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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Connie Mack

(Born December 22, 1862) -- The story of Connie Mack’s remarkable baseball life comes with something of a twist, and it happened right here in Buffalo.

Cornelius McGillicuddy was born in Massachusetts during the Civil War, and worked his way to the roster of the Washington Nationals in 1886. After the 1889 season, he plunked down his life savings ($500) on a new venture called the Players League ... which had a team in Buffalo.

Mack was the starting catcher on the 1890 team, hitting .266. However, the league lost its war with the rival National League, and Mack lost his money. He joined the Pirates in 1891, and eventually became the manager of that team too.

Mack worked in Milwaukee for a few years, and then took over the Philadelphia Athletics as manager and eventually owner of the Philadelphia Athletics of the new American League in 1901. He stayed in that managing role for an amazing 50 seasons. Mack won 3,582 games in that span. Naturally, he never fired himself.

Mack relied on baseball income for his income, so he had good stretches (five titles) and bad stretches in that span. After coming close to bankruptcy, the Athletics were sold to Kansas City interests in 1954. Mack died in 1956 at the age of 93.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: It’s a Racing Festivus 2012

By Gene Kershner

It's that time of year where we dance around the Festivus Pole and discuss Racing’s 2012 Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances. I’m no Frank Costanza, but I do have some thoughts to share during this joyous time of the year. After downing a delicious Festivus dinner and a few Festivus ales we're ready to unveil this year’s Racing Festivus for the rest of us...

“Feats of Strength”

Thank you sir, I’ll Have Another. Was there a more impressive four race run than I’ll Have Another had, highlighted by the Derby win and culminating in the Preakness? The first horse to sweep the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby in 23 years tops our list. Having the nation talking about horse racing again and the potential of a Triple Crown was a feat of strength all of its own.

Ramon Dominguez’ dominance of the NYRA circuit. Not only did he capture the coveted Saratoga meet riding title (68 wins), he won the Aqueduct spring meet (82 wins) ending in April, the Belmont spring (38 wins) and fall (36 wins) and currently leads the winter Aqueduct meet as we close out the year. The king of New York in 2012 sweeping each title claims one of our feats of strength laurels.

The versatility of Wise Dan. The probable Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Turf champion won graded races on all three surfaces (Grade 1’s on turf and dirt) during 2012. He’s put together a winning streak of four straight races which include wins at Saratoga, Keeneland, Woodbine and Santa Anita. His only loss of the year was when he was nipped at the wire on a fast closing Ron The Greek in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in June. His connections weren’t afraid of taking on the competition and traveling around North America, thus he captures one of the feats of strength honors for 2012.

Joshua Tree wins his second International in three years.  The 5-year-old Monjeu had the French sensation, Frankie Dettori aboard to win the Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine Racetrack in October. The world class jockey won for Joshua Tree’s connections for the first time and beat a stellar field to grab one of our 2012 feats of strength.

Ok, so here’s what you’re really looking for, the annual airing of grievances…also known as “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!”

“Airing of Grievances”

Governor No-Show. Come on, Mr. Governor you can’t take over an entire Racing Association and not show up for the two biggest races on the NYRA’s calendar? You’re even a short drive up the Northway to Saratoga for the Travers? Triple Crown was on the line, and no plans to grace Belmont Park prior to the announcement of the dreaded scratch? No gubernatorial applause from this end of the state.

NYRA Wager Minimums. I’ve been beating this drum for several years, but can’t we get a $0.50 trifecta or $0.50 Pick-3 wager at the NYRA tracks? Give it a shot for a meet or two…and check the handle.

Provide Hochuli-like explanations from the Stewards Booth.  The NFL does it as well as any sport, explaining reviews and replays and explaining decisions. If there’s a steward’s inquiry, describe the reasoning of the final decision over the microphone, or at least give it to the track announcer to give the horseplayer an explanation why his horse has been taken down.

Derby Points System shuns Illinois Derby. It was more than obvious of the snub that parent company Churchill Downs pulled when eliminating the Illinois Derby from its new points system. The Illinois Derby is run at Hawthorne Race Course, the rival Chicago track to Churchill-owned Arlington. Draw your own conclusions, but I’m airing a grievance here.

TVG still in Standard Definition. Come on TVG, let’s get the HD mojo going! Horse racing, by far, is a sport that jumps out at you in High Definition. I’m no techie, but let’s make this happen.

