Monday, November 20, 2017

The mythical athletic world of Phil Robertson

       When it comes to his athletic career, reality star Phil Robertson -- the famed "Duck Commander" -- is not very real.
       But he and his family are real good at spreading myths. Such as (1) he was All-State in football, baseball and track; (2) he was a major-college recruit; and (3) he had NFL potential as a quarterback.
       The first part: no, no, no.
       Major prospect: doubtful.
       The NFL? Oh, please. No way.
       Quickly: I pay very little attention to anything ol' Phil or his relatives have to say.   
       He is as far-right conservative as one can get, and I don't travel in that direction. His brand of religion isn't mine; his social and political views ... not interested. 
       The TV shows, videos and books about him and his Duck Dynasty family ... no thanks.
       But I checked for one aspect: athletics. That's because I was around for Phil's time at North Caddo High -- 30 miles north of Shreveport -- and Louisiana Tech University. 
       We saw Phil from the opposing side in high school; we compiled the game and season stats in football as student assistant in sports information for most of the three seasons he played at Tech.
       But what I've seen and heard from Phil & Sons is about as far from true as the length of Terry Bradshaw's longest pass (that might've carried 80-85 yards) or his national-record javelin throw in high school (244 feet, 11 inches).
      I wrote about Phil and Terry 4 1/2 years ago, so I will try not to repeat much of that. 
     So why write this piece now? It is admittedly a nitpicking, innocuous exercise ... except it is like finding a resume' that is greatly exaggerated. 
      It irks me to read and hear what I know is not so.
      Phil's athletics bio and story-telling are -- I saw this term in a book I am reading -- "stretchers."  
      I wrote some of this two years ago, but held off because I could not verify what I recalled. Now having checked microfilm of the 1960s Shreveport Times, I can tell you this:
     Myth No. 1: Phil Robertson not only was not All-State in football, he wasn't 1-AA all-district. He was honorable mention.
     (Fred Haynes of Minden was all-district, having led his team to an undefeated state championship. Then he was a starter at LSU).
     Phil might have pitched for North Caddo -- as his sons will tell you -- and he did make all-district in '64 ... as an outfielder. But the special baseball players in Class AA in our area, the All-State guys -- five of them -- were at Jesuit (state champs) and Ruston (two, one a future major leaguer).
     He did throw the javelin, and he did make it to the state meet. But he was second in the district meet two years in a row (a Minden athlete beat him both years), third in the '64  regional, fourth in the state meet ... and not All-State. He was not Terry Bradshaw in the javelin, not close.
     Myth No. 2: A Sports Illustrated "Campus Union" story dated March 22, 2012, says: "... Robertson said he fielded offers to join the football programs at LSU, Ole Miss, Baylor and Rice."
     Can't disprove it, but it is highly doubtful. He wasn't that good as a high school QB, and I suspect Louisiana Tech was his best offer.
      I can tell you that we had five talented QBs in the 1960s at our school that Phil could envy: three signed major-college scholarships (LSU and Arkansas); the other two signed with Tech. Three were drafted by pro football teams.
      One started ahead of Phil at Tech; the other backed up Phil, but went on and won four Super Bowls.  
      Phil ducked his football career.
      A lot of us sensed, early in 1968, that when Bradshaw's potential blossomed -- it soon did -- he would replace Phil as Tech's starting QB. My opinion: Phil sensed that, too. Losing was not fun, and he loved duck hunting.
     Myth No. 3: A tryout with the Redskins.
     It is so ludicrous, it is laughable. It is a joke. Nothing about it adds up. It is Phil at his BS-ing best.
     He talks about this on a Sports Spectrum TV segment posted (March 25, 2013) on YouTube.
      A transcript (found through a Google search) of the video follows:
      So Robertson left football and, the following season, he hunted ducks while completing his degree.  
      A year or so later, though, a former Louisiana Tech teammate, running back Bob Brunet, was with the Redskins and thought Robertson could still make the team. Brunet told Robertson to come up and he would likely be the backup and earn about $60,000.
      “At the time, $60,000 didn’t seem like a whole lot even in the ’60s,” says Phil, who worked as a teacher for a few years after earning his degree from Louisiana Tech and then earned his master’s degree in education, with a concentration in English. 
       “I said, ‘I don’t know about that. I would miss duck season, you know? I’d have to be up there in some northern city.’ I said, ‘Brunet, you think I’d stay?’ He said, ‘I doubt it. You’d probably leave with the ducks, Robertson.’ I said, ‘Probably so.’”
