John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: February, 2022

The USFL vs. thw NFL: The Judgement

You may notice TV commercials or advertisements on social media announcing a new spring professional football league known as the United States Football League or USFL. This venture is named after a previous attempt to compete with the NFL during the mid-1980s that died in the court room after a nasty lawsuit.

That USFL played two seasons in the spring. Although the league signed a TV contract with ABC, they lost nearly $200 million during this period. After welcoming Donald Trump into their midst as the owner of the NJ Generals, the other owners caved into his demand that they switch to a fall schedule and compete head on head against the NFL during the 1986 season. Unable to secure a network television contract, the league suspended activities then sued the NFL for monopolizing access to ABC, CBS and NBC. Depending on a successful outcome, the USFL anticipated playing a full season with all eight teams beginning on September 13.

The trial opened on May 12, 1986, in the Federal Courthouse on Foley Square in lower Manhattan, Judge Peter K. Leisure presiding. It was a marathon and a slugfest that lasted ten weeks thanks to the chief plaintiff’s attorney, Harvey Myerson, an associate of Roy Cohn and Trump’s own choice for lead counsel.

NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle, was the first witness to testify and his performance on Day 1 left much to be desired. Following that debacle, Rozelle was cajoled, coached and bullied that night by the NFL’s legal team. He returned to the stand. with his act together and made a good showing for the remainder of his time giving testimony.

Myerson called Al Davis, the recalcitrant owner of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to testify in favor of the USFL Davis, who had an eternal blood-feud with Rozelle didn’t have a problem with sticking it to his fellow owners. Myerson also called an over-the-hill Howard Cosell who was somewhat inebriated and gave a rambling address against his old boss at ABC’s, Roone Arledge.   

Frank Rothman, the NFL’s lead attorney methodically examined Chet Simmons, the former USFL’s Commissioner who Trump had removed and, Harry Usher, the current Commissioner. Usher was inept and testified that the only reason that the USFL switched from a spring league to a fall league was to position itself for a merger with the NFL.

Rothman’s special victim and his best witness for the NFL was their chief protagonist, Donald Trump! Richard Hoffer of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Rothman’s cross-examination was a breathtaking ode to knowing your subject and taking him apart, piece by piece.” 

By the time the testimony wrapped up and closing arguments were made, it became obvious that Rothman had successfully demonstrated that the NFL was innocent of all charges. Myerson’s attack strategy was to paint the NFL as Big Business and his USFL as the little guy shut out from a path to success.

The jury debated the case for five days deadlocked three to three. One faction favored the USFL and wanted a judgement of between $300 million and $500 million. With triple damages the judgement would have ranged from $900 million to $1.5 billion.

The other faction wanted to find in favor of the NFL without any damages. After seemingly endless and fruitless debate, it seemed that they finally reached a compromise based on the judge’s instructions to the jury that included a statement that they could award as little as $1.00 in damages if they could not distinguish the amount of the USFL’s losses that were due to its own poor management as opposed to the amount caused by the NFL’s monopolistic practices.

The jury reached a curious verdict in the pressure cooker of a packed jury room. They deemed that the NFL violated Section 2 if the Sherman Anti-trust Act by monopolizing the three television networks but found the NFL not guilty of the other eight charges.

The jury foreman handed Judge Leisure their verdict. After he absorbed it, he asked her how did the jury find on Count One? She replied: “Guilty.”

The court room erupted in joy and excitement for all supporting the USFL. After, order was restored, he asked the foreman how the jury found on the other eight counts and the foreman repeated, “Not Guilty” eight times.

Then Leisure asked the foreman the amount of the damages the jury had agreed upon and she replied, “One dollar.”

A quieter, but just as intensive reaction erupted from those supporting the NFL. The USFL legal team was devastated, the USFL as a league was done and Trump was an embarrassment to the public, the press and his fellow USFL owners.

Myerson was livid. He moved for a mistrial, a motion that Judge Leisure rejected. (The USFL’s subsequent appeal to higher courts were also rejected.) 

