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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Rene Robert

(Born December 31, 1948) -- In the summer of 1971, you could have gotten long odds that a statue would be built to honor the hockey career of Rene Robert.

The province of Quebec native turned pro in 1967 and played for the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League. He spent most of 1968-69 with Rochester, where he had 63 points in 49 games. By 1971, the right winger went from the Toronto organization to Pittsburgh after playing in only five NHL games to that point.

Robert only had seven goals in 49 games as a Penguin, and was dealt to the Sabres for Eddie Shack. It was a case of the proverbial “highway robbery.” Robert scored six goals in 12 games for Buffalo in 1971-72, but was just getting warmed up.

He teamed up with Gil Perreault and Rick Martin to form “The French Connection,” one of the greatest offensive lines in history. Robert had two 40-goal seasons and scored 100 points in 1974-75.

The line was broken up for good in 1979, when the Sabres traded Robert to Colorado for John Van Boxmeer. He had one more good year with the Rockies, and finished his career with Toronto in 1982. The statue went up in Buffalo this year.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Bill Taylor

(Born December 30, 1929) -- The late Bill Taylor probably was quite happy when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010. He was lucky enough to be on the last Giants’ team before that to win a Series, back in 1954.

Taylor was born in California, and his contract was purchased by the Giants in 1950. He spent 1953 in the New York farm system, and arrived in the majors in 1954. In the outfielder’s first at-bat, he struck out against the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe.

Taylor saw duty as a spare outfielder and pinch hitter during the ‘54 season, in which the Giants swept the Indians in the series. During portions of the next three years, he saw spot duty in New York before a trade sent him to the Tigers.

By 1958, Taylor had seen his last at-bat in the majors. A year later, he was part of the Phillies’ chain and arrived here. The outfielder stayed in Buffalo through 1961, hitting .328 during the 1959 campaign.

Taylor finished with a .311 career batting average in the minors, so he was obviously just a little bit short of being a regular in the majors. Taylor died in California in 2011.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Henry Jones

(Born December 29, 1967) -- On the list of underrated Bills, Henry Jones might rank relatively highly. He was a very good player on a team filled with them.

Jones was born in St. Louis and went to college at Illinois. His play there caught the attention of the Bills, who selected him in the first round of the NFL Draft (26th overall).

Jones therefore missed the Bills’ first run to a Super Bowl, but he was on the roster in 1991. Jones was ready to move up to the starting lineup in 1992, and he responded with the season of his life.

The safety had one of those years when footballs kept finding him. He had eight interceptions, by far the most in a season in his career. That put him in the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career.

Jones hung around Buffalo until 2000, starting every game for the final nine years that he was a Bill. He jumped to the  Vikings, where he started for five games. Jones finished his career with the Falcons in 2002.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: Paging the 2013 Racing Kreskin

By Gene Kershner

A few weeks ago we reviewed our 2012 racing predictions where we batted a rock solid .500 looking back at the results from the now complete thoroughbred racing season. As we approach the new year, it’s time to pull out the crystal ball and start channeling our inner Kreskin to take a look at the coming 2013 racing season.  We’ll keep some of the staples in the mix (you’ll recognize them) and add a few new twists this year. So without further adieu, Mr. Kreskin…

-- Ramon Dominguez will win the jockey title at the inner meet at the Big A by at least 25 victories. In 2010, he won it by 29, in 2011 by 57 and last year he lost by one to Cornelio Velasquez. This question came up during an interview on Capitol OTB-TV earlier in the week when I was challenged by the hosts to put this one into this year’s prognostications. Game on.

-- The Derby winner will come from a middle post. We’re calling the middle gates anything from eight to 14 as the outside gate houses posts 15 through 20. We nailed this one this year from the outside gate so I’m going with the odds that we’ll shift inside in this year’s Run for the Roses.

-- The Derby winner will come out of the Arkansas Derby. I’ve gone with the Florida Derby the past two years, and the Arkansas Derby has given us some solid Triple Crown performers over the past ten years (Bodemeister, Curlin, Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones), so we’re looking for Oaklawn to give us this year’s Derby winner.

