What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: Which sportswriters were your heroes when you were growing up?

Bert Sugar: Well, I lived near Shirley Povich, so Shirley, which is a male, of the Washington Post was one of them.  But I quickly picked up on Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner old time, and then fell in love as I grew older with others that I would read like Jim Murray and Red Smith.  But some of the best writing, Paul Gallico, et cetera, was in the sports pages.  So, it was a happy mixture, that’s what I read and that’s where they were. 

Question:
Do you feel like your work continues in their legacy?

Bert Sugar: It’s not up to me to say, but I’ve been... it’s been said even in the Village Voice this week that I’m a throwback and carry on the great tradition of Damon Runyon.  I don’t know if that’s because he wore a hat, or if that’s because I wrote the way he did.  I mean, Runyon was brilliant.  He’s the one who coined so many phrases, gave so many  names, like "Manassas Mauler" and others to athletes, and he’s probably best remembered today for something not in sports: the play, “Guys and Dolls” comes from his short story.  All of them, there are a lot of short stories in there with the Nicely Nicely Johnsons and Sky Mastersons.  But Damon Runyon was brilliant. 

Question: Are there any younger sportswriters who also continue that tradition?

Bert Sugar: Sports writing is almost an extinct species, or soon to be.  Point being, they’re writing for blogs and they don’t have a discipline.  Once they state a subject, they can go on.  There’s no space restraint.  And they’re writing quickly, so there’s no time for thought and cerebral thinking on an article, they’re just banging away. 

And in the old days, just to tell you what it was like when I first came on the scene.  I’d been a lawyer and an advertising man and then after hitting the boss in the mouth, I became a writer because there was nowhere else I could go.  Nobody would hire me.  But we used to sit at bars and tell stories; Toots Shor's, for example, in New York.  And we would tell—drink, yes, tell stories, yes, yes and yes.  And the young kids, at which point I was one, would listen to the old timers.  Now, the kids don’t go to the bars, I don’t care if they drink, have a Coke, but hear the stories.  Don’t go up to your room to figure out on your laptop how many free flyer miles you have, sit and hear what it is you’re doing so you have a reference value.  Sports did not start in 1979 with the beginning of ESPN.  It went backwards before that, I hate to tell the young writers. 

So, no.  I don’t see the tradition being carried on.  I’ll give you a story I picked up at Toots Shor's, had to be 40-45 years ago.  There was a writer in the '20s, for the New York Times who was still covering when I came on the scene named, John Drebinger, or Drebby, who told the story about the time when the writers would be on the same train with the ballclub.  And he was covering the Yankees, and they’re going when there was a western trip, there were eight teams in the American League from St. Louis overnight to Chicago.  They played the Browns; they were on their way to play the White Sox.  And the writers were in the club car dealing out a hand of bridge.  And they were fanning out their cards and the door slams open and Babe Ruth runs down the center aisle, naked.  And they look up; they fan out their cards more.  And the door slams again, and here comes a woman chasing him, equally as naked, with a knife in her hand.  And Drebby says, one of the writers said, “Well there’s another story we’re not going to cover.”  Because that’s what it was like in those days.  You protected your heroes. 

Where're these young kids gonna hear stories like that, if they don’t sit with the old fogies and listen.  They’re too busy doing something, I have no idea what.  But it sure as the dickens ain’t soakin up what they’re coverin'.

Question:
Do you have a story of your own that compares to that one?

Bert Sugar: Oh, several of them.  I remember asking Joe DiMaggio once, “Could you have made that catch Willie Mayes made in the 1954 series off Vic Wertz?”  Joe thought a second, he said, “I wouldn’t have lost my cap.”  Now, where are they gonna hear that? 

I also found out why the Runyons and the Walter Winchells and the Red Smiths and the Shirley Poviches, and on and on and on wore hats.  They wore them indoors.  I mean, if you’ve ever seen "Front Page" by Charles McArthur and Ben Hecht.  It’s been done four times in movies and plays.  The writers are wearing their hats inside.  Well, it goes back to the old, old days when type was set by linotype machines, Morganthaler linotype machines.  The hot type.  They’d type in the word, and each letter would be typed in and it would fly in and the filaments would sort of just spew out all over the place.  If the made an “A” everything that wasn’t an “A” would go flying on the metal, “B”, “C”, etc. 

