SI Vault
Kenny Moore
October 28, 1985
Beneath those movie-star looks, Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley is an introspective man who still feels the steadying influence of his father, Lee (in Phillie uniform)
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October 28, 1985

Not Just A Pretty Face

Beneath those movie-star looks, Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley is an introspective man who still feels the steadying influence of his father, Lee (in Phillie uniform)

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They moved back to Schenectady in 1951, where Lee Riley managed the Blue Jays, the Phillies' farm team. He had also managed there in 1947-48, when it was a Class C team. In 1948, he had a pitcher with bags under his eyes named Tommy Lasorda. "Pat's dad looked exactly the way Pat does now," Lasorda says. "Lee was tough. He came to the mound once and said, 'Lasorda, I didn't hit .400 in the majors because I didn't get to face pitchers like you. Get off here.' " Lee Riley had had 12 at bats in the majors.

"When I was young, my father was never there much," says Riley. Lee Riley thought he had a chance to manage the Phillies, but when he was passed over, he left baseball in 1952 and later suffered business setbacks. Eventually he became janitor and baseball coach at Bishop Gibbons High in Schenectady. "The scars had healed by then," says Riley. "I have good memories of his last years, but that was late."

Early, things were less gentle. "When I was nine, my dad would always tell my brothers to take me to Lincoln Heights, the toughest part of town. They would, and I'd always get beat up. One day my dad asked my brothers how I was doing. 'He gets beat up, runs home and hides in the garage every day,' they said. 'Why do you have us take him down there?' "

Riley's father said simply, "I wanted to teach him not to be afraid."

This did seem to make Riley oddly fearless, though not in the ways his father might have hoped. "In the sixth grade, I wore pegged pants, a shirt a day and my hair like Elvis. I used to iron my own shirts, peg my own pants. I only had one pair of pants. I'd wash them, and if it was raining, I'd dry them in the oven. I dried them too long one morning, and for two weeks I had to wear pants with grill marks all over them. People would say, 'I'll have my hamburger well done, Riley.' "

With glee, Riley evokes memories of his rebellious youth. "I went to St. Joseph's Academy. Church every day for the first seven grades. I became an altar boy. We used to have a nun who opposed my duck's ass hair. 'Get it cut, get it cut,' she said. So I got a flattop DA. The next morning we were in double file to go to church, and she sees me from a distance, and she smiles. She's won. Then she sees me closer, sees this mass of grease and hair on the sides, and she pulls at it. 'That's not good enough. That's not good enough....' " Riley, 28 years later, still basks in the swirl of consternation he created.

"I was the baby of the family. Everybody was going away from me. I felt oppressed by Catholic discipline because it went beyond discipline to arbitrary enclosure. Later I would come to believe that it was founded too much on guilt."

Which wasn't quite enough to keep Riley in line. "Some friends of mine and I broke 45 or 50 windows in a school, Lincoln Elementary I think, and got into the cafeteria and ate all the ice cream. The police came to St. Joseph's and took us to the station. 'We won't book you this time,' they said."

Riley would give them other chances. "Central Park Pond was where you skated in the winter. In the summer, people would put down a blanket on the grass and leave their clothes on it when they swam. We came along and lifted the blanket—clothes and all. 'Just keep carrying that,' said a voice, 'right over to the station office.' That's how I met Patrolman Dominelli and Sergeant Monaco."

Riley does not now believe that he was on a course toward genuine wrongdoing. "Everything I did was un-hard-core, good fun," he says. "I did have a discipline problem. I was not really introduced to organized sports at that time."

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