NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN
The passing last week of Augie Donatelli, Rocky Graziano, Charlie (King Kong) Keller, Ed Steitz and Ted Tinling left the sports world vastly diminished. Seldom has such a significant, disparate array of sports figures died in so brief a span.
Steitz, 69, was probably the least well known of the group, yet he revolutionized college basketball. As a guiding force in rule-making, Steitz, the longtime Springfield (Mass.) College athletic director, brought about the introduction to the college game of the three-point shot (1986) and the 45-second clock ('85), the end of the nine-year ban on dunking ('76) and the elimination of jump balls except at the start of games and overtimes ('81). He helped found the Basketball Hall of Fame, to which he was deservedly inducted in 1984.
Donatelli, 76, a big league umpire for 24 years, founded what later became the Major League Umpires Association. He was at least as argumentative as any manager who ever dared to go nose-to-nose with him, and is best remembered as the ump who, in a famous incident in the 1957 World Series, pointed to a spot of shoe polish on the ball to prove to angry New York Yankee players that Nippy Jones of the Milwaukee Braves had indeed been hit on the foot by a pitch.
By contrast, Keller, 73, a power-hitting leftfielder who played on the Yankees alongside Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich in one of baseball's greatest outfields, was a quiet farm boy, happy to eventually leave the game for a lower-profile life as one of the nation's top breeders of harness-racing horses. The compact, muscular Keller detested his nickname, which suited his appearance more than it did his gentle nature.
While Keller was a University of Maryland graduate, his boxing contemporary Graziano was a poor, uneducated street kid from New York's Lower East Side. "I quit school in the sixth grade because of pneumonia," Graziano once said. "Not because I had it, but because I couldn't spell it." Ultimately, his hardscrabble background was part of his huge appeal. Graziano's 1955 autobiography, Somebody Up There Likes Me, was later made into a movie.
Born Thomas Rocco Barbella, Graziano took the name of his sister's boyfriend when he got into boxing. He was an unpolished, unyielding brawler whose three middleweight title fights against Tony Zale were spectacular and brutal. All three ended in knockouts, with Zale winning the 1946 and '48 bouts and Graziano the '47 fight.
After retiring, Graziano became a popular ad spokesman and TV talk-show guest, delighting all with his malapropisms and fractured grammar. As he told fight announcer Don Dunphy, "Gee, Don, if I could talk like you I'd be broke."
Could anyone have differed more from Graziano than Tinling, the English-born tennis historian, couturier and gadabout? Tinling was a player liaison, analyst, flack, professional cynic and incurable romantic all at the same time. "I'm often [tennis's] court jester, someone to tinkle the bells," he once said.
Tinling started refereeing at 13, and five years later, in 1928, he umpired the first match ever played at Roland Garros in Paris. As a player escort at Wimbledon in 1937, Tinling took a call from Adolf Hitler for Gottfried von Cramm just before the German walked out to play Don Budge in the second-most famous match of all time. In 1949, Tinling designed Gorgeous Gussy Moran's frilled lace panties (which got him booted out of Wimbledon and not allowed back for 33 summers), and in 1973 he designed the rhinestone-cowgirl number that Billie Jean King wore against Bobby Riggs in the most famous match ever.