGEND: The United States voted against sending NBA players to the 1992 Olympics.

From the first men's basketball tournament in the Summer Olympics in 1936, where the United States won a thrilling, high-scoring 18-9 victory over Canada (okay, maybe not thrilling or high scoring) to claim the Gold Medal, the United States has dominated the sport of Men's Basketball. From 1936 through 1984, a span of eleven Olympic Games, the United States only failed to win the Gold Medal twice. Once in the highly controversial (I mean highly controversial) 1972 Gold Medal Game against the Soviet Union and once in 1980 (when the United States boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics). So really, in the first eleven Olympic Men's Basketball tournaments, the United States did not suffer a single clean loss. They were the dominant force in men's basketball in the world. That changed in 1988, when the amateur-led team from the United States (featuring future NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson and future NBA All-Stars Dan Majerle, Danny Manning and Mitch Richmond) lost to the Soviet Union basketball team, which consisted of professional basketball players, including future NBA players Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Arvydas Sabonis. The 24-year-old Sabonis was one of the best players in the world at the time (and had already been named European Player of the Year three times by the time the 1988 Olympics rolled around).

Before the tournament even finished (but after the United States had been eliminated from gold medal contention), the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) had decided to hold a vote in early 1989 to re-visit the subject of whether players from the National Basketball Association (NBA) should be allowed to participate in future international games. Obviously, the vote passed and the "Dream Team" was born, and they dominated the next three Olympics (plus the 1994 FIBA World Championships) before they, too, fell short at the 2004 Olympics and the 2002 and 2006 World Championships (the 1998 team lost, too, but it had no professional players on it due to the then-current NBA labor dispute). A re-vamped USA Basketball team dominated both the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Championships. We shall see what will happen in 2012. Clearly, though, the rest of the world has closed whatever gap existed in 1992.

History remembers the situation as the United States being angered/embarrassed over losing the 1988 Olympics and deciding to fix the situation by sending their best to take care of things in 1992. But is that actually what happened? Read on to find out!

Continue reading »

Sports Legend Revealed: Did John Fogerty write "Centerfield" after watching the 1984 All-Star game from the centerfield bleacher?

BASEBALL LEGEND: John Fogerty wrote "Centerfield" after watching the 1984 All Star Game from the centerfield bleachers at Candlestick Park.

STATUS: False.

Fabforum This week is the second part of a two-part look at the tradition of baseball and music. Like last week, I have a special edition of Music Legends Revealed at Entertainment Legends Revealed about baseball-related music legends. Here is the latest special edition of Music Legends Revealed (including the strange story behind the Red Sox good luck song, "Tessie.").

One of the particularly interesting about baseball and songs about baseball is that while yes, there are a goodly amount of songs about baseball, there are not a whole lot of them that you would want to listen to when you're not actually at a baseball game. John Fogerty spoke about this in a good interview with Tom Singer of

"Having grown up as a rock-and-roller, I was more into what kids my age were doing. Rock-and-roll has a certain set of formal dogmas, and the rule book says, 'Anything that is perceived as lame, we don't want it around here.' Over the years it seemed like sports songs just didn't qualify into the rock-and-roll lexicon. There was that unwritten distinction. It was never considered rock-and-roll." Fogerty, naturally, challenged that notion with his classic 1985 tune, "Centerfield" (the title track to his comeback album of that year, an album that reached #1 on the Billboard charts) which both became an acclaimed rock 'n' roll song as well as a an instant baseball classic. Nowadays, it is among the most famous songs ever written about baseball and it is even enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame (it happened last year)!

There is a good deal of folklore about the song, which is about a baseball player who just wants a chance to play "Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today; Look at me, I can be centerfield" - a sentiment that Fogerty explains also works as "a metaphor about getting yourself motivated, about facing the challenge of one thing or another at least at the beginning of an endeavor." Probably the most common legend about the song is that Fogerty was inspired to write the song after watching the 1984 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game in the center field bleachers in San Francisco's Candlestick Park, just a hop, skip and a jump from Berkeley, California, which is where Fogerty was born.

It is a good story - but is it true?

Read on to find out!

Continue reading »

Sports Legend Revealed: Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn indirectly led to the naming of the band Yo La Tengo

BASEBALL LEGEND: Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn indirectly led to the naming of the band Yo La Tengo.


Baseball and music are irresistibly linked together. When you go to a baseball game, you stand for the National Anthem, you stand for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the seventh inning, plus all the other musical traditions at various ballparks, like "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway Park or "God Bless America" at Yankee Stadium. That's not even counting all the incidental music, including the unique-to-the-player music that gets played as each player comes up to bat or the songs that are played when the home team wins, like "New York, New York" for the Yankees or a bunch of different songs for the Red Sox, including "Dirty Water."

In honor of this shared tradition, I'll be doing back-to-back editions of Sports Legends Revealed about baseball music this week and next. In addition, I'll be doing two special editions of Music Legends Revealed at Entertainment Legends Revealed about baseball-related music legends. Here is the first special edition of Music Legends Revealed (including "just why do the Red Sox play 'Sweet Caroline' at their games?").

Today we examine how the critically acclaimed rock band Yo La Tengo derived their name from a classic baseball anecdote involving Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn that occurred during the final year of Ashburn's career.

Read on to learn the strange connection between the Hall of Fame centerfielder and the alternative rock band!

Continue reading »

Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About the Reporters
Sports Now is written by the entire Sports department of the L.A. Times.

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Bleacher Report | Los Angeles

Reader contributions from Times partner Bleacher Report

More on Bleacher Report »

Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: