Monday, July 27, 2009

Tampa Tarpon Tournament, 1963

This image, taken by local photographer Sandy Gandy, captures A.J. Goodyear’s grand-prize-winning tarpon in the 16th Annual Tampa Tarpon and Salt Water Gamefish Tournament. Goodyear, not seen in this photograph, is accompanied on the boat Dixie Ann by guides Billy Powell, boat captain Ken Carruthers, and friend George Bayette. Goodyear also won the grand prize two years earlier in 1961.

The tournament, annually one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year, spanned two months during the summer, beginning in June and concluding in either late July or early August. During the tournament, fish could be caught from any shore, dock, bridge or boat within the designated boundaries, and prizes for winning entries included sports cars, boats, motors, television sets, and other merchandise provided by local sponsors.

Monday, July 20, 2009

USFL Championship at Tampa Stadium, 7/15/84

On January 22, 1984, Tampa Stadium hosted Super Bowl XVIII and, for one evening, became the center of the sporting universe. Less than six months later on July 15, 1984, the stadium would play host to another league’s championship game on a significantly smaller stage.

The United States Football League, nearing the end of its second season, chose to play their championship game in Tampa over other competing cities such as New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Pontiac, Michigan. Tampa thus became the first -- and only -- city to ever host the championship games of both the NFL and USFL in the same year.

Other than a shared sport, one could hardly draw fair comparisons between the two games. While the Super Bowl had yet to become the overarching spectacle it is today, it still had a tremendous impact on the local economy.

The NFL Task Force estimated the economic impact at roughly $87.4 million, with 65,000 out-of-towners visiting the Tampa Bay area because of the game. That the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Raiders both had huge followings certainly didn’t hurt, either.

The USFL Championship Game, on the other hand, could not be counted on to generate such numbers or interest. While an estimated 100 million people around the world tuned in to Super Bowl XVIII in January, how many would be watching a Sunday night showdown between the Philadelphia Stars and Arizona Wranglers? Of more importance on the home front, would the game come close to selling out Tampa Stadium? While the Stars and Wranglers no doubt had their share of hardcore fans, neither team could hope to bring as many fans to Tampa as the Redskins or Raiders.

In a match-up, however, that foreshadowed Tampa’s most recent Super Bowl by 25 years, a juggernaut team from Pennsylvania would square off against a long-shot team from Arizona. The Stars breezed through the regular season and playoffs with an 18-2 record, while the Wranglers came into the contest on a six-game wining streak, but with a much less impressive 12-8 mark. Philadelphia, seeking redemption following a defeat to the Michigan Panthers in the 1983 championship game, seemed to be the team of destiny.

“I don’t think our players are simply content with being here,” said Philadelphia head coach Jim Mora. “They’ll be extremely disappointed if we don’t win it.”

The Stars were also loaded with NFL-caliber talent, led by running back Kelvin Bryant, center Bart Oats, linebacker Sam Mills, offensive tackle Irv Eatman, and former Buccaneer’s backup quarterback Chuck Fusina. Regardless of the unfavorable comparisons between the leagues and their championship games, few could take issue about the quality of football on display.

In front of a respectable crowd of 52,662, the Stars used their greatest strength – an overpowering offensive line – to their advantage all night long. The Stars jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead in the first quarter behind rushing touchdowns by Bryan Thomas and Fusina.
Things could have gotten much worse for Arizona had the Stars not committed two turnovers and missed a field goal on their next three possessions.

Philadelphia’s offense, however, would go on to control the ball for 43:19 of the game’s 60 minutes. Such a staggering differential, coupled with a two-touchdown lead, made an Arizona comeback virtually impossible.

The Wranglers cut into the lead with a field goal in the second quarter to make the score 13-3 at the half, but those would be the only points produced by Arizona on the night.

The Stars, capping a game long-since decided, added 10 more points in the fourth quarter to make the final score 23-3. Philadelphia’s dominant running game generated 256 yards on 59 carries, a USFL record. With that kind of support, the one-time-Buc Fusina merely had to turn in an efficient performance -- 12 of 17 for 158 yards – en route to being named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

After the game, pundits debated how Philadelphia, as clearly the USFL’s best team, would handle NFL competition.