-- There will be an inquiry or objection in one of the three Triple Crown races. We haven’t had a stewards’ inquiry or jockey objection in recent memory in one of the Triple Crown races. We haven’t had much controversy on the Triple Crown trail, I’m banking on 2013 to be the unlucky year.

-- The Derby winner will not run again in 2013 after the Preakness. Whoa. No Triple Crown again? Not only that, he’s done for the year. I hope this one doesn’t come true, but my crystal ball says one and done.

-- Roger Attfield wins a record ninth Queen’s Plate. The Hall of Famer is currently tied with Harry Giddings, Jr. for the top spot atop the trainer category for Plate victories. I watched his last win at venerable Fort Erie Race Track on the simulcast in 2008 when Not Bourbon helped him tie the record.

-- The Haskell Hat is white. I’ve given up on yellow (it’s been since 2002). For a number of years it was the color of the previous year’s winner, but in 2009 they actually asked the fans to name the color. I’m looking for a potential gimme here with the color white, which goes with just about anything.

-- Churchill Downs will be awarded the 2014 Breeders’ Cup.  It’s been a two-track rotation for six straight years. I’m doubling down that the BC Board loves those big Churchill crowds and handle numbers to return under the Twin Spires in ’14.

-- The post time favorite will finish off the board in the Classic. On average the favorite wins 33 percent of the time and finishes second half of the time, so I’m going out on a limb on this one. Game on Dude would have held serve for me here, but will it happen in back-to-back years? I say it will.

-- A 3-year old will finish first or second in the Classic. We haven’t had a solid 3-year old finish in the Classic since Curlin won it at Monmouth in 2007 and Raven’s Pass upset him in 2008 on the Pro-Ride synthetic surface. I’m counting on a good class of 3-year-olds with a late maturing colt threatening to win the big one at Santa Anita.

That’s a wrap on my 2013 predictions for 2013. We mixed it up a little from prior years and have challenged ourselves with some bold predictions. No easy pickings like Pletcher winning the Saratoga training title this year. We’ll see if we can uphold our .500 mark of 2012 next year. Look for my year in racing review in print editions of The Buffalo News this weekend.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: John Y. Brown

(Born December 28, 1933) -- There’s little doubt that John Y. Brown led an interesting life. There’s also little doubt that the basketball fans of Western New York would have voted him for Governor.

Brown graduated from the University of Kentucky’s law school, and defended Paul Hornung when the football star was suspended from the NFL for gambling. In 1964 Brown was part of a group that purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken, and they turned it into one of the largest restaurant chains in the country.

In the 1970s, Brown moved into the basketball world with the purchase of the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA. That team didn’t make it into the NBA when the two leagues merged, but Brown got there anyway by buying a portion of the Buffalo Braves.

Brown eventually took complete control of the team, and made few friends locally by listing possible destinations for the team if its stay here didn’t work out. Brown made several player moves in an effort to improve the roster, but few worked out. The team ended up in San Diego, but Brown took control of the Celtics for a short time in a complicated transaction.

Brown turned to politics and was announced his candidacy for Governor while on his honeymoon to former Miss America Phyllis George. He won a four-year term in 1979.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Chris Gimenez

(Born December 27, 1982) -- This catcher got to spend only part of a season in Buffalo, but he could have spent a lot more time here. Blame the Cleveland Indians for that.

Gimenez came out of Gilroy, Cal., and was drafted by the Rockies. However, he opted to go to college at Nevada-Reno, and was picked by the Indians three years later in 2004.

He started his pro career in the New York-Penn league and worked his way up the ladder. Gimenez arrived in Buffalo in the middle of the 2008 season. Here he hit .272 in 54 games as the Bisons’ catcher.

Then the Indians moved their affiliation to Columbus, and Gimenez went with them. He split the 2009 and 2010 seasons between Columbus and Cleveland. He became a free agent at the end of the 2010 season.