Well, in the old days, the joisting in the floorboards between the type room, which was upstairs and the edit room, which was right below them because they were setting up their stories by pneumatic tube (whooshing sound).  And then it would (whooshing sound) once that come down again by tube, rolled up in a ball into a tube.  It would come filtering through like a constant drizzle.  And they took to wearing their hats.  So, I wanted to become a writer, I guess I adopted that, which makes me a throwback?  No.  It makes me a hat wearer. But It’s fun to wear one because people identify me as a writer.  Not to put a press pass in.  That’s if you’re insecure and you want somebody to know you’re in the press.  And of course, today’s kids can just have it tattooed on their arm.  But it was because in the old days, all they did was get this drizzle coming off their hat – or their head, and now their hat.  At least they protected something.

Question:
Is sportswriting literature?

Bert Sugar: I think sportswriting is a magnificent literature.  You even get non-sportswriters writing about it.  If you’ve ever read Gatsby, there is a portion in there that refers to the 1919 Black Sox scandal, where Manheimer, I think his name is, or Sondheimer, is talking to Gatsby in a bar.  You get... Arthur Conan Doyle wrote books on boxing.  Jack London wrote boxing.  I could go on... Paul Gallico, who was a sports editor at the New York Daily News, wrote "The Poseidon Adventure."  So you get crossovers all over the place. 

Yes, we’re labeled sportswriters, but we really are just writers.  And half of us will write on bathroom walls in lipstick if it pays—women’s rooms with two hands.

Question:
What is your writing/reporting method when you're watching a game?

Bert Sugar: I think Red Smith said it best.  He said, “You first cut your wrist, then you bleed on the paper.  Then you write.”  You’re looking for a lead, you’re looking for a storyline, you’re looking for personalities who did this.  You just don’t write, "Four homeruns were hit today and they won 10 to 9."  Okay, great.  What?  I mean, what went into that? 

I went to a fight last weekend, Mayweather/Mosley.  And in the introduction at the press conference two days before, Mayweather was introduced as the "undefighted feater," which is a spoonerism.  There was a Rev. William Spooner in England, at Oxford, who did everything bassackwards.  He would say things like, instead of “Conquering Kings Take Their Titles,” which is a hymn, he’s introduce it as, “Kingkering Cons Take Their Title.”  Or, talking about at the end of World War I, the troops would come home and, instead of “the flags would be hung in tribute,” he said, “The hags would be flung.”  He did everything bassackwards and changing the sounds of the first words in succession. 

So, I wrote a whole piece almost like that on the fight.  Not easy, but keeping in sort of the mood and the flair of what I picked up.  It might be fun for people, it might not.  It was fun for me.  And I got the biggest kick out of writing and having fun with it. 

I remember one line I had that was fun to get somebody into a story because you like to get a hook.  And there was a no-hitter thrown and I'm writing about it, and I started with, “It was as unbelievable as Santa Claus suffering vertigo, Captain Bligh sea sickness, Mary having a little lamb.  The 'it' was –" and then I went on to tell it.  Well, I either scared the hell out of readers and they’ve gone elsewhere, or I’ve hooked them.  And you look for that. 

I have one friend who will go unnamed—a great sports writer—I remember one time he was walking around the press box one day reading everybody’s lead.  "That’s good, that’s good."  He was looking for his own, really.  But, but you know, you’re looking for a lead.  And they’re not easy to come by.

Question:
How are boxing matches generally won?

Bert Sugar: Style.  You know, it depends on the fighters.  I’ll give you an old time fighter who fought the wrong fight every time.  Jerry Quarry was a very, very good heavyweight.  He could do everything; he could box, he could punch.  But somehow, he thought he could out-box the boxers, out-punch the punchers, and those were his losses.  He’d come in against Joe Frasier.  Give us a helluva fight for six rounds before he started bleeding or staggering or something.  You know, you look for styles; a stylistic match-up.  You look at the pluses; you look at the minuses, the same with a pitcher and a batter, the same with a football team. 

I still remember Vince Lombardi’s great line, when his Green Bay Packers were playing the New York Giants in the ’62 championship game.  He said, “I’ll tell when I’m gonna run.  If they can stop it, they win.  If they can’t, we win.”

Question:
Is boxing an intellectual sport?

Bert Sugar: I think boxing has an intellectual aspect to it.  Budd Schulberg, a great writer, "On the Waterfront," "What Makes Sammy Run?" loved boxing.  So, does Joyce Carol Oates, by the way, talking about literary types.  And Budd once had the great line, “Boxing is chess played with human bodies, not on a board.”  You’ve got to think it.  Now sometimes it’s instinctive.  Sometimes the man’s IQ ain’t too high, but his boxing IQ is.  So, you watch them think.  You know, yes, it’s instinctive, but they’ve had—they’ve learned.  You have to understand, the word "experience" really is "learning from mistakes."  That’s experience, just learning from mistakes.  And everyone has made a mistake whether they won or lost because of it, they put that into their, sort of mental computer, thou shalt not do it again.  So, you’re looking for that. 

Question:
Who is the most intelligent boxer you've ever seen?

Bert Sugar: Several. Ali, Joe Lewis, Floyd Mayweather, yes.  Films of Barney Ross, films of Benny Leonard.  These are intelligent fighters.  Some have other attributes.  Ray Leonard had probably the fastest hand I ever saw.  Some fighters have a great knockout punch.  Sometimes they can combine them.  You know, so, you’re looking for a skill, and will they—meaning that person—be able to impose that skill and their will on their opponent?  That’s why to me, boxing is one of the most beautiful sports in the world.  It’s mano-a-mano.  It’s like I once asked George Foreman, I said, “George, were you ever interested in football?”  He said, “No.”  I said, “Why?”  He said, “I didn’t want to be hit by somebody from behind.”  In other words, they’re there.

Question:
Was Muhammad Ali really the greatest?

Bert Sugar: No.  He said he was.  Mohammad Ali said he was the greatest, I don’t think he was the greatest.  I wrote a book called "Boxing’s Greatest Fighters."  I rated them one to 100.  I think I have him number six.  But this is pound-for-pound.  Not just heavyweights.  So, I have him the second highest-rated heavyweight, after Joe Lewis/ Because as Ray Robinson, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, number one, he could have been number one through 12, but I had to put another name or two in there.  But I saw Ray Robinson throw a knockout punch going backwards, which is like Nolan Ryan throwing a fast ball falling to second base in terms of leverage. 

But Ali’s peak years were the three-and-a-half years he was forbidden or prohibited from fighting.  He was a dancing master, and a punching master before the three-and-a-half years, then he fails to step forward for the draft, is the equivalent of disbarred for a lawyer for three-and-a-half years.  He comes back and he goes to rope-a-dope.  Those were his peak years.  So, had he had those, and I can’t fill them in, he might well have been exactly what he once took a glove and dubbed himself, “The Greatest.”  Which parenthetically is a line he borrowed from Gorgeous George, the Wrestler who used to do that bravado, “If I don’t win, I’m gonna crawl on my knees to Russia.”  “If I don’t win, I’m the prettiest.”  And he’d lean over the ropes, Gorgeous George.  And Ali saw that and adopted that.  Again, experience.  He experienced watching him and according to Angelo Dundee—with whom I wrote a book called, "My View From the Corner"—he was seated with Ali, then Clay, in a wrestling match in Las Vegas before a fight that Clay had two nights later, and all Ali did watching Gorgeous George was say... he said, “That’s a good idea.  That’s a good idea.”  And he adopted it.

Question:
Does a sport as violent as boxing still have a place in our society?

Bert Sugar: Well, in today’s society... you know, I quoted a Budd Schulberg line about boxing is chess played with human bodies.  We’re in a violent world.  You’ve got mixed martial arts, which is Grand Theft Auto played with human bodies.  I don’t know whether the cages are there to keep the participants in or the spectators out.  I haven’t heard "ban boxing" for 20 years, as the society gets more violent.  Yes, there was a call for it, the AMA.  I used to argue with them back in the ‘80’s.  They’d say "There’s brain damage."  And I said, “Yep, if you get hit in the head too many times, but so is there in football.”  “No, there’s none in football.”  And they’ll go on, “They’re wearing helmets.”  Tell that to the guys who are now like John Mackey walking into walls.  All of a sudden, they found it in football.  Troy Aikman retired after eight concussions.

In boxing if you get a knockout... if you’re knocked out, you’re suspended for 30 days.  In football, if you’re lying on the ground with a concussion, they’ll take you out and put you back in, in 30 seconds.  And the announcers trivialize it, “He got a dinger.”  He’s going to the wrong sideline looking out the earhole, he’s got a "dinger."  So, boxing, I think is really—there was a study done where, I think it was the ninth- or tenth-most-dangerous sport.  And those above it, including luge and bungee jumping and now football are accepted.  And so is boxing. 

