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U.S. Calls for Release of POWs; Lakers' Coach Quits, May 20, 1969

May 20, 2009 | 10:00 am

Richard Nixon and South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu agree to meet. View this page

May 20, 1969, Sports The soap opera that was the 1968-69 Lakers had at least one more teary chapter.

Butch Van Breda Kolff resigned, headed to Detroit after two seasons as coach of the Lakers. His decision "for the best interest of all concerned" came after the Lakers blew a 2-0 lead in the finals to the Boston Celtics, losing in seven games.

The Times' Dan Hafner left no doubt why the coach was leaving: "Apparently Van Breda Kolff's days were numbered from the day the club acquired [Wilt] Chamberlain from Philadelphia." Player and coach didn't get along, and when that happens the coach almost always loses.

Speaking of  Wilt, he was called out by the Celtics' player-coach, Bill Russell, for leaving Game 7 with an injured knee. Van Breda Kolff wouldn't put him back in, saying later that the Lakers were "doing well without him."

Russell said in a May 22 story, "Any injury short of a broken leg or back isn't good enough."

Wilt's response, a day later: "He is a man and I suppose subject therefore to his own opinion. Why he has chosen to enlighten the world with it, only he knows."


Tony Conigliaro was getting letters, not about baseball, but about his love life.

"Here's one from a 75-year-old woman," he said to The Times' Ross Newhan. "She writes: 'How an innocent boy like you can get mixed up with somebody like her I don't know. I don't like the idea of you marrying her.' "

Conigliaro, the dashing young right fielder of the Boston Red Sox, had fallen victim to a familiar Southern California curse. He was dating an actress.

Mamie Van Doren's name and photo had been in sports stories before, as the girlfriend of boxer Art Aragon and pitcher Bo Belinsky. She had married and divorced a minor league pitcher, Lee Meyers.  

Newhan wrote: "Conigliaro shook his head and said, "Most of the letters are sad ... you know, from 16-year-old girls who just don't want me to get married."

Conigliaro's life had enough subplots for a movie. He was one of baseball's brightest young stars when he was beaned by the Angels' Jack Hamilton in 1967. His injuries included a fractured cheekbone. He missed all of 1968 but fought his way back into Boston's lineup. He hit  20 home runs in 1969, then 36 in 1970. His reward was a trade to the Angels, of all teams.

It was a disaster. He played only 74 games and hit only four home runs, retiring in a bizarre early-morning news conference in Oakland after a 20-inning, 1-0 loss. Newhan's story in 1969 included assurances from Conigliaro that his vision was OK, but he described things very differently in 1971.

"When the pitcher holds the ball, I can't see his hand or the ball. I pick up the spin on the ball late by looking away, to the side, I don't know how I do it. I kept it away from the Red Sox," he said.

There was one more comeback in 1975. But he hit only .123 in 21 games. Conigliaro suffered a massive heart attack in 1982 and died in 1990.

Newhan's story ended with a discussion of romance and dating amid a batting slump.

"I'm tired," said Conigliaro. "I'm under a strain. I'm not going to have another date for a long time." He was asked to define a long time. He smiled and said: "About a day."

-- Keith Thursby