      “That’s when (future Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi went to Washington for a few years right before he quit coaching. …What (Brunet) said was, ‘We got this hot dog, Robertson, but you can beat him out easy.’ I said, ‘Who’s the hot dog?’ He said, ‘You’re not going to beat out (future Hall of Famer Sonny) Jurgenson. You’re not going to beat him out, but this hot dog, his backup, no problem.’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He said, ‘Joe Theismann.’"
     Phil paused, smiled, then chuckled, recalling the conversation and how good Theismann became—a Super Bowl XVII champion, NFL MVP, and a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection.
     “(Brunet) said, ‘No problem, we’ve got him, hands down.’
     ‘I may do it,’” Phil recalls says. “But I didn’t do it. I stayed with the ducks. But looking back on it, who knows if I’d gone up there, you know, I might not have ever run up on Jesus at 28.”
       Now, the truth, the facts:
       -- Lombardi coached one season (1969) in Washington. Brunet never played a regular-season game with Lombardi as coach. In fact, he quit the team.
       Robert was the best back (when not hurt) we had at Tech in my time there (1965-68 seasons), a two-time all-conference player. The Redskins drafted him, and as a rookie in 1968, he had the second-most carries on the team. The coach that season was Otto Graham.
       After Lombardi came in -- having sat out one season following his Green Bay retirement -- Brunet did not take to his fierce coaching style.
       (The Great Coach was the opposite of the dignified soft-spoken legendary Tech coach Joe Aillet, and the head coach in Robert's senior season, Maxie Lambright, was a quiet man, too, more intense than Aillet but nothing like Vince.)
       So Brunet left and sat out the 1969 season, the time of Phil's story. 
       Robert did return to the Redskins in the spring of 1970, with Lombardi still there. But in June, Lombardi's fast-spreading cancer was found, and he never returned to coaching. He died before the season kicked off. 
       So Bill Austin was Brunet's head coach in '70, and George Allen came in '71 (and Brunet was a standout special-teams player for him into the 1977 season).           
       -- Jurgensen did not start much in 1971 through 1973. He was injured a lot and then the backup to Billy Kilmer (including a hapless Super Bowl against the "perfect" Miami Dolphins, 1972 season).
       -- Jurgensen and Theismann were on the same Redskins team only in 1974. The "hot dog" -- after three years in Canadian football -- barely played that year. Kilmer started 10 games (and got hurt); Jurgensen started four (and a playoff game). 
         By then, Phil had been out of football seven years. 
         And if I have the timing correctly, Phil's downward spiral hit in the early 1970s, and he soon was drinking and rowdy and split from his family for a time -- not exactly headed for the NFL. Then he found religion.
         Don't remember religion being a factor for Phil at Tech. His religion was hunting and fishing. In fact, Bradshaw had more of a religious leaning (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) then than Phil. 
          So maybe Phil and Brunet had a conversation about him playing for the Redskins. But, good gosh, what Phil tells makes no sense.
         He's told it so often, though -- and written it -- and his sons talk about him being All-State and "turning down a chance to play professional football," and they all believe it now ... and want the world to believe it.
         Our lack of success in 1966 and 1967 wasn't all Phil's doing; the teams weren't sound. But the QBs were not difference makers.
         As a passer, Phil did have a quick release -- Bradshaw has mentioned that often in interviews -- and he had a decent arm. But not a great arm, like Terry. 
         Pro potential? Hardly. Alan, Jase and Willie -- the sons -- can twist it the way they want and repeat the un-truth.
         NFL teams were not going to be interested in a guy who quit before his senior season -- "to chase the ducks, not the bucks" as he likes to say -- and who in two years as a starter threw 32 interceptions (nine TD passes) and led his teams to three wins (Bradshaw, as a freshman sub, was the star of the only 1966 victory).
         It was nice of Tech to invite Phil back for a September 2013 game, reunited with Terry, and to honor him. But it was for his notoriety (and ducks success), not for his football past.
        Give Phil and the Robertsons credit for inventiveness, ingenuity, creativity, self-promotion ... and a duck dynasty.
        They have millions of reasons -- and dollars -- to be happy, happy, happy. And I'm happy to provide the truth on Phil as an athlete.
        He is out "in the woods" on so much (that's the name of his new show on CRTV, a subscription-only channel. No subscription here, thank you).
         The promotion, which I am not looking for but which is popping up regularly on my computer, says, " ... just truth, from Phil's mouth to your screen."
         Phil's truth, not ours. If he tells you he was All-State in three sports or an NFL quarterback prospect, don't believe him.
         God-appointed messenger? You decide.
         Reminds me of a friend who used to joke, "Any man who says he runs his household will lie about a lot of other things, too."


