Today in Sports History: June 17th


(The chase. Photo by Larry Ho, L.A. Times)

6/17/1960 - The Splendid Splinter drops 500th bomb

At 41 years and 291 days old, Ted Williams hits the 500th home run of his illustrious career. Considered by many to be the greatest hitter of all time, Williams lost three full seasons when he fought overseas in World War II. Therefore, his 521 career home runs is even more impressive. Williams hit over .300 in all but one of his 19 seasons, and he was the last player in the 20th century to hit over .400 in a season.

Williams hit #500 off the Indians' Wynn Hawkins at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Indians were the first team to give up the 500th home run to more than one player (Willis Hudlin gave up #500 to Babe Ruth). And at almost 42 years old, Williams was the oldest player to ever reach the mark.

6/17/1976 - NBA and ABA merge

The National Basketball Association announces that it is merging with the American Basketball Association, ending a nine-year struggle between the two leagues. Under the agreement, the NBA would absorb four of the ABA's most profitable teams: the New York Nets (who soon moved to New Jersey), the Denver Nuggets (who were originally the Rockets, but there was an NBA team by that name so they switched), the San Antonio Spurs (originally known as the Dallas Chaparrals), and the Indiana Pacers (the winningest franchise in ABA history). The Virginia Squires, Kentucky Colonels, and Spirits of St. Louis did not make the cut.

While the union of the two leagues was considered a merger, in actuality, the ABA teams bought their way into the NBA. The Nets, Nuggets, Spurs and Pacers payed millions of dollars to join the NBA ranks, while the Colonels and Spirits received millions in a glorified severance package. The Squires would have gotten a paycheck as well had they not folded prior to the merger, which was finalized on August 5. A dispersal draft was held for the ABA players whose teams weren't picked up by the NBA; Artis Gilmore was picked by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 1 pick in the draft.

"Why did it happen? In the end it was a fatigue factor," Mike Goldberg, former ABA legal counsel, said in the book Loose Balls. "The ABA owners were tired and on the road to bankruptcy. For nine years, millions upon millions of dollars were spent. It took so much energy, so much creativity just to stay in business, the ABA simply ran out of gas. ... On the NBA side, fatigue was also a factor. Guys were jumping leagues, guys were leaving college early, guys were getting paid astronomical salaries.

"Both sides just said, 'Enough already. Let's end the madness.' "

6/17/1986 - Infamous NBA Draft

The NBA draft class of 1986 is one of the most remembered , though for all the wrong reasons. The first round consisted of players such as Chris Washburn and Roy Tarpley, two players who were later banned due to drug use, and Suns selection William Bedford, who was also derailed due to drug use. The headline of the draft was Len Bias, who was picked No. 2 overall by the reigning champion Boston Celtics. Just two days later, he died of a cocaine overdose.

The '86 draft did turn out some good players: Mark Price, Dennis Rodman, Jedd Hornacek, Kevin Duckworth, Scott Skiles, Ron Harper, Dell Curry -- still, there wasn't a Hall of Famer in the bunch. Even without the drug abuses of some of the players, the '86 draft is one of the worst ever just on a talent level.

The draft is also notable for being the first time that the No. 1 overall pick was traded prior to the team's selection. The day before, the Philadelphia 76ers traded the draft rights of Brad Daugherty to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Roy Hinson, who had averaged 19.6 points per game in the '85-86 season. Daughtery would make five All-Star teams and retired as the Cavs' all-time leading scorer; Hinson wasn't nearly as good and was traded just a year later for reserve forward Ben Coleman. Advantage Cavs.


(Charles Barkley. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images)

6/17/1992 - Suns trade for Charles Barkley

After six seasons in the keystone state, the Philadelphia 76ers trade Charles Barkley to Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry. Barkley was unquestionably one of the best players in the league, but the Sixers had grown tired of his antics; the very day he got traded, he was being acquitted in court on assault charges. In return for the "round mound of rebound," the Sixers received three players who averaged a combined 40.1 points per game in 1992.