Boxing has other problems though; it’s lost its place in terms of favoritism amongst the sports fan, and part of that reason is simply stated that when it was at the top of the fan preference list back in the first 50 years of the last century, through 1950s, there were only three sports of major import.  There was boxing, baseball, and horseracing.  Pro football didn’t come to the popular frame of reference and into great popularity until '58, until the New York Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the greatest game every played, et cetera.  You couldn’t give away pro basketball—it was played in the afternoon.  They call came of age, and boxing kept going down the list of the preferred sports. 

We now have so many sports—I mean, do you know Texas Hold’em is a sport?  I see it on ESPN all the time.  I’m waiting for competitive pole dancing.  I mean it’s gotten silly out there.  But everything’s a sport.  X-games, Y-games, Z-games, who cares games.  "Y" is right.  Why games?  But boxing continues to lose its position and that’s a problem. 

The heavyweight champions today are so, almost anonymous, you could put them all in a police lineup in gloves, robes, and trunks holding their belts aloft, and not only would no one know who they are they wouldn’t know what these guys do for a living.  But the heavyweight champion was the great... we haven’t had a heavyweight champion in so long that we could identify with, whose name isn't Klitschko. And I think there’s only one or two of them keep walking out of a room and changing their name, I think there’s one guy, that it suffers.  The sport suffers because it’s not that identify... at least in the United States. 

Question:
What's wrong with professional boxing today?

Bert Sugar: I’ll tell you want the problem is.  Lennox Lewis, very good fighter showed us that fighters 250 pounds or more could move, could punch, could be entertaining, and could box.  Now, Rocky Marciano was 189.  Joe Lewis was 204.  This was at their heaviest.  Mohammad Ali was 224 at his heaviest.  We’ve not got heavyweights up to 300 pounds.  Nicolai Valuev.  And then a kid, a talented kid, an American, let’s just stay there, who is talented in athleticism and in an athletic way and over 250 pounds would go into football.  The best American heavyweights are named Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher because they’re over 250, and they can make more money.  That’s what happened to the heavyweight division in America.

Question:
What inspired you to write a book about the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Bert Sugar: I have followed baseball all my life, or cognate life and it really is a fun sport.  And to me, the Baseball Hall of Fame is the greatest hall of fame there is, period, end of paragraph. 

So, I wanted to write about it and wanted to do a book, an oversized coffee table book, stealing a line from one of the “Seinfeld” episodes.  It even comes with four legs in case you need a coffee table.  It’s a big book.  Big pictorial history, I’m writing the history and I’m taking the reader on a virtual tour through the Hall of Fame.  And I’m proud of the fact that I got a blurb on the back from Yogi Berra, which reads, “What Bert Sugar doesn’t know about baseball, nobody knows.”  I have no idea what that means.  I think it’s Zen-like, like it’s not worth knowing.  But Yogi makes sense.  I'm a Yogism, but I once asked Yogi, I said: “Yogs, what did you mean when you said, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  He said, “That’s easy, I live at the end of a circle.  Whether you go left or right, you come to my driveway.”  And I went, “He’s making sense.”  And if you parse, analyze, Yogi’s sayings, he does makes sense. 

He’s credited with, “It’s too crowded, nobody goes there anymore.”  Well, there’s a story to that.  The Yankees, after a night game, would go out to dinner.  They’d be at the stadium early to either go through the lineup of the opposing team, or get treated for some ailment, or wrap their knees, if it was Mickey Mantle, or whatever.  And after the game they’d all go out to dinner.  And there was this one restaurant in Cleveland that always was open and always had a place for them after a game.  And they all went there.  Well, it became known that the Yankees eat here.  You know, advertising, or word-of-mouth.  And they went one time, and there was no place at the inn for them.  So they didn’t go there anymore.  Ergo, “It’s too crowded, nobody goes there anymore,” meaning “us.”  Yogi makes sense.

Question:
How badly has the steroids scandal hurt Major League Baseball?

Bert Sugar: I don’t think – I really don’t think steroids are as big a problem as the press has made them.  And if they are, we’ve got a pitcher on steroids throwing to a batter on steroids who’s hitting to a fielder on steroids.  You’re looking for one-upmanship.  Tony Gwynn will tell you, years ago the Padres used to have a bowl of amphetamines in their clubhouse.  Like M&M’s, you’d just pop them.  It didn’t help the Padres at all.  You’re not talented, it ain’t gonna help nothing.  If you’re talented, it might give you a little edge, but so will a spitball.  Baseball has always dealt in edges.  And the Phillies used to raise their third base foul line, extra lime, so that Richie Ashburn’s bunts would stay there.  The Cleveland Indians used to grow the grass higher at third base so Al Rosen, the third baseman wouldn’t break his nose or his fingers on every ground ball.  It would slow it down.  In the 1962 playoffs between the Dodgers and the Giants—by that time, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants—they watered the base paths so Maury Wills couldn’t get off to a fast start and steal bases.  That’s legal, steroids aren’t.  You know, all right.  I don’t get that excited about it.  I’m sorry.  You know, and I’m so old that when I heard the word “drugs” the first time, I thought they were talking about aspirin.