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

If he were a rich man ... he WAS a rich man

         (Part 4, last in series)
         Irving Zeidman was Shreveport's Tevye, and what a great Tevye he was. Never saw a better one.
         He knew he could play the role, sing the songs (If I Were A Rich Man, etc.) of Fiddler on the Roof.
          So when the Shreveport Little Theater acquired rights to do the play in 1971, Irv's acting chops resurfaced. He first had acted in community theater -- drama and musicals -- in Monroe in the early 1950s, then again in Shreveport about a decade later. 
          He and the Fiddler cast were quite a hit at the Marjorie Lyons Playhouse -- adjacent to the Centenary College campus -- in the summers of 1971 and '72.
         Nothing but sellout performances. Only eight shows were scheduled in 1971, but demand for tickets were so great, the show was extended three times ... to 18 performances. And then staged again -- encore -- the next summer, with Irv still as the dairyman.
         We saw the play twice. He was as good as -- yes -- Zero Mostel (Broadway stage) or the Israeli actor Topol (movie).          
        Here is who agreed: longtime Shreveport Little Theater producer/director and Centenary theater/drama/speech professor Robert Buseick, who directed Irv in Fiddler.
        In 1971, he told The Shreveport Times entertainment writer/critic, "I had seen eight previous productions [of Fiddler] and never had I seen a finer Tevye than IZ."
        Not surprisingly, if you knew IZ, he added this, " ... Irv was very friendly, but frequently wore his emotions on his shirtsleeve and he could be very easily hurt."
The Zeidman family, 1971, on the set of Fiddler on
the Roof i
n Shreveport.
        That might have been tough love from a director, but from audiences of that day there was nothing but love for Irv.
        Mrs. Zeidman (Hazel) helped, too, behind the scenes with costuming and staging and keeping the cast fed and entertained. And it was a great family gathering for the Zeidman kids, who returned to town for performances (and a group photo).
         Unanimously, he was chosen The Times drama award for best actor for the 1971-72 season, and he went on in subsequent years to play in Cabaret (Herr Schultz) and Man of La Mancha and a couple of other productions. 
         Then his heart began to fail. Two heart attacks, and doctors warned him his time might not be long. 
         He did not quit trying; he was a daily runner -- well, jogger -- and he kept at it. He kept his beard, grown for the Tevye part, too, until the end.
         And that came in early November 1975. His mother-in-law found him, sitting in the living-room lounge chair usually Hazel's spot, unresponsive. Rushed to a hospital, he was already gone. He died peacefully in his sleep.
         Hazel was in California, attending to a difficult childbirth for oldest daughter Barbara. So the funeral was held up a day or two for Hazel's return to Shreveport.
         Going through his papers in the following days, his family found a sheet of paper on which, thinking back to his early days, he had written the lyrics to a Jewish song for children that he would sing to his own young children in Hebrew.
         At the time of his death, his sister lived in Florida; his brother, who was a butcher, lived in Trenton, N.J.
         Hazel outlived Irving for 41 years until December 2016; she was 96 1/2. She spen the last 12 years after a stroke in a care facility near Susan and husband Bill in Celina, a little town just northeast of Dallas. 
         Barbara, now 75, recently moved from Shreveport to San Diego to be near family.
         IZ had nicknames for so many, and Barbara long ago  was "Babu," his first baby. He called the kids, when they were young and zany, his "Zeidmaniacs." The favorite family dog, a dachshund, was "SubaD," a combination of the kids' names.
         And I suspect that it was Irv who tagged our favorite Shreveport Sports' player back then, Lou Klimchock, a star prospect in 1959 at age 19, as "Baby Lou."
        Irving knew his first three grandchildren; there are now nine. Irv and Hazel have eight great grandchildren (and counting).
        Certainly Irving would have sung to them all.
        It is easy to speculate that IZ could have been a major-league baseball broadcaster or Broadway performer based on talent. But, Susan said, his family had settled in Shreveport, he liked the town and he was comfortable. He did not want to uproot Hazel and the family, keep them moving and into the big cities for possible fame and fortune.
         It was the big fish/little pond or little fish/big pond option, and Irv chose to be a big man in Shreveport. And a happy one.
         "He was just a great big bundle of good humor," Jack Fiser -- another of my mentors and McIntyre's predecessor as sports editor/columnists at The Times -- told Bill in 1975. He was a Zeidman contemporary, covering the Sports and Centenary. "The way I'll always remember him, he was one of the most consistently happy men I've ever known. A man of intense talent ... in all times." 
         IZ spread the happiness at home. "He was always like a kid at Christmas," daughter Susan recalled. "He loved seeing his kids and grandkids with their presents." 