“I’m not saying we’d be a playoff team,” Mora said after the game, “but we could survive in the NFL. I think we could go into that league and compete.”

If overnight ratings for the game were any indication, however, the USFL still had miles to go in terms of competing with the NFL. The game, televised by ABC, only drew a 19 ratings share (percentage of total viewing audience). Worse yet, the broadcast landed ABC behind both CBS and NBC in the ratings, whose stellar programming that night featured reruns of Knight Rider, AfterMASH, The Jeffersons, Alice, and Trapper John, M.D..

Monday, July 13, 2009

Catching Up With Carlos Tosca, Part II

Carlos Tosca, currently a bench coach with the Florida Marlins, epitomizes the American dream. A native of Cuba, Tosca graduated from Brandon High and played baseball for both Florida College and the University of South Florida. He served as a pitching coach at King High in Tampa before starting a career that would include over 900 wins as a minor league manager and two-plus seasons as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Valrico resident recently sat down to reflect on his career and unlikely rise through the ranks of his profession. The following is the second of a two-part interview with Tosca.

Q. In 2002, you're coaching third base for the Toronto Blue Jays when their manager, Buck Martinez, is fired. You then became just the seventh major league manager ever without professional playing experience. Did you ever think you'd see that day?

A. This country is known for people being able to fulfill their dreams. I was okay as a player, but not good enough to play in the big leagues. I was always interested though in managers, NFL head coaches, and that was my dream: to be a major league manager.

Q. Did all the years in the minors prepare you for the pressure of managing in the majors?

A. I think that I was prepared to do that. I'd managed at every level in the minor leagues. I had been a coach on a major league team for a very good manager. I felt that I was prepared for the position. I wasn't going to be surprised by any situation that came up in a game.

Q. How about what goes on behind the scenes?

A. Your job as a major league manager is also to manager the player’s personalities, the front office personalities, and in the media. I had someone describe it to me once this way. There used to be a guy on The Ed Sullivan Show that would put plates on a stick and spin them. You've kind of got to keep those plates spinning. When one starts to get wobbly, you've got to go back and spin the other one. That's the best way to describe it.
The difference between a major league player and a minor league player is that they don't readily open up to you like a minor league kid does. The minor league kid is homesick, struggling, and right away they're looking for answers. Major leaguers are a little more guarded. You have to make a connection and gain their trust. You're dealing with the best players in the game, and you're dealing with some egos, too.

Q. Did you have any allies in the clubhouse that made things easier for you?

A. Carlos Delgado. I called each individual player in after I took over and had meetings with them. Carlos really took the bull by the horns and would kind of keep me abreast on things. He was the biggest star we had on the team and he was very helpful.

Q. You finished third in the American League East in 2003, but struggled mightily the next season.

A. Well, in my first full year we really swung the bats. There were hardly any games that we felt we were out of. We hit home runs, we hit doubles, we played pretty good defense. The next year, we just got hit with a rash of injuries. I guess in about a month and a half time we lost Frank Catalanotto, Vernon Wells, Delgado, Greg Myers, so those were our 3-4-5 hitters, and then Roy Halladay. They had made some acquisitions to try and shore up the bullpen and those guys didn't pan out. We didn't hit, came out of the gate slow, then the injuries, and we had real issues in our bullpen, and so, that's how it goes. You get paid to win games.

Q. What is your relationship like in your current role as bench coach for Marlin's manager Fredi Gonzalez?

A. Fredi and I have a unique relationship because I was Fredi's first manager when he played in rookie ball. Then he was with me for two more years in Class-A ball. So we've known each other for a long time, and had worked together in the minors for a few years. I’ll prepare and put together advance reports and stats, and have them available for him during the course of the game. He's a very easy-going guy and can run a game as good as anyone I've ever been around. The technical stuff during the game, he doesn't need any help from me. I know from sitting in that chair that you need someone to bounce things off of. Certain issues may come up, and I feel that with my experience and my relationship with him that I am able to help him in those ways.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Catching Up With Carlos Tosca, Part I

Carlos Tosca, currently a bench coach with the Florida Marlins, epitomizes the American dream. A native of Cuba, Tosca graduated from Brandon High and played baseball for both Florida College and the University of South Florida. He served as a pitching coach at King High in Tampa before starting a career that would include over 900 wins as a minor league manager and two-plus seasons as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Valrico resident recently sat down to reflect on his career and unlikely rise through the ranks of his profession. The following is the first of a two-part interview with Tosca.

