Interview: Elliott Kalb

Elliott Kalb is a five-time Sports Emmy winner, working for NBC Sports for 15-years, and currently for HBO Sports, TNT, and CBS-Westwood One Radio Network. Known to many as Mr. Stats, he’s written two books, posted an excellent article with us and now he sits down with me to answers some questions.

Who’s been your favorite interview so far? Most surprising?

Since I’ve been promoting my books, my favorite interview has been Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who hosts a talk show on KNBR in SF. He told me that I should have ranked him 24th all time, since that was the number he always wore. I ranked him 22nd.

Over the years, I’ve had a chance to interview (or write questions for) most great athletes of the last two decades. My favorite was talking to Pat Riley about his ability to teach and motivate. I asked him if he felt he was wasting years teaching (mainly) to 12-millionaires, rather than hundreds of young people in a classroom. Riley is a tremendous interview.

What’s the most memorable sports moment you witnessed live?

Where do I begin? I produced NBC’s baseball coverage from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where the USA team defeated a heavily favored Cuba team. I was there at the 1988 World Series, when Kirk Gibson hit a miraculous homer. I was there for each of Michael Jordan’s 35 NBA Finals games. Super Bowl XXIII, when Joe Montana led a last minute comeback. The last two Super Bowls, when the Patriots narrowly defeated the Panthers and Eagles. Game 7 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Lakers. Game 7 of the 2000 Western conference Finals, when the Lakers overcame a 15-point defecit to the Trailblazers. Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. Game 7’s are almost always memorable.

Who’s your all-time sports hero?

Wilt Chamberlain was my hero growing up. I’ve been chronicling the career of Shaquille since he came into the NBA, and very proud that I was the first to write that he was the best of all time.

What’s been the harshest criticism of your “Who’s Better, Who’s Best? in Basketball” book?

That I ranked Shaq first merely to sell books.

What’s your reaction to the Congressional hearings with MLB regarding steroid use?

If Congress wanted truly to help kids (as they said) they would worry about stopping the sale of alcohol at sports events. Congress found a way to look good. Bud Selig was made to look a fool. Of course, he wants a tougher steroids policy, but his hands are tied by the players association and Don Fehr.

Who do you think will be the #1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft? Why?

I follow the NFL, the NBA, and MLB very closely. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to follow college football the same way. I do know the Niners need a quarterback, and the Dolphins need a running back.

When the next group of players is picked, who do you think should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?

One of the best trios of all time left the game in 2001. Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Mark McGwire. When it is their turn, I am looking forward to that. Guys like Tony Perez or the recently retired Roberto Alomar are close, but no cigar in my opinion.

Do you think gambling hurts or helps collegiate sports? Professional sports?

I love fantasy leagues, but I think they are starting to hurt sports because anytime players and/or fans care more about individual stats than team goals, it hurts the sport. No doubt pools help interest in the NCAA tournament.

Do you miss the NHL? Do you know anyone that does?

I’m afraid I’m not much of a hockey fan. I feel for the many people who make their income off of the sport, though.

Do you think professional women’s leagues like the WNBA will succeed in the long run? Why?

The women’s leagues have created a niche. It will never rival the main sports, but I am happy for those involved and the people that enjoy them.

What do Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Dan Marino and Chris Carter think of TheSportsCritics.com?

They all enjoy debating the issues, so I’m sure they would like the site.

When will your book signing tour make it to Southern California?

I will be in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 14.

It’s draft time and the following people make up the draft for your sports organization. Which people are FIRST ROUND picks, which are LAST ROUND picks and which go UNDRAFTED? Why?

Barry Bonds

FIRST ROUND – Greatest baseball player of all time.

Michael Jordan

FIRST ROUND – Greatest non-center to ever play in the NBA.

Pete Rose

LAST ROUND – As a manager, he bet on his own team some days, which means he bet against his team on others…that’s what I have a problem with.

Bill Parcells

FIRST ROUND – I worked with Bill and I am one of his guys. A Jersey guy. A guy he can hang with at the diner. A guy that is loyal to him, and would go through a wall for. He needles me, gets on my case, and made me work twice as hard for him as anyone else.

Jose Canseco

LAST ROUND – I wrote a better baseball book than him–an old fashioned baseball book that could have been written at any point in time…but this schmuck has the best-seller?

Kobe Bryant

LAST ROUND – I wrote in the NBA book almost two years ago, that any great perimeter player (Tracy McGrady, for instance) would have won those three titles that Kobe won. Shaq made the difference. He has proven me correct.

Bill Buckner

SECOND ROUND – I still think of him as a batting champ, an excellent hitter, and he should have been replaced for defense in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 WS.

Brett Favre

LAST ROUND – Still can’t stomach him after he let Strahan sack him intentionally for record.

Billy Martin

Very underrated manager…and as a longtime Yankees fan, he’ll always have a place in my heart.

Bobby Knight

FIRST ROUND – I like Parcells, so I like Knight. Of course. He represents so much about what is good for his sport.

Mark Cuban

FIRST ROUND – Owners I like more than him: Al Davis, the Maloof brothers. Also, although he wasn’t an owner, Pat Croce has been a friend, role model, and the real deal.

Pedro Martinez

FIRST ROUND – One of the greatest of all time. I ranked him 29th all time, and he’ll be better than Koufax if he does anything in the back end of his career.

Terrell Owens

Who’s Better, Who’s Best? I’ll take Randy Moss and Teri Hatcher over T.O. and Nicolette Sheridan.

The Unruly Judge

G ambling was both legal and wide open in Albuquerque. Town authorities relied heavily on the sale of saloon licenses and fines imposed for disturbances at the gambling tables to help maintain the municipal government. As towns sprouted in the 19th-century American West-outside Army forts, at river crossings along wagon trails, in mining districts and at railheads-some of the first structures built were recreational facilities. Recreation for the almost totally male population inevitably meant Three-W vices of the frontier-whiskey, whoring and wagering.

Since no stigma was attached to games of chance, distinguished pillars of the community indulged openly. One prominent gambling addict was the town’s leading magistrate, Judge William C. Heacock. He could be found most nights whiling away his time dealing three-card Monte in his favorite Albuquerque saloon Dealers banked their own games. If they made money, it was theirs. If they lost, it was out of their own pocket. Judge Heacock loved playing three-card Monte in the backroom of a saloon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He also presided over Albuquerque’s night court, which he opened and closed at his own discretion. When the judge suffered a bad losing streak, he called in a town deputy and said, “Get me a drunk with money in his pockets that is guilty of disorderly conduct.” Judge Heacock’s widow told an interviewer of one incidence in which the judge ran out of money. Deputies were dispatched to find a drunk. The deputies soon returned carrying a limp man between them. “What the Hell?” asked the judge? “What’s that you got? “Your honor,” replied a deputy, as he laid his burden on the floor, “we found him in the back room of the Blue Indigo.” “Can he stand trial or is he dead drunk?” asked the judge. “He’s not drunk, but he’s dead all right. He croaked himself over there in the Blue Indigo and the proprietor insisted we get him out of there.” This annoyed the judge. “Didn’t the fools ever hear of an inquest?” he asked. Heacock had sent for a lucrative drunk, not a drooling suicide. The judge turned to his deputies. “This court is a court of justice. The right of habeas corpus must not be ignored. The prisoner must be given a speedy and fair trial. This court is ready to hear evidence. What is the charge?” “Your Honor,” said a deputy, “The charge has not yet been determined.” “This court will hear no case without a charge. Did you search the prisoner?” “There was a letter to some dame-“began the deputy.” “Any money?” The deputy counted out $27.32. “Any weapons?”

A deputy produced a gun found in the dead man’s hip pocket. “Has the prisoner anything to say before sentence is imposed upon him?” The judge cocked his ear toward the dead prisoner, listening for a response. “In view of the unresponsiveness of the prisoner, which this court interprets as contempt, and in view of the unlawful possession of a lethal weapon, this court imposes a fine of $20.00 and court costs,” pronounced the judge. “You might as well leave him there till morning,” the judge instructed his deputies, pocketing the money. The judge returned to his Monte game in the saloon below with enough money to continue dealing. His wife remembered well enough the shack she and Judge Heacock lived in-you couldn’t call it a house-for there weren’t any real houses in Albuquerque in those days. The shack was on South Second Street where it was replaced by the Crystal Beer Garden. It was a dusty spot and she wanted her husband to buy a little land near Robinson Park where there were a few trees and a pump. She would have been satisfied with a one-room house and a tent there, she said, but her husband said a house built on that spot would sink into the quicksand in no time. “He had no eye for business,” she said. “He knew just one thing-the law.” Mrs. Heacock recalled one night in the 1890s when she heard shots as she was clearing the supper table. She ran to the door to see what was happening. Her husband, the judge, called her back, telling her the safest thing to do was to lie on the floor. The cowboys had no desire to kill, but it was safer to keep out of the way of their bullets.” On one occasion, a cowboy killed a child. The cowboy was drunk and was looking for black cats to shoot. He was horrified when he realized what he had done. The townspeople hung him as an example in order to make Albuquerque safe for their children. Judge Heacock, who prosecuted the case, was so upset when the man was hung he refused thereafter to serve except as a defense lawyer.

In an interview Mrs. Heacock said they used to do funny things in Albuquerque, many of them in the name of justice. She told of a well-dressed stranger coming to town from the East. He rode a “hack” to the hotel on First Street and was paying his fare when two big deputies arrested him for being a suspicious character. “He was too well-dressed and they needed money for the city that day,” recalled Mrs. Heacock. In another instance, Judge Heacock sent El Fago Baca to his own jail for a month. The judge was low on funds and dispatched his deputies to find a drunk for the night court. When they tried to arrest Jesus Romero, a friend of Elfego Baca’s, Mr. Baca objected and hit one of the policemen over the head with his huge silver watch. Coincidentally, the injured man was one of Albuquerque’s favorite policemen. When the crowd saw him lying unconscious, they assisted the other deputy in escorting Mr. Baca to night court. Deputy Romero was completely forgotten. “Drunken and disorderly conduct” was the charge against Baca, who vehemently denied the allegation. “You’re crazy,” said Elfego. “Silence,” bellowed the judge. The judge wanted to delay matters until a night sergeant could check Elfego’s pockets and find out how much money he had. “I know exactly how much I’ve got,” Elfego blared at the sergeant. “$18.19. If you count a nickel less you’ll get yours later and good and plenty.” “Shut up!” said the judge, trying to assume a judicial dignity. “Well, wait and see,” replied Elfego amiably. “Guilty or not guilty” asked the court. “Not guilty!” said Elfego, “and you all know it damn well!” “Thirty days or ten dollars and costs,” said the judge. “I suppose ten dollars and costs are $17.19,” said Elfego. “You ain’t going to pull that stuff on me. I’ll take the thirty days.” A deputy escorted him to the jail in Old Town, where, unbeknownst to the judge, Elfego had recently been appointed jailer. The name of E. Baca was signed into the record and Elfego Baca received the regular seventy-five cents a day for the feeding of the prisoner. At the end of the month, Elfego was $22.50 richer for his encounter with Judge Heacock’s night court.