There was no contest who won the trade. Charles Barkley was fantastic in his four years with the Phoenix Suns. In his first year with the team, he won the MVP award and carried the Suns to the NBA Finals; he hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the their second round series against the Spurs; and he collected 44 points and 24 rebounds in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Seattle.

In the NBA Finals, he averaged 27.3 points and 13 rebounds in a six-game series that they lost to the Chicago Bulls. The Phoenix Suns then went out to the Houston Rockets -- the NBA champions -- the following two seasons and then lost to Seattle in 1996. Though they never won it all with Barkley, they definitely faced some stiff competition.

The deal did not reverse the fortunes of the 76ers, who went 35-47 in their final stanza with Barkley. In the 1992-93 season, Philadelphia went 26-56. That was followed by 57-, 58-, 64-, 60-, and 51-loss seasons. The Sixers only turned their franchise around when Allen Iverson developed into a superstar.


(The infamous white Ford Bronco. Photo via: The Guardian)

6/17/1994 - O.J. flees in white Ford Bronco

Short of the Zapruder Film, there may not be a more famous piece of television footage. Just a couple days ago, the ex-wife of former Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman had been murdered. The police informed Simpson that he was to turn himself in, and when he didn't, an arrest warrant was issued for the former star. Robert Shapiro, his personal attorney, announced that Simpson had written a note that implied he was going to commit suicide.

Later that day, Simpson resurfaced. In an indelible moment in American pop culture, O.J. Simpson fled from a horde of cop cars on the Los Angeles freeway, all while holding a gun to his head and threatening to shoot himself. Al Cowlings, Simpson's former teammate in Buffalo, was driving the car. 95 million Americans, and all the major network news channels, tuned in to watch Simpson race against the police. It was so captivating a moment that NBC briefly left the fifth game of the 1994 NBA Finals to cover it.

For 60 miles, O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings sped on a low-speed chase as a myriad of cop cars and television helicopters followed in pursuit. It was an unimaginable turn for the one of the most beloved athletes ever, an analyst on NBC's NFL pregame show, a god in the city of Buffalo. Now here he was, a suspect in the murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown.

Finally, Simpson pulled into his Brentwood estate and was later handcuffed and taken to the authorities. He was arrested, charged, and later indicted on two counts of first degree murder. What then ensued was the most covered, publicized, and media-frenzied case in U.S. history: The Trial of the Century. Simpson hired a dream team of defenders to represent him, among them Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz. Everything about the trial became ingrained in American society: judge Lance Ito became a household name, as did state prosecutor Marcia Clark and actor/witness Kato Kaelin.

A glove was found at the scene that contained drops of Simpson's blood. But when the policeman who discovered the gloves, Mark Fuhrman, was found to have made several racist remarks during a series of taped interviews, doubt was cast on the guiltiness of Simpson, an African American. The trial became extremely divisive, as polls indicated that white people thought he was guilty and wanted him to go to jail while black people thought he was innocent and wanted an acquittal. To many, the trial captured all the racial tension in America, particularly in Los Angeles, which had experienced the Rodney King riots just a few years earlier.

In the end, O.J. was found not guilty on all counts, though a wide majority of the public believed he had done it. Simpson spent a little over a decade out of prison before receiving an extensive sentence in 2008 for armed robbery.


(Self-explanatory. Photo courtesy of the Dallas Morning News)

6/17/2004 - Fan knocks aside kid for ball

On a day game at the Ballpark in Arlington, 28 year-old Matt Starr made a rather poor name for himself. The Texas youth minister was watching the game when a foul ball landed in the vicinity of 4 year-old Nick O'Brien. Starr dove across some empty seats and jostled for the ball, knocking the 4 year-old out of the way. As Starr emerged with the baseball, the kid's mother yelled at the man, who refused to give up his souvenir. With a chorus of boos in the background, Starr returned to his seat and sat down next to a woman he had come to the game with; the girl didn't appear thrilled to be sitting next to the man Tom Grieve, the Rangers announcer, described as "the biggest jerk in the ballpark."