Ayoung John Mara, eldest son of the New York Football Giants President, Wellington Mara, and future president of the team, was in the courtroom  monitoring the proceedings. On hearing the words one dollar, he pulled a dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to The Donald. Trump’s sunken expression was worth the price.    

On the Outside Looking In

This Wednesday’s Blog will be delayed one week due to issues beyond my control. God willing and the Creek don’t rise, publication will resume on Wednesday, February 23.

Question: Why is Creek capitalized?

Once Upon a Time at Madison Square Garden

If you were a basketball or a hockey fan during the 1990’s, you’d understand that Madison Square Garden (MSG) was the place to be. This was particularly true for my son, Michael, who was fresh out of college, single, living at home and with money in his pocket thanks to a real job with an insurance company in Downtown Manhattan.

I was a Managing Director at Marsh & Mc Lennan, a premier insurance broker when times were good for the company, its officers and employees.  Frankly, I always considered my managing director title to be a bit of hyperbole where the more common, senior vice president, would have sufficed. But it did give me access to certain perks one being the corporate box at Madison Square Garden. Michael loved all sports, but it was the box at MSG that he found irresistible!

Curiously, the box went unused more times than not for the Knicks and Rangers. My only dilemma to securing tickets for my son was not to pester the gate keeper too often. The gate keeper was a senior executive assistant (aka secretary) to a high-ranking executive. I developed a good relationship with this gal and did favors for her whenever she asked, especially to protect her boss or by fending off unwanted interlopers. My being known as an avid sports fan didn’t hurt either.

Michael’s finest playoff era setched from 1993 until 1997 when he ceased to be a single guy. During this time frame, the Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup and the Knicks lost the NBA Championship to the Houston Rockets in seven games. The Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup run was magical. Demand for tickets didn’t heat up for the quarterfinals against the Islanders nor for the semifinal series against the Capitals allowing me to get him tickets to every home game in each series.  It was only when the Rangers faced the NJ Devils in the Conference Final that I had to back off.

My success rate of securing playoff tickets for the Knicks was less successful, but Mike did go to a couple of their early playoff games.

 Michael’s magical run continued throughout the 1994-1995 seasons. The Knicks made it into the Eastern Division Semi-Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

On May 18th, a Thursday night, Michael took me aside to ask if I could secure tickets for Game 7 scheduled for Sunday, May 21? “ Hold on there, cowboy,” I began my reply, “You and I both know that securing tickets to Game Seven’s is almost impossible.”

Then a bulb lit in my brain: “The Knicks are down two games to three., if they beat the Pacers on Friday night, Game Seven will be in MSG on Sunday night,”

“Son of a bitch! Our Managing Director’s meeting begins this coming Monday, and we are all preoccupied in getting there. Damn, you are good! Nobody can know if there will be a game on Sunday night until after Friday night’s game is over and the Knicks are victorious. That won’t happen until after 11 pm tomorrow night. Nobody will even think of requesting tickets for Sunday until it’s too late.

I waited until just after 3 pm on Friday afternoon to call Miss X, the gatekeeper, “Hey, Miss X,  I need tickets to the box for Sunday’s game. Are there any available?”

“John, actually, you are my first call asking for those tickets. How many do you want?”

Quickly, I blurted out: “Three.”

I let an ecstatic Michael know. That night, the Knicks beat the Pacers, 92 to 82 to force a Game Seven on Sunday night.

Three of my mates joined me to take Amtrak’s Cardinal to our meeting at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. We were still on the train around game time when I called our MSG box on my new cellular phone. When Mike answered: I asked him, “Mike, it’s me. What’s the crowd like?”

After he told me the Garden was full, he challenged me by asking how many people were in the Marsh box. I bit, “Okay, how many?”

“Noah, Anthony and me.”  

The boys witnessed an exciting game. With five seconds remaining in the game and the Pacers leading 97 – 95,  Patrick Ewing, the Knicks star player took an inbound pass and drove to the basket. Ewing had an open lane to the basket, but he began his jump a step too early.