Gimenez became a backup catcher in the Seattle organization in 2011, and then moved on to Tampa Bay. He needs a few hits in the majors to get his lifetime average above the fabled Mendoza line from .198.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Andy Delmore

(Born on December 26, 1976) -- To put this in terms that the financial world would understand, the Buffalo Sabres bought Andy Delmore stock at its peak and sold him at a loss.

Delmore played three years of junior hockey, and in the third he became an offensive threat while on defense. He scored 21 goals in 64 games for the Sarnia Sting. That led to his signing by the Philadelphia Flyers.

The defenseman arrived in the NHL for more than a cup of coffee in 2000, and a year later he left for Nashville for two seasons. There he had 16 and 18 goals for the Predators.  Then Delmore landed in Buffalo.

It wasn’t a great marriage. He only played in 37 games here, and had two goals and five assists. The defenseman also played briefly in Rochester.

Delmore still had some hockey in him after departing Buffalo in 2004. He played everywhere from Germany to Grand Rapids, Mich., with a lot of places in between.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Stu Barnes

(Born December 25, 1970) -- Stu Barnes moved around quite a bit during a long, distinguished career in the National Hockey League. One of those moves carried a bit of irony with it.

Barnes had 141 points in 70 games for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. That got the attention of the Winnipeg Jets, who took him fourth overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. Barnes was even better the next year in junior hockey (144 points) before turning pro.

The forward spent a few years splitting his time between the minors and the NHL. Then he was off to the Panthers in a trade involving Randy Gilhen. He was a Panther through 1996, when he was dealt to Pittsburgh.

The Penguins kept him until 1999, and Barnes had his best season to date along the way (30 goals in 1997-98). When the Sabres offered Matthew Barnaby for Barnes, Pittsburgh took it - and the Sabres had a smart veteran forward who did a lot of things well here. He was even a captain of the team for a while.

Barnes was shipped to Dallas in 2003 as part of a small housecleaning. He had been on the Sabre team that lost to the Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, and wasn’t thrilled about leaving. Barnes played in Dallas until 2008, and now serves as a part-owner of that Tri-City team based in Kennewick, Wash.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Northrup Knox

(Born December 24, 1928) -- Northrup Knox is in a rare class of sports figure that excelled on the playing field before moving up to success in the owner’s office. He probably would have been the first to say he was no Mario Lemieux in that sense, though.

Knox was born in Buffalo and played hockey and squash at Yale University. He was one of the top offensive players in the world at polo, and was inducted into that sport’s Hall of Fame in 1994. Knox also became a world champion in court tennis. He retired undefeated in 1969.

Brother Seymour one day in the mid-Sixties went to Norty and ask him what he thought about an idea to bring a National Hockey League team to Buffalo. Knox told him, let’s do it. The idea was to do something that would bring enjoyment to their community.

It took a few years, but after a few disappointments the Knox brothers headed a group that was awarded a franchise in 1969. Opening night was in 1970, and they stayed in charge for about a quarter of a century.

In his “spare” time, Northrup served as the chairman of Marine Midland Bank. He died in 1998.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Brad Angelo

(Born on December 23, 1969) -- Brad Angelo received a head start to success in professional bowling. The sport ran in the family.

Brad’s father, Nin, became something of a television star in 1960-61 when he won for 19 straight weeks on the Channel 4 bowling program, “Beat the Champ.” He trained Brad in bowling from an early age, and the duo teamed up in 1992 to win the Lockport City Tournament the first time they ever bowled together.

Angelo arrived on the pro tour in 2002-03. He averaged about 218 and earned more than $50,000 as a first-year bowler. That was good enough to earn him the PBA Rookie of the Year Award.

Angelo was ever better the next season. He earned more than $115,000, a career-high, and made five television finals. But while Angelo was a consistent performer, he didn’t get his first PBA win until taking a title in the 2008-09 season in Omaha, Neb.

Angelo earned more than $625,000 on the tour in his first 10 years. Now he has another source of income - Brad Angelo Lanes in Lockport. He took over the facility formerly known as South Transit Lanes earlier this year.

--- Budd Bailey

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.