Question:
Who is—or was—the smartest player in the history of baseball?

Bert Sugar: Ty Cobb.  I mean, he was a solid B-player, who became an A+ player because he was smart.  He had some help.  Ernie Harwell, who was the man who got me into sports when I was at Michigan Law—a brilliant, brilliant voice, wonderful person—told me that the used to have something, at old Navin Field, where Cobb played called Cobb’s Lake.  And Cobb would have them water that area every day so his bunts just went phbtt, and stayed there.  And that was a hit.  Cobb could figure out who could be intimidated, when to run on a batter for a stolen base, where to drop a bunt, when... and he held his bat with his hands apart.  And then as the pitch came, he’d move them up and down so to direct the ball to where he wanted it. 

And he hated Babe Ruth.  He hated Babe Ruth because he changed the game.  And then one day, in 1925, because everybody was giving him hell because Ruth was hitting homers, he hit three home runs in a game and said, “There, I can hit homers too.”  And that was the last time he tried.  He could play the game here. [Points to his temple] 

Pitchers, some of them... I always loved Gaylord Perry who was known far and wide for throwing a spitball.  Perry will tell you he didn’t throw a spitball that often.  But he’d be licking his hands so that they thought every pitch coming was a spitball because the batter has an easier job than the pitcher.  The pitcher’s got to keep him off balance and throw him what he doesn’t expect.  So, if you’re talking about intelligence; that falls to the pitcher, or the catcher who is calling the signals because the game’s in their hands. 

You know, batting is a special science, so is pitching.  But pitching requires more of this.  I remember once asking Barry Bonds, “Barry, how do you deal with the steroid crap?”  And I didn’t say “crap.”  I was always very subtle.  And he thought for a second and he said, “Nothing beats eye-to-hand coordination.  And you know what?  Steroids ain’t gonna help you if you can’t hit the ball.  It ain’t gonna go further except into the catcher’s mitt.”  So, batting... I mean Ted Williams.  As great a hitter as he was, was less thinking than his eyes.  His eyes.  He went to Korea and the second time around as a pilot.  In fact, his flight commander’s name was John Glenn, who said he was the greatest pilot he ever saw.  He comes back after a year and a half out of baseball, almost two full seasons, and he’s taking batting practice just to get his skills back to the point where his hands were bloodied from the number of times he had to swing to get his rhythm.  And he went up to the office of Tom Yawkey, then the owner, and he said, “Mr. Yawkey, the plate is off.”  “No,” he says, “No it’s not off," he says, “Yes, we redid the stadium, we put everything back where it belonged.  We refurbished it.”  He said, “It’s off by this much.”  They measured.  For a year and a half, they’d been playing with a plate that was off this much.  Who saw it?  Ted Williams.  I guess that’s intelligence, but it’s also eyesight. 

Question:
Who is—or was—the greatest baseball player ever?

Bert Sugar: The greatest player I’ve ever seen?  Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays second, Roberto Clemente third.  Clemente could... Clemente is lost in this because he didn’t play in a major market.  He played in Pittsburgh.  He had an arm that could throw out a runner in the next county.  Willie Mays was brilliant.  DiMaggio, only because I grew up with him. You know, your first hero is always going to be your hero for life.  I don’t care how old you are, when you fell in "like" with a player, that was your hero.  Joe Lewis was my boxing hero.  Sammy Baugh, B-A-U-G-H, who I still think is the greatest quarterback ever, was my first hero in playing for the Redskins.  You fell "in like" with someone—I’d say “love”, but in today’s society it’s got a different connotation.  Everything’s got a different connotation today.  But, I tell any sports fan, I ask them, who was your first hero, and they’ll tell me, Mickey Mantle for some, Ted Williams for some, Joe Montana for some, depending on their age and their locale.  And I’ll say, "Is he still your hero?"  And he’ll say "my greatest hero."  Because that was when they fell in love with sports, so that was their first hero and their love for sports has grown, but they haven’t lost that nostalgic reflection. 