         So he wanted to play Zorba, but it never happened. For his memorial service, Rev. Burton D. Carley, in 1975 the first minister of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church (where Irv and Hazel attended), wrote a poem in his honor.
         It began: 
              Dear Irv, wherever you are:
              I just wanted to tell you
              That you really didn't need to play Zorba.
              You were Zorba -- I mean all his best qualities!
              Your love for life,
              Your earthy humanness and personal warmth ...
         It includes:
              Anyway, I just wanted to tell you: 
              I loved you Irv Zeidman.
              I am better for having known you
              And so is all the earth.
         (Personal note: Rev. Carley, who retired in 2015 at age 67 after 32 years as minister of First Unitarian in Memphis, presided over our wedding in February 1977.) 
         So when IZ chose Shreveport, it was a rich decision for us. 
          The only way tend this series is the way Jerry Byrd began and ended his column in 1975, and the way Bill McIntyre ended his column. Both referenced Irv singing, If I were a rich man ...
          Irv Zeidman -- the best Tevye -- was a rich man.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

IZ: the road from Jersey to Louisiana

       (Part 3 of 4)
       How did Irving Zeidman end up in Louisiana? He hopped a train ... several trains. He got off for good, in Monroe.
Irving, at age 13
       Born in New York City, a kid in Brooklyn and then Boonton, New Jersey (30 miles slightly northwest of NYC), he was tall early and a good high-school athlete.
        He was one of three children of Jewish immigrant parents -- his father Abraham, a tailor, was from Poland; his mother, Sena (Tsena in Europe), was from the Sephardic tribe in Spain. An older sister, Betty, was born in Poland; Irving was born in 1918; a  brother, Morris, followed.
        Irving grew to 6-foot-4 and was a champion discus thrower and rangy, solid end in football. Wake Forest offered him a chance at college football.
        Irv took a train south, to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But it was 1940, anti-Semitism was rampant -- of course -- in Europe and too often here in the U.S., and just after he arrived at Wake, Irv heard too many "Yankee Jew" references (taunts?).
        He left, after one day. 
        He and a buddy hopped a train going south bound for ... who knew? 
        IZ's daughter Susan, who lives in Frisco, Texas, said they went from town to town, begging for jobs at the train depots -- washing dishes, cleaning floors -- to earn spending money so they could keep traveling.
        One train stopped in Monroe, Louisiana. And here Irv heard something that appealed: the local junior college (Northeast) was looking for football players.
        Jim Malone had a powerhouse program in the late 1930s and he would coach at Northeast until the early 1950s when it became a four-year school. The now Louisiana-Monroe football stadium is named for him. When Coach Malone met young Irving, he suggested he join the team.
        He played for two seasons at Northeast, well enough to earn an invitation to play at Louisiana State Normal School in Natchitoches. 
Irving and Hazel: the early days
        But the most important part of his stay in Monroe: At school, he met Hazel Bandy, a strawberry blonde who lived with her parents in West Monroe.
        They soon were in love ... for the next 35 years.
        When Irving headed to Natchitoches, so did Hazel. On December 14, 1941 -- one week after Pearl Harbor -- they married.
        The marriage was at the Methodist church in Natchitoches; the women's group there gave them a wedding reception. In that church, Irving did insist on one Jewish wedding ritual -- and he stomped on the glass to break it.
        The Bandys thought Irving, with the sparkling personality many of us would come to know, was the right guy for their Hazel. But the interfaith marriage, as you might expect in 1941, did not sit well with the Zeidmans. 
        Susan: "Dad wrote a beautiful love letter to his folks telling them about Mom, and they could not help but love her."
       For a honeymoon, the Zeidmans took an extremely cold bus trip to Chicago for a Methodist conference, and were fortunate to escape uninjured when the bus slid off an icy road. 
       In downtown Natchitoches, Susan said, Irv began his public singing career, taking part in the annual Christmas Festival.
       The first child, Barbara, arrived in late in 1942. And with that, a sad story. Irving's mother had saved money to travel to see her first grandchild. She took the train from Jersey to Miami for a visit there, then on a train headed to Louisiana, she had a fatal heart attack.
       Susan's daughter, Sena, is named for her great grandmother.
Irv, the World War II soldier
        But Irv never got to play football for the school that a couple of years later became Northwestern State College (then University). The U.S. Army intervened, as it did with thousands of young men in those early 1940s World War II years.
      So he did not have a lot of time with the baby Barbara. He left and soon learned that Hazel was expecting again. 
       He wound up in the personnel department of the medical corps, as a first sergeant, and in exotic locations such as South Africa and India.  