That’s a wrap for this year’s Racing Festivus. Next week we’ll look at some 2013 prognostications, Kreskin-style. Happy holidays, racing fans.

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: Steve Montador

(Born December 21, 1979) -- The number of National Hockey League players who aren’t drafted but who have long careers is not a big one. Steve Montador is one of the few to beat the odds.

Montador spent five seasons playing in the Ontario Hockey League, with stops in North Bay, Peterborough and Erie. He signed with the Flames’ organization and headed to Saint John in the American Hockey League for the 2000 playoffs.

Montador made his NHL debut with Calgary in 2001-02, and stayed there until 2005. Just when he thought he could be comfortable, the defenseman was dealt to Florida. Then Montador was swapped to Anaheim, where he spent almost a season before going on to Boston in a trading deadline deal in 2009.

That summer, Montador signed a two-year contract with the Sabres for $3.1 million. He was a regular for both of those seasons, playing in more than 70 games and finishing with a total of 49 points.

Then Montador was preparing for free agency in 2011 when he was traded to the Blackhawks for a low draft choice. Chicago signed him and inserted him on the blue line in 2011-12. Montador finished with 12 points for the Blackhawks.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits finalize roster

The Buffalo Bandits have turned over about half of their roster from last season's team that finished 7-9 and was eliminated in the first round of the National Lacrosse League playoffs.

A total of 12 players are back on the roster, while 11 newcomers are part of the 23-man squad. Three of the new faces are 2012 draft picks: Carter Bender, Dhane Smith and Hayden Smith.

Here is the breakdown by position: Forwards: Bender, Nick Cotter, Chad Culp, Mike Hominuck, Tracey Kelusky, John Tavares, Luke Wiles, Shawn Williams and Aaron Wilson. Transition: David Brock, Jon Harasym, D. Smith, H. Smith, Mark Steenhuis and Jay Thorimbert. Defensemen: Glen Bryan, Michael McNamara, Steve Priolo, Scott Self, Billy Dee Smith and Derek Suddons. Goalies: Anthony Cosmo and Kurtis Wagar.

Kevin Brownell, Craig England and Derek Hopcroft have been placed on the practice squad. Jordan Critch, Mat Giles and Jamie Rooney are on injured reserve, while Jimmy Purves has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Marty Hill and Joel Matthews were cut, while Joe Smith is on the holdout list.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Red Dawson

(Born December 20, 1906) -- The number of people who remember the 1940’s version of the Buffalo Bills - the ones in the All-American Football Conference - is obviously small. That means Lowell “Red” Dawson is becoming more obscure as that team’s coach.

Dawson did a bit of traveling in his life. He was born in Minnesota but played his college football at Tulane from 1929 to 1931. The pro ranks weren’t too tempting back then, so Dawson turned to coaching for his football fix.

He was an assistant at Minnesota under the legendary Bernie Bierman for four seasons, and then became the head coach at his alma mater in 1936. Dawson coached the first college football game in War Memorial Stadium history against Colgate that year. He stayed through 1941, where he had a record of 36-19-4. Dawson had one more year as an assistant at Minnesota before he took a break, probably because of World War II.

The AAFC arrived in 1946, and the Bills came with them. Buffalo went 19-25-4 in the next four years, getting as close as the league championship game in 1948. The Cleveland Browns were too much for everyone in that league, including the Bills.

Dawson eventually landed as the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh. He went 9-11-1 there, and left football to work for Gulf Oil.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Drayton Florence

(Born December 19, 1980) -- If there’s anyone who knows about the ups and downs of the life of a National Football League player, it’s Drayton Florence. He’s seen both sides of the business in his 10 years in the game.

Florence was an unlikely candidate to reach the NFL. After transferring from Tennessee-Chattanooga to Tuskegee, he became a Division II All-American player. Florence was picked in the second round in 2003 by the Chargers; that’s the highest that a Tuskegee player has ever been drafted.

During the next five years, Florence slowly worked his way into San Diego’s startling lineup. When free agency called, the defensive back was ready. He signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Jaguars for 2008.

But Florence had one disappointing season in Jacksonville, and was released. The Bills picked him up for the 2009 season, and he promptly led the team in takeaways. In 2011, Florence signed a three-year contract for $15 million.

