Red, you're beautiful.
THE BOOB BOWS OUT
The announcement last week that Ben Kerner was selling his basketball team, the St. Louis Hawks, denotes, if you'll excuse the expression, the end of an era. Kerner, 50, is the only owner in the NBA—and possibly in major league sports—who actually owns every piece of stock in his team; moreover, he is the only owner who, in fact, runs the whole show, which, for Benny, has meant scheming 14 hours a day, seven days a week. As he said the other day, "I own it. I work it. I suffer it. The guy that buys it will be part of a corporate structure. He'll never enjoy it as much as I did. You don't get the thrill of accomplishment unless you start from nothing."
Kerner started from minus nothing. In 1955, when he brought the Hawks to St. Louis, he was $165,000 in the hole. Last year the Hawks made a profit of $243,975. The success of the Hawks is a result not only of Kerner's ability to put together a winner, but of his ability to make people buy tickets to see it play. "You got to have your extras," he has said. And of all Kerner's extra added attractions the greatest has been Kerner himself. "You sell yourself as a character," he once said, "you get space." Kerner calls himself Benny the Boob, has fought with referees, fired coaches and torn up programs in little pieces. "If I didn't tear up programs they'd think I was losing interest," he has said. "They bring me programs to tear up. Everybody's looking at me. They go home happy."
As he said last week, "I created an image." But more than the Benny the Boob bit, Kerner, in great part, helped create the big-league image that the NBA has today. Benny often carried on like some kind of a nut, but he made the Hawks a class operation. "Basketball's been good to me," he said last week. "I tried to be good to it."
A GOOD MAN, A GOOD MANAGER
One of the more valid ways to judge the character of a baseball manager is to watch him while he makes his first visit to the pitcher's mound when things begin to go wrong. Some walk out turning their heads from side to side and mumbling like method actors; others go out slowly and then kick up the mound as if to ask, "How on earth can you do a thing like this to me?" Johnny Keane, who died last week at 55, had a special way of making his first visits. He would put his hands in his back pockets and come out of the dugout at a full trot, say exactly what he had to say and then trot off, as if embarrassed to interrupt the flow of a game.
Keane was a good manager as well as a principled and sentimental man. When he let a tired Bob Gibson pitch through the seventh game of the 1964 World Series he was asked why he had left his man in so long. "Because," said John, "I had a commitment to his heart." Keane's frustrations with the 1966 Yankees were summed up with, "We're just going to have to tough this thing out," and when he was fired last May because the Yankee management panicked, Mickey Mantle said, "I'm sick because I let a man like Johnny Keane down."
Only a few hours after winning the 1964 Series someone asked Keane if it marked the most thrilling moment in his life. "Oh, it's a great thrill," he said. "After 34 years in the game it gives you a feeling of tremendous satisfaction. But when my daughter Pat turned 18, my wife, Lela, and I bought her a car for Christmas that we could not afford. We had it brought to our house in Houston late, when she was asleep, and Lela and I stayed up all night stringing colored ribbons from her doorknob upstairs down through the house and out into the garage to the keys in the ignition. We wrote signs on the ribbons that said THIS WAY and KEEP GOING, and when she finally got to the car it was seeing the look in her eyes that was the proudest moment in my life."