May 4, 2014

Jack Ramsay, who won title with NBA’s Blazers, dies at 89

Jack Ramsay, the longest tenured coach in the history of the Portland Trail Blazers and who led the team to its only championship in 1977, died last week after a long struggle with cancer. He was 89.

NBA Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay

What a loss, and what a shock to learn that cancer finally had beaten Ramsay because he always struck me as some kind of early devotee of living the right way, always looking as fit and trim as the players he coached.

I’ll always remember Ramsay, too, for his plaid pants, the kind of pants you couldn’t wear today without someone making a crack comment, but that he seemed to wear without a second thought. It was the 1970s, of course, although I don’t remember many other coaches who looked quite like Ramsay did.

And I doubt his sense of style generated a run on plaid or paisley pants.

But I had to have a pair, my mother or some family member finally getting me some plaid pants to wear and root on the Blazers, including the year the team put it all together in spring ’77.

There’s nothing quite like following and believing in YOUR TEAM as they march their way through the playoffs to make the finals. But the Philadelphia 76ers were no pushovers. They had some guy named Dr. J and another nicknamed Chocolate Thunder, not to mention George McGinnis, Caldwell Jones, Doug Collins and Henry Bibby.

The Sixers were favorites in the series, but the Blazers countered with Bill Walton, The Enforcer, Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis and lesser known players — to those outside of Portland — such as Bob Gross, Lloyd Neal and Dave Twardzik.

And because it was MY TEAM, it was tough to watch the Blazers lose the first two games in the series, especially the second game because the team completely fell apart, including the ejections of both Maurice Lucas and Darryl Dawkins for fighting.

Lucas popped Dawkins for messing with Bob Gross, and then Dawkins swung and missed, accidentally hitting teammate Doug Collins.

But those two losses were quickly forgotten as the Blazers reeled off four straight wins and the championship was OURS.

The Oregonian, my hometown paper, did a nice job with Ramsay’s obituary, getting the right reaction from former players, coaches and others who knew him, and including information about Ramsay that was new to me.

On Ramsay’s health and player preparation:

Ramsay pushed preparation, requiring his players to run a 7-minute mile before the season, and lived the example. A former Navy demolition diver — a precursor to the SEALs — Ramsay ran, biked long distances and swam in Oswego Lake.

On Ramsay’s style:

Ramsay coached games from the sideline on one knee, often in plaid or paisley flared pants and a brightly colored jacket, his thick black eyebrows hooding his hawk eyes. He would get so worked up as he directed his ball-movement offense and the zone press defense he helped popularize that Ramsay often later forgot the things he yelled in games, former Blazers trainer Ron Culp said.

On Ramsay’s pregame speeches:

“I used to live for his pregame speeches,” said (Bill) Walton, the key to the ’77 team. “They were so compact, so organized, so tight, so brilliant, so analytical. And just right to the starting line. He would say, ‘OK, let’s go,’ and we would just hit that door running.”

Former Blazer Lionel Hollins on Ramsay:

“He got up and he worked out every morning,” Hollins said. “He ate correctly every day. There was so much discipline in his life, and you respected and admired that. He was such a good person. He genuinely liked the game of basketball. He genuinely liked the players. And all he wanted to do was win.”

On losing:

Losses transformed Ramsay. His face would redden with anger, and after the Blazers lost road games he would take off on long marches through the city.

On a long march in Chicago:

In a 2007 interview Ramsay recalled stomping through a rough part of Chicago, “hoping that somebody would accost me so that I could vent my anxieties. On one occasion, a guy did come up to me and I thought, ‘This is going to be it.’ It was winter and I had some kind of an overcoat on. My fists were ready in my pockets. 

“This guy comes up and says, ‘Do you have a match?’ ” Ramsay recalled, chuckling. “I said, ‘I don’t smoke.’ ”

Farewell, Jack Ramsay. We miss you already.

–Rolf Boone

Photo credit: Jack Ramsay, via Wikipedia

March 28, 2014

Remembering the Twins’ Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett, who patrolled center field and played his entire 12-year career for the Minnesota Twins, would have been 54 this month. His birthday was March 14. But Puckett, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2001, died in 2006 at the much-too-young age of 45 from a stroke. His life following the game was tragic,... Continue Reading »

February 15, 2014

Twins GM Terry Ryan announces he has cancer

Godspeed, Terry Ryan. Ryan, the longtime general manager of the Minnesota Twins, recently announced he has cancer after doctors discovered a cancerous lump in a lymph node in his neck. This is not an obituary. Ryan’s cancer reportedly is very treatable, but if he should step away from the game, just as he did in... Continue Reading »

January 10, 2014

Pitcher Jack Morris belongs in the baseball hall of fame

Better luck next time, Jack Morris. Morris, the longtime starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who also spent one incredible year with the Minnesota Twins, failed to gain entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week after spending 15 years on the ballot. I was sure he was going to get in this year... Continue Reading »

December 31, 2013

The ‘homerdome’ is going, going, gone

The state of Minnesota and the sporting world said goodbye to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Sunday, the often ridiculed dome with the air-supported roof hosting an NFL game (the Minnesota Vikings actually won) for the last time before it is demolished to make way for a new home for the Vikings. Hubert H. Humphrey... Continue Reading »

December 24, 2013

Twins finally spend a little money on free agents

If the Minnesota Twins, my favorite baseball team, fail to produce a winning campaign in 2014, I can at least look back to the off season of 2013 and say they tried. That’s because the Twins, not historically known for big free agent signings, appear set to reverse the losing ways of the past three... Continue Reading »

October 1, 2013

Twins extend contract of longtime manager Ron Gardenhire

As I posted earlier, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire’s baseball card might not have much value, but his managing does, the Twins agreeing this week to extend his contract for another two years. Of all the stories I read about Gardy’s new deal, I couldn’t find a single one that mentioned details of his salary... Continue Reading »

September 21, 2013

Valuable card or not, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has meant plenty to team

I recently called Dugan’s Sports Cards in west Olympia to inquire about the value of team manager baseball cards.Yes, the card for an older, more famous manager like Casey Stengel would have some value, I was told.How about one of longtime Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire?I don’t think so, said the man on the phone.Thus... Continue Reading »

September 12, 2013

I spent $47.50 to watch the Seattle Mariners play baseball, but that’s not the whole story

Yes, I’m a baseball fan, which means I’ll try and squeeze in one more game before the season ends, even if it involves watching the Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball. As of this moment, the Astros are 50-96. More shocking, though, was the reminder of just how expensive Safeco Field is. Over nine... Continue Reading »

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Hi, I’m Rolf Boone and I love the Twins.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.