Q. You were born in Cuba in 1953. How did you end up living in rural Hillsborough County?

A. My father was Cuban, and my mother was an American. He was a pediatrician and met my mother at the clinic in Tampa where he was doing his internship. They got married and moved back to Cuba. Shortly after Castro took over, we came to Florida because my mother's uncle was a Methodist priest in Seffner. It was just after New Year's in 1962 when we left.

Q. Who first got you interested in baseball?

A. Probably my grandfather. He got my twin brother, Rick, and I interested at a very early age in Cuba. We'd watch the boxing matches on Friday night once in a while, but we didn't know there were any other sports besides baseball and softball.

Q. Growing up here you had the Reds in the spring and the Tampa Tarpons in the summer. Were you a fan?

A. We were like everybody, we liked the Yankees and the Dodgers. They were always on the "Game of the Week." We had a Little League coach that would take us to some Tampa Tarpon games. When I was in junior college, I would cut class once in a while to catch a Reds game or to go watch them work out, that kind of stuff.

Q. You played first base and did some pitching for Brandon High School. Did you have any scholarship offers to play in college?

A. I had a scholarship my first two years at Florida College in Temple Terrace, but I did not have a scholarship when I transferred to the University of South Florida. I got cut from the team my junior year, then tried out again as a senior when they got a new coach. I made the team that year. The new coach was a gentleman by the name of Jack Butterfield, who eventually got me into professional baseball. He was the best coach that I'd ever been around.

Q. After USF, you got involved in coaching at King High. How did that come about?

A. I had played for their coach, Jim Macaluso, on a few summer league teams. He knew I wanted to go into coaching, and he had just gotten the job at King. So my start was as his pitching coach there for two years.

Q. What was the transition like to go from a player to a coach?

A. I had a chance, basically, to teach the things I had learned at USF from Jack Butterfield. I really learned a lot about fundamentals, like how to run a bunt defense, how to do cutoffs and relays, how to defend a first and third. I was able to bring some of these things to Jim. You learn from teaching, so I was able to get more proficient at that.

Q. Was there any way to anticipate what your career had in store for you?

A. I thought I was going to be coaching in high school. Maybe if I got a break, I could get into the college ranks, but I never envisioned being in professional baseball.

Q. So how did Jack Butterfield get you involved in pro ball?

A. I think two years after I graduated, Jack was hired by the New York Yankees and became their Director of Player Development. He called and said that he might have a job for me over the summer working in the New York-Penn League in Oneonta as an outfield coach. I wasn't totally bilingual -- because I'd forgotten a lot of my Spanish after we moved over here -- but I could still communicate with the Hispanic players. That's how I got my start.

Q. That had to be quite a thrill going straight from King High to the Yankees organization.

A. I was very excited to put on the Yankee pinstripes. The biggest difference at that level was the length of time you spend on the field as opposed to high school practices. Then there's the travel, getting used to bus rides, that type of stuff. But I was young, and very excited to be doing what I was doing. When it was time for me to come back down to teach at McLane Middle School, that was kind of a downer. (laughs)

Q. Over your entire career seeing kids come up through the minors, what player impressed you the most?

A. He definitely didn't have the greatest tools, but he had tremendous determination, and to this day is still probably the best hitter I've ever seen: Don Mattingly. His work ethic was off the chart. I had him my first year in Oneonta and he could really hit the ball for an 18-year-old kid.

Q. You spent 17 seasons as a minor league manager and won 932 games before getting your first shot in the big leagues in 1998. How did you finally get that break?

A. Buck Showalter was still a player in the Yankees system when I first met him. Then shortly after that he retired and became a coach. We had an opportunity then to work together in extended Spring Training. I moved on from the Yankees, and Buck eventually became their major league manager. I'd run into him every once in a while and he'd say, "I'm trying to get you on the staff." I thought, yeah, right. Then, when he got the job in Arizona he called and offered me the position as his bench coach. Buck's got a tremendous ability to recognize talent and put a team together. We lost 97 games in 1998, but we went on to win 100 games the very next season. It was quite a thrill to be able to see that come to fruition.