BrooklynFans Of Books: Working At “The Worldwide Leader”

I Hammered Hank: And Other True Stories From The Worldwide Leader

By Rob Adler

Kindle Digital Publishing/Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Hammered-Hank-Stories-Worldwide-Leader/dp/1980219613

Rob Adler got to live out his dream right out of college by going to work behind the scenes at ESPN, and he shares a lot of his tales in the humorous memoir, I Hammered Hank.

Adler spend a decade working at “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” and won two Emmys working on shows that aired on their various networks, including ESPN Classic, which he took particular pride in.

On what his job interview was like, Adler writes, “He looks down at what I think is my resume and asks me some basic questions. Just to make sure I’m Rob Adler and not a crazy person. (Yes, I know I am, but it’s good crazy. Now is not the time to be a smart aleck.) He then asks me what my favorite football team is. I say the Dallas Cowboys. He says, ‘great. Just so you know, there are no allegiances while you’re on the clock. With that in mind, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the Cincinnati Bengals?’ Um, say what? The Bengals are mediocre. So, I stumble a bit, but get through it. I talk about how both Jeff Blake and Boomer Esiason played at QB last season and that Blake should play this year. I talk about how their rush defense wasn’t great, but they drafted linebacker Takeo Spikes to help. I forget this, but the guy tells me that the Bengals drafted a second linebacker in the first round and another in the third round as well. I also mention how Corey Dillon has helped solidify the running game, and I get a nod. We move on.”

The stories are populated by some of the biggest names in sports the last couple decades, including NBA All-Stars Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Pau Gasol, WWE superstars “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan, SportsCenter anchors Chris Berman, Kenny Mayne, and Scott Van Pelt, as well as Gordie Howe and the inspiration for the title of this book, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron.

One of Adler’s stories involved going to interview former pitcher and current MLB Network announcer Jim Kaat, and he writes of who else he ran into that day, “I’m in NYC today to interview former MLB pitcher Jim Kaat. He played in four different decades in a career spanning a quarter-century. He had nearly 300 wins and played in two World Series, 17 seasons apart. Since retirement, he has gotten into broadcasting, and he’s been doing games for the New York Yankees. I’m looking forward to meeting him as he’s a lefty, and left-handed pitchers tend to be a little different than ‘normal’ pitchers…

“Time to head into Kaat’s building for his interview. I walk in, and I bump into John McLaughlin. Some may remember him as either a speechwriter for Richard Nixon or host of the PBs show The McLaughlin Group. however, I first became aware of him thanks to a Saturday Night Live sketch where his role is played by Dana Carvey. It doesn’t portray McLaughlin in the greatest light, but the sketch is hysterical if you’ve ever seen it.

“Anyway, I introduce myself to him and say I’m interviewing a fellow building resident. He says, ‘well, if you ever want to interview someone that matters, I might be around.’ What an ass. I say that I’m working on some sports documentaries, and he tells me that he doesn’t care. Sorry for trying to be nice. However, I now understand why the SNL sketch portrayed him like it did.

“So, I bring up the sketch, and this isn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. McLaughlin is now pissed with me. Wow, is he mad. He’s ranting like crazy. He then just storms off. I look at the person manning the front desk there and say, ‘imagine that guy as a priest? He used to be,’ Anyway, I sorta feel like I just got hit by a tornado, or whatever. I got an interview to do with someone who just has to be nicer.

“I get up to Kaat’s unit and I tell him I just met McLaughlin. He chuckles and says, ‘bet you enjoyed that’ with a rather large hint of sarcasm. I laugh. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s gone through that ‘experience.’

“Kaat is ready to go, so we sit down and chat. The first subject is Hall of Fame pitcher, and Kaat nemesis in the 1965 World Series, Sandy Koufax. In those days, players from opposite leagues didn’t cross paths that often, so I ask what Kaat knew about Koufax going into the ’65 Series. ‘I knew he threw hard and was a young Jewish kid. When he had that big year in ’63, you knew about him and recognized him as a great pitcher. Being a lefthander but not throwing hard like Sandy, it was pretty awesome to follow what he was doing with a baseball.’

“I ask Kaat what made Koufax so difficult to hit. Kaat puts on his analyst hat. ‘Here comes a fastball, and then, here comes a curveball dropping off the table. So their (the hitter’s) eyes are always at that same level. You don’t know whether it’s going to be fastball or curveball, and they’re all strikes. They’re all hard to hit. If you add it all up. that’s why he’s great.’ Kaat then quickly wants to add that when the curveball wasn’t on, Koufax could survive on his heater. ‘He was that rare pitcher who had such a great fastball and such great command that he could exist on one pitch for short periods of time.’

“I didn’t know both pitchers were hurt going into the 1965 World Series. I knew Koufax was, but I didn’t know Kaat was also ailing. Kaat says of his injury issues that season, ‘I had what they called biceps tendinitis in my shoulder, and I only had several complete games that year out of 42 starts. My arm would just tighten up, and I couldn’t throw anymore after about six innings.’ (Kaat had seven complete games. To compare Kaat in 1965 with the current era, only two pitchers in 2017 had more than two complete games, and none had seven.)

“Kaat and Koufax would match up in games two, five, and seven. (Koufax was originally slated to start game one, but it fell on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, so Don Drysdale started instead.) During game two, Kaat gets to see first-hand how dominant of a pitcher Koufax could be. ‘I remember sitting on the bench in the third inning of game two, and looking at my pitching coach. It was the first time I’d seen Koufax pitch in person, and I said, ‘if I give up a run, this game’s over. This guy’s in another league.’ And, we were fortunate. Bob Allison made a terrific catch to save me a couple runs, and we scratched a run or two to the point where they had to take him out for a pinch hitter. So, we knew what we were up against.’

“Kaat and his Twins won game two. He and his teammates wouldn’t be nearly as fortunate in games five and seven. One would think Kaat may be bitter about coming out on the losing end of the 1965 World Series. Instead, he’s quite amicable. ‘Looking back, even though, he won two of the three games and won the seventh game, that will always be a great memory to be able to say, in the World Series, I hooked up with the greatest Major League pitcher in my lifetime.'”

 

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