The visiting St. Louis Cardinals decided to get in on the act (they were winning 12-0 so they had nothing else going on). Relief pitcher Steve Kline wrote "tough guy" and "ball stealer" on a t-shirt, but never had a chance to give it to Starr as he had already left. Outfielder Reggie Sanders went over and delivered the kid some baseballs and bats, one of them signed by Nolan Ryan.

With an outcry over his overzealous behavior, Starr later released an apology and mailed the baseball back to the kid. The O'Briens, unknowingly given 15 minutes of fame, then appeared on Good Morning America, where the kid received free tickets to an upcoming Mets game.

At the end of the day, as much shots as people took at him, Starr wound up doing the kid a huge favor. Instead of just walking away with a foul ball, O'Brien received free tickets, bats, balls, an autograph from Nolan Ryan, and the foul ball. If getting shoved aside means getting a Nolan Ryan autograph, I'd say it all worked out.


(Pierce drenching Rivers in Gatorade. Photo by Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

6/17/2008 - Celtics win title No. 17

The first finals in two decades between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers comes to a close, and it's the Celtics in a laugher. After falling to Los Angeles in Game 5, Boston went home to TD Banknorth Garden and obliterated the Lakers, 131-92. For Boston, it was their first championship in two decades, when Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish led the team. The 2008 version of the Celtics were also led by a triad of great players: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.

Towards the end of the game, Pierce -- who won the series MVP -- drenched Celtics coach Doc Rivers in a bucket of Gatorade, bringing an NFL tradition to the hardwood. Rivers' soda-stained suit was later autographed and auctioned off for $55,000. The proceeds went to charity.

The Celtics' championship came just 10 months after they traded for Garnett and Allen. The addition of those two immediately made them a contender, and they won it all after losing 58 games the year before. For the Lakers, their 39-point loss was the largest for a closeout game in finals history. Kobe Bryant came away with his legacy dented, though only temporarily. The following season, Los Angeles rebounded from their defeat and won the NBA Finals over the Orlando Magic.


(Willie Randolph. Photo by Stephen Dunn, Getty Images)

6/17/2008 - Mets sack Willie Randolph

Mets manager Willie Randolph had been given the vote of confidence by general manager Omar Minaya. In 2007, Randolph had been at the helm when the Mets blew a 7-game division lead with less than three weeks to go. It was the largest collapse in baseball history, and many had called for firing of the former Mets second baseman.

Randolph didn't help himself out in 2008. The Mets, who had the highest payroll in the National League, got off to a terrible start. Reports surfaced that the players had lost favor with him, and after a five-game losing streak put that Mets 7.5 games out of first place, the rumors came fast and furious that Randolph was getting the axe. For days and days there was endless speculation over when the sub-500 Mets would can their manager.

It finally happened on this day in 2008, however the Mets made the firing in one of the most dubious ways imaginable. Hours after the Mets beat the Angels in Anaheim, Randolph was fired in person by Minaya, who had flown out to California to do it in person. The firing occurred at 3:12 AM New York time.

Minaya was roundly blasted, not so much for the decision to axe Randolph, but for how the firing went down. To make someone to travel 3,000 miles west and have them manage and win a game, only to find out at 3 AM that it didn't even matter because he had been fired -- that had people outraged. Even the writer for the now-defunct "," a site solely devoted to getting Randolph canned, described Willie's termination as "classless."

Mets first base coach Jerry Manuel was promoted to the managerial role, and he did a pretty good job. Under the guidance of Manuel, the Mets went on a miniature roll and climbed to first place in the NL East division. However, the Mets collapsed as they had done the year before, and missed out on the postseason once again.

Further reading:

Rangers fan showered by others' good will [ESPN]

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