He was too far away to dunk the ball and too close to float it into the basket, so he tried to finger roll the ball into the basket. His attempt was too long, and the ball bounced off the back iron as time expired.

Still, Mike, Anthony and Noah experienced an exciting playoff game in their own exclusive  corporate box. One for their memories.  

Eddie Basinski and Van Lingle Mungo

In 2011 I wrote the original version of “Van Lingle Mungo”, updating that edition after I discovered that Eddie Basinski had passed away.

It’s the musicality of his name that gives these lyrics legs. Say it slowly, let the syllables roll off your tongue: Van Lingle Mungo.

Van Lingle Mungo pitched in the major leagues from 1931 to 1945 mostly with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A talented hurler trapped on a lousy team; he had his day in the sun before fading into baseball history until his unique name enabled him to gain a peculiar recognition when his name was prominently featured in a song about baseball.  

Roger Angell, one of our American literature’s treasures and a  and devoted baseball fan and historian described Van Lingle Mungo in his quasi-memoir, Let Me Finish:

When I exchanged baseball celebrities with pals at school, we used last names, to show a suave familiarity, but no one ever just said “Mungo” or even “Van Mungo.” When he came up in conversation, it was obligatory to roll out the full

            name, as if it were a royal title, and everyone in the group would join

            in at the end of the chorus: Van Lin-gle MUN-go!

In 1969, the songwriter, David Frishberg wrote a jazz ballard, (at that time referred to as; “a bossa nova ballard.”) The lyrics consisted entirely of the names of baseball players except for “big” and “and”. The title is “Van Lingle Mungo.” And every chorus ends with his name.

Mr. Frishberg sang Van Lingle Mungo’s name exactly as Angell sets it out in his 2006 copyrighted book.

 In 2011 when I first wrote this piece, I noted the following information:: For the record, the experts who keep track of this kind of trivia report that six players named in the song remain alive, today: Max Lanier, 92, Eddie Joost and Phil Cavaretta, both 91, Johnny Pesky, 88, John Antonelli, 76 and Eddie Basinski, 84.

Van Lingle Mungo. was born in 1911, died in 1985. He won 120 games and lost 115, was most prolific from 1932 to 1936 when he won 81 and lost 71. He had several problems both on and off the field. On the field, he felt the need to strike out every batter giving him a high pitch count that limited his ability to complete games.

 Curiously, if Van Lingle Mungo pitched in today’s game, nobody would have cared about this weakness as almost every starting pitcher is only good for a maximum of six innings. He hurt his arm in 1937, an injury that should have ended his career. Curiously, he hung in there pitching junk for another seven years.

Off the field, he enthusiastically pursued wine, women and late-night adventures. On a spring training trip to Havana, he barely escaped a machete being wielded by the outraged husband of a nightclub singer and his latest conquest. He was wild and mean and had a terrible temper. Several sources quoted Casey Stengel who managed him on the Dodgers:

Mungo and I get along fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I’d duck.

If you use Google or another internet search engine, you can find the complete lyrics, or actually hear Dave Frishberg sing his tune.

In January. Eddie Basinski’s obituary appeared in The New York Times. The headline read:

                  Eddie Basinski, 99, Infielder

                  And an Equally Elite Fiddler

Basinski had taken classical violin lessons since childhood and was a member of the University of Buffalo symphony orchestra when America declared war on Japan in 1941.

A marginal professional baseball player, his poor sight not only kept him out of the major leagues, it also prevented him from being drafted. But it did give him the opportunity to reach the major leagues as a replacement player for those starters who went to war. He played 39 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 and 108 in 1945. Sent back to the minors in 1946, he played in 56 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947.

He remained in the minor leagues until 1959 pitching for the Portland Beavers and five other teams including one in Venezuela. He told The Times about a violin recital that he performed between the two games of a doubleheader “I got a tremendous ovation and had a good doubleheader too.”

In January, in death, Eddie Basinski achieved a final milestone as he became the last baseball player named in Dave Frishberg;s salute to baseball  to pass away.

RIP Eddie Basinski.