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The Boys on the Bus
Franz Lidz
July 03, 1989
The team bus—long an unavoidable fact of American sporting life—offers a teeth-rattling rite of passage for young athletes that no train or plane could match
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July 03, 1989

The Boys On The Bus

The team bus—long an unavoidable fact of American sporting life—offers a teeth-rattling rite of passage for young athletes that no train or plane could match

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One of the strangest religious pilgrimages never made began on the Boston Red Sox' bus in July 1962.

The woeful Sox had just been hammered in Yankee Stadium, and pitcher Gene Conley had been KO'd in the third inning, thus failing to convince New York manager Ralph Houk that he should be on the All-Star team. Boston's bus stalled in traffic en route to Newark airport. "I'm sitting on that bus, feeling miserable," recalls Conley, who packed 17 big league seasons into 11 years as both a pitcher and an NBA forward. "It's hot. I'm tired. No one's moving. I'd been drinking beer alone in the locker room the last six innings. My arm's full of cortisone and hurting. I could feel the world closing in on me."

He spied a bar and said to manager Mike Higgins, "I need to go to the men's room." He brought along teammate Pumpsie Green. They used the men's rest room, then they used the bar. That sequence repeated itself many times through the night and into the next morning, by which time the bus had long ago left them behind. Eventually Green managed to find the team again in Washington. But Conley, always an original thinker when he was on his own, decided to hail a cab for Israel. He got as far as an airline counter at Idlewild airport before remembering he didn't have a passport. "I had one thing left and that was the good Lord," he says. "And I was hoping to go to Jerusalem to get things settled."

MOTOR CITY MADNESS

The Minnesota Vikings' bus once got so snarled in traffic outside the Silverdome in Detroit that the team didn't arrive until after the scheduled kickoff. Fran Tarkenton, the Minnesota quarterback, had to do his warmups in the aisles.

The driver was so distraught that he called out the window for help: "I've got the Vikings here!"

"So what," yelled a motorist. "I've got the Lions and six."

HARMONICA RASCAL

The world's most memorable harmonica solo was performed 25 years ago in the New York Yankees' airport shuttle. The Bombers had just dropped four straight to Chicago at Comiskey Park and had fallen 4� games behind the White Sox. With the pennant drive entering its final weeks, the Yankees climbed dejectedly into the bus and headed for O'Hare.

From the back row an ungodly sound cut through the gloom like a metal shredder. Utility infielder Phil Linz was tootling Mary Had a Little Lamb on his new harmonica. In the front row, manager Yogi Berra's fleece was turning white as snow.

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