Oops. The cornerback only lasted one year again on that deal, as the Bills cut him. He was signed and cut by the Broncos before landing with the Lions. Florence broke his arm during the course of the 2012 campaign and missed several games.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Watching and waiting

It's an interesting week for fans of the Buffalo Bandits ... not to mention their players.

The Bandits have to reach the 23-man limit by Thursday afternoon. They have all sorts of new faces around, and they have a good chance of claiming jobs. That includes trade acquisitions, free agents and draft choices.

We've already seen some familiar faces depart in the past several weeks. Ian Llord, Roger Vyse and Tom Montour were let go, and Chris White signed as a free agent with Toronto. Mike Thompson and Darryl Gibson retired.

As we wait for official announcements of some of the rest of the departures, a couple of exiting players have opted to scoop the Bandits on announcements. Travis Irving, a former top draft choice, said on Twitter that he was no longer a Bandit.

Then backup goalie Angus Goodleaf tweeted Tuesday night that he might have to spend the winter playing hockey -- not a good sign about his future in Banditland. That should mean Kurt Wagar has won the backup goalie job behind Anthony Cosmo. Wagar saw 73 minutes of action with Philadelphia last season, with a GAA above 22. That's not a fair sample size, to be sure, but it will be interesting to see how coach Darris Kilgour handles the goalie duties.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Don Beebe

(Born December 18, 1964) -- The Buffalo Bills have had plenty of fast players over the years. Don Beebe probably was as fast as any of them.

Beebe is one of the great examples about how someone can come out of the smallest of college football programs and still make the NFL. He went to high school in Maple Park, Ill., and landed a scholarship to Chadron State, which is in the northwest corner of Nebraska.

Beebe was the talk of the predraft in 1989, since none of the scouts knew much about him. The Bills took a chance on the wide receiver’s talents, making him a third-round draft pick.

Beebe played for nine years, and he played in six Super Bowls (four with the Bills) along the way. Beebe is best remembered chasing down Leon Lett of Dallas to cause a fumble in a blowout loss to the Cowboys. He finished with 219 career receptions.

In 1999, Beebe created a company that works with athletes in an effort to make them faster. In addition, he has been coaching high school football in Illinois since 2004.

-- Budd Bailey

Book report: The Year's Best in Sports

I've read a few dozen sports books over the past year. Here are some of my favorites, in case you need a last-minute gift for the sports lover in the family. Click on the title to jump to a full review; this includes books I read this year:

The Good Son - Mark Kriegel - This biography of Ray Mancini is a fine update on a famous boxer who lost his title here in Buffalo (but still loves it here).

The Best American Sports Writing 2012 - Edited by Michael Wilbon - I always enjoy books in this series, and this was no exception.

Imperfect - Jim Abbott - The nicest surprise of the year, this is a great look at a remarkable person as well as a look back at his best day as a pitcher.

Bill Veeck - Paul Dickson - A worthy companion to the late Veeck's own "Veeck as in Wreck," which might be my favorite sports book ever.

Over Time - Frank Deford - One of the best writers of sports ever looks back on his great if still in progress career.

Wherever I Wind Up - R.A. Dickey  with Wayne Coffey - This is an absolutely stunning piece of work about an amazing life story. Look for it on "best of 2012" lists in any subject.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Kay Stephenson

(Born December 17, 1944) -- The list of people who have served as a player and head coach for the Buffalo Bills is a short one. In fact, it begins and ends with George Kay Stephenson.

He was an all-star quarterback in Pensacola, Fla., which earned him a scholarship at the University of Florida. Stephenson’s timing was off. His time there matched the tenure of Steve Spurrier, who won a Heisman Trophy for the Gators in 1966.

He still made it to the pro ranks, signing with the Chargers in 1967. There Stephenson played in three games in a relief role. Then it was on to Buffalo in 1968, when the Bills crashed to a 1-12-1 season. Stephenson started three of those games. His last playing appearance as a pro was in 1974 for Jacksonville in the World Football League, as he started in that league’s first-ever game.

Stephenson moved on to coaching. After serving as the quarterback coach for the Bills in 1982, he moved up to the head coaching job when Knox left for Seattle. Buffalo had an 8-8 record in 1983, but fell to 2-14 in 1984. When the Bills lost their first four games in 1985, Stephenson was dismissed in favor of Hank Bullough.

After a gap of a few years, he landed a couple of other head coaching positions in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League.

--- 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.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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