And when I wrote the book "The Baseball Hall of Fame," I wrote a sort of insert for every decade as for the greatest player ever in that decade.  And there was Honus Wagner who was terribly overlooked for the first decade of the 20th century playing for Pittsburgh.  He was the National League’s Ty Cobb.  Well, when Ty Cobb -- and we do this in the book, we put all the plaques in and then the first five men voted into the Hall of Fame were, Ty Cobb, and second was a tie between Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner, before Kristy Matheson, Walter Johnson.  And they have the five of them, as you‘ll see in the book, the picture of the, if you will, first class, inducted into the Hall of Fame.  And there’s Honus Wagner, who got as many votes as Babe Ruth.  And today, all anybody knows about him is that he’s a face on the most valuable trading card.  Well, he wins, what, eight batting titles and stolen base titles, and etc., etc.  And nobody remembers him except as a face on this valuable card.  And that’s unfortunate.  We’ve lost some of that in the history of baseball, which has more history than any sport; than all sports put together. 

Guess we’re into statistics now.  We’ve got on-base percentages and it’s still history.  And the stories are the game.  The statistics may be the mortar of the game, the real, I think, if you will, "glory" of the game is encapsulated in stories more than statistics. 

Say, ".367," you say Ty Cobb, that’s the end of that conversation.  You tell a story on Ty Cobb, and now it becomes more than a conversation, it becomes a mental note.  And really a romantic one, some of them, and some of them about Cobb, dreadful, but still, it does more than "Well he batted .367 lifetime."  Okay, that was exciting. 

But I think the greatest player ever was Babe Ruth.  Not just his home runs.  Because every home run hit after him has his DNA in it.  But when he was basically transferred from the pitcher’s mound to the outfield, and the reason for that was quite simply: the Red Sox had lost all their outfielders to World War I and they had this pitcher that could hit.  He hits 11 homeruns, which at the time with a dead ball, led the league in homeruns.  So they put him out in the field.  And in his contract later with the Yankees, he only played the non-sun field; right field in Yankee stadium, left field in a lot of other places. 

But, when he left the mound, he had 89 wins at the age of 23.  That’s more wins than any pitcher in the Hall of Fame at the age of 23, except Feller and Kid Nichols.  And he wins five more games with the Yankees.  They just put him in the last day of the season.  And he wins all five appearances while still hitting home runs, while still hitting .342.  This man was a hell of a player.  And so I give him "greatest ever" because of pitching and hitting.  Sure, George Sisler pitched. Cobb even got into a game pitching.  He wanted to pitch against Sisler, who had been a pitcher before he became a... so had Bob Lemon had become a fielder before he became a pitcher.  Sometimes you shift position.  Babe Ruth, greatest player ever.  No question in my mind’s eye.

Question:
Why the hat?

Bert Sugar: It’s a panama in the summer.  It’s a fedora in the winter.  So I change my hats with the season, also my drinks.  But it’s fun.  I’m now identified by my hat, which means less people are wearing them, and have been really since John Kennedy didn’t wear one at his inauguration in ’61.

Question:
What's your drink?

Bert Sugar: It’s vodka or tequila in the summer, a white drink, white liquor.  And Scotch, a good Scotch in the... I’m sorry, in the summer, and a good Scotch in the winter; both of which taste good.

I mean, I went to law school, I tell people I passed the Bar, it’s the only bar I’ve ever passed.

Question:
Were you in your prime, which boxer would you most want to fight?

Bert Sugar: Well, if I could fight one person I could take, I’d take somebody I could beat.  If I were to take one person I just want to watch them hit the hell out of me, it depends on if I want them to rat-a-tat me like Willie Pep, who’d probably be behind me before I look around, or if I wanted to see a star in the ring and stars in the sky because they hit me so hard, Joe Lewis.  I used so spar with Ali.  All I proved was my nickname as a kid when I boxed in college; I was called “The Great White Hopeless.”  I was terrible, but I loved it. 

If I don’t make the last payment on these teeth, the dentist is going to repo them, you know... I just love sports.  And I love boxing and baseball because it’s individual effort.  I know there are eight other men in baseball, but it comes down to one man, the pitcher, and one man, the batter.  And they’re competing.  The same in boxing, mano-a-mano.  That way, I love both sports probably for the same reason.  And I know a lot of fans, baseball players who are boxing fans, and vice versa because there is that similarity to the two, that’s it’s a one-person achievement. 
 
Recorded May 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

 

Big Think Interview With Be...

Newsletter: Share: