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Memphis used to wooing teams

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 19, 2001

Memphis has checked out of Heartbreak Hotel. It's more than the city of just Elvis, barbecue, FedEx, blues and The Firm. Pleading for a major-league sports franchise was rolling long when The King was still rocking at Graceland.

Memphis was deep into posturing for a pro football team 30 years ago, when University of Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer was a little-known offensive guard for the Vols, Minnie Pearl was getting Saturday night yuks at the Grand Ole Opry and Al Gore's job was chasing stories for a Nashville newspaper.

On the banks of the Mississippi, they took stabs with the WFL, USFL and, I recall, the AFL/CIO. Pepper Rodgers, an old Georgia Tech quarterback who coached strong teams at Kansas and UCLA, scrambled his way into most every Memphis football adventure but the town's ill-fated season of babysitting Oilers-turning-Titans who were Nashville-bound.

At last, Memphis can crow, "We're in the big leagues." Thanks to basketball.

Because a pack of Grizzlies could neither win nor draw in Vancouver, the NBA voted to relocate to Presley's precinct, where the lures included a bargeful of money pledged by AutoZone founder J.R. "Pitt" Hyde.

It's the smallest NBA market, but I think Memphis will make good. Civic desire is unquestionable and hoops have a strong tradition at both collegiate and high school levels.

I mean, I think it's going to work well. My convictions tempered only due to being wrong, so far, in figuring Tampa Bay, after a painfully long pursuit, would flourish as a major-league baseball market.

UPPERCUTS: Nice grass, Philadelphia. ... Former 49ers teammates Steve Young and Brent Jones are revving enthusiasm and money to pitch for a Silicon Valley franchise. Steve, as a QB, experienced the sweetest (Niners of Eddie DeBartolo) and sourest (Bucs of Hugh Culverhouse) of pro football operations. Even so, the Young-Jones chances in northern California are nil. NFL ownership explosions are assured if the jocks officially attempt intrusion into territories of the Raiders and Niners. ... D-Rays pitching coach Bill Fischer's record of 841/3 innings without allowing a walk is secure, now that Greg Maddux was ordered to execute an intentional, but Fisch's adroit control got him nothing better than a 4-12 record in 1962 for Kansas City. ... Has any athlete ever had a better bounceback in a single event than Boston catcher Scott Hatteberg, who hit into a triple play against Texas two weeks ago and then, in his next at-bat, cranked a grand slam to win the game?

READERS SHOUT: E-mail from Joe Kuppe says: "I like to see commentary regarding the appearance of baseball players. Rule book for proper dress is explicit but I see pants legs hanging over shoes, shirts with four buttons undone and lots of jewelry including one nut who wears shark's teeth.

Mel Casper of Tampa writes: "I like your new Sunday columns, Hubert, but I miss your takes on the Bucs, Gators, 'Noles, golf and other sports. What's the chance for a comeback?"

Ed Wright of Clearwater suggests: "Joe Magrane is in the wrong business. His best comments are yep, huh and I don't know. He was more tolerable before doing Olympics baseball telecasts. Also, where is Jimmy Piersall, who played the Red Sox outfield with Ted Williams and Jackie Jensen?"

MY TAKES: Unlike golf, where rules are strictly enforced, baseball takes more liberties than the Sixth Fleet. Strike zone gets tinkering. Batting boxes are ignored. Fashion policing is nowhere near NFL standards. Bud Selig really should care. ... As for Magrane, he's a favorite of mine. D-Rays television, including Dwayne Staats, is far from Tampa Bay's weakest baseball link. ... Re: Piersall, he was a minor-league instructor with the Cubs until a couple years ago and now lives in Wheaton, Ill., and does a radio show in Chicago. ... Muchasgracias, Mel, but retirement is dandy. Sunday's swats are all I'll be handling, except maybe for rare assignments, mostly in my new Virginia neighborhood.

JABS: Cancer has claimed another Mantle. Mickey's brother, Roy, at 65, became the family's fifth victim, beginning with father Mutt. ... Serena Williams admits to online shopping addiction, including $40,000 in goodies for her dog. Why do the former too-much-money, too-much-idle-time problems of Jennifer Capriati flash to mind? ... With the Gold Club's disintegration, we must surmise that Atlanta, like Ian Woosnam, had one club too many. ... Include me in the chorus who thinks John Stallworth should've been introduced by Lynn Swann as a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, rather than vice versa. Maybe it does help to be a mediocre TV announcer. ... Can you feel Florida interest in Chicago's Bears taking a leap, with Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, ex-Gator quarterbacks, on the depth chart, shooing Cade McNown out of Windy town, the decisions being made by rookie general manager Jerry Angelo, erstwhile former Bucs personnel chief? ... Speaking of your heroes, the biggest Bucs question is still offensive line.

Whatever happened to Paula Abdul?

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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