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Indeed, the roundball regimen has dramatically boosted Allegheny's power output. Last year the Gators belted 40 homers while going 28-13 and reaching the Division III College World Series. Because Allegheny is in Meadville, Pa., where spring comes late, Creehan also employs other creative drills that can be practiced indoors. His catchers use Ping-Pong paddles as gloves to learn how to block low pitches. Pitchers throw empty tennis-ball cans end over end to develop the proper arm motion for an overhand curveball. Middle infielders have blocking dummies tossed at their feet as they turn the double-play pivot.
Creehan didn't invent all these curious cross-training methods, but he uses them more extensively and effectively than any other coach around. "On any given day, you might see our pitchers throwing footballs, our outfielders throwing softballs, our catchers blocking balls with paddles and our hitters in the batting cage blasting basketballs," he says proudly. "Sometimes you wonder what sport we're playing."
IT'S ABOUT TIME
Jim Murray, who has kept sports playfully in perspective in 29 years of writing columns for the Los Angeles Times, was predictably flummoxed last week when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Questioning his worthiness for the honor, he told colleagues in the Times newsroom that he thought to win a Pulitzer you had to bring down a government, not quote Tommy Lasorda correctly.
Murray, 70, only the fourth sports columnist to win a Pulitzer (the other three are Arthur Daley, Red Smith and Dave Anderson, all of The New York Times), has for years deflated icons and delighted readers with his deft wordsmithing. It's impossible for some of us to watch the Indianapolis 500 without remembering his famously mordant lead: "Gentlemen, start your coffins." And Murray could be harder on the cities that he visited than General Sherman was in his prime. Noting that construction on a freeway near Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium was progressing painfully slowly several years back, he suggested that it must have been neighboring Kentucky's turn to use the cement mixer.
The wit and hyperbolic flair of Murray's commentary (" Nolan Ryan's arm is such a work of art it belongs in the Louvre") has influenced an entire generation of sportswriters. Murray didn't change sports journalism, long a promotional arm of the games, so much as he reinvented it, demonstrating that it could be, at once, incisive and wickedly entertaining. It's fitting that his wonderful sense of hyperbole—in this case, not hyperbolic—was finally applied to his own career. After all, Jim Murray's writing is so good...he ought to win a Pulitzer.
HAROLD BALLARD (1903-1990)
I'll say Any Damn thing that Pops into my head," Harold Ballard once boasted, and true to his word, he kept the sports world entertained for years with the damned things he said. Ballard, the longtime Toronto Maple Leaf owner who died last week at 86, was a crusty, cantankerous, unapologetic showman. He called NHL president John Ziegler "a know-nothing shrimp." He told women reporters that if they wanted to go into the locker room at Maple Leaf Gardens they would have to take their clothes off, too. Vigorously anticommunist, he opposed playing exhibition games against Soviet teams and even claimed to have put a Maple Leaf sticker on Lenin's tomb during a visit to Moscow.
Ballard loved hockey not wisely but too well. He meddled too much with his team, firing coaches and general managers at an almost Steinbrennerian clip and publicly ridiculing players. In the four decades before Ballard gained full control of the Leafs, in 1972, Toronto had won 11 Stanley Cups; under Ballard they never came close to a championship.