        Irving eventually made his living talking into a microphone, but he also was a prolific and talented writer.
        Susan has copies of the extensive letters he wrote while in the Army and sent home -- interesting details of his surroundings, his moods, upbeat, with the humor he always could find, and full of -- well -- mush. "I love you, my darling," he wrote, "and am missing you. I'll love you forever." (And he did.)
         In a 1943 letter, with Hazel nearing delivery, Irv was anticipating a boy he was calling Benjamin (Benjie). Soon, said Susan, he was on stage entertaining troops when he received a telegraph saying he was the father of twins -- Susan and a boy they named David.
        But it wasn't all upbeat. Eventually the war -- men killing men and innocent people -- led to a mental breakdown, and a trip stateside to Brooke Army Medical Center (San Antonio) and rehabilitation.   
        Discharged from the service at the end of the war, life began again for Irv and the Zeidmans in Monroe.
        The kids were young -- "we were born so close together, we were like triplets," said Susan -- and the family expanded with Danny's birth in 1946.
        And Irv's career path opened with a job at KNOE Radio.
        Here he became (1) a local personality, involved in many endeavors and (2) significantly, a baseball broadcaster (1951-53, Monroe Sports, Class C Cotton States League).
"Uncle Irv," a popular radio man at KNOE in Monroe
        He was "Uncle Irv" on what was reported as a "phenomenally popular" morning radio show. Each week he featured a "happiness exchange" in which people were invited to nominate candidates for "mother of the week."
        He was named assistant manager of the radio station and had a 15-minute singing program every Sunday for three years. 
        That might have been a warmup for his involvement there -- naturally -- in local theater productions (Abie's Irish Rose was one).
         And -- ready? -- (from a Monroe newspaper article), he contributed toward the development of Little League Baseball in Monroe/West Monroe, helped in completion of a ballpark; led development of the Ouachita Parish Health Council, chairman of the Juvenile Detention Home committee, involved in the Milk Fund, the Heart Fund, the March of Dimes and the Crippled Children's board.
        All that, in addition, to TV and radio sportscasts.
        Little wonder he was named "Man of the Year" for 1953 by the Monroe-West Monroe Junior Chamber of Commerce, honored at a banquet.
        But he wasn't there. After the end of the 1953 baseball season, Irv accepted a job at WSMB Radio in New Orleans.
        So his mother-in-law accepted the award, and Irv was recognized by the Junior Chamber chapter in New Orleans, but after sending a nicely worded telegraph with thanks for the honor and his appreciation for the Monroe area.
       One other notable opportunity developed in Monroe, said daughter Susan. Word of his acting/singing prowess reached two musical theater giants, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (you might have heard of them). They invited Irving to New York City for a tryout. 
        To pay for the trip, he did a number of fund-raising musical performances around Monroe. 
        It went no further, perhaps because Irv liked family life better than the uncertainty of show business.
        The stay in New Orleans was short. The Zeidmans did not feel at home and were not satisfied with the kids' schools.
        Although Irv stayed involved in sports -- he did radio play-by-play on the 1954 Sugar Bowl game (Georgia Tech 42, West Virginia 19) -- by the spring, he had accepted a job at KNOE Radio in Shreveport ... home station of the Sports. 
        The Zeidmans were there to stay. The kids went to Shreveport public schools; all graduated from Byrd High (Barbara in 1960, Susan and David in 1961, Danny in 1964). At the time of Irv's death, all the kids had moved on.
        In Shreveport, reconnected with two of the leaders of his Monroe Sports years -- Al Mazur and Paul Manasseh.
        The Monroe team had a strong Shreveport Sports connection; it was like a farm team. Several young men played first in Monroe, then in Shreveport, including future major-league pitchers Billy Muffett, Bill Tremel and Jim Willis.
        In 1950-51, Mazur -- the Sports' dependable second baseman from 1946 to '49 -- was the Monroe manager; his '51 team won the Cotton States pennant. Manasseh, a Byrd High grad, was the Monroe business manager.
        By 1954, Mazur had retired from baseball and begun his 33-year stay as the well-respected chief probation officer for the Caddo Parish juvenile court.
        Manasseh had returned to the Sports as publicity director. In the late 1950s, he moved to Denver as publicity director for the baseball Bears (Triple-A) and the first PR man for the woeful Denver Broncos of the new American Football League. Eventually he returned to Louisiana; most notably as sports information director at LSU.
        Manasseh and Zeidman not only shared Jewish backgrounds, they shared jokes and stories. 
        Manasseh told Bill McIntyre for his 1975 Shreveport Times column that he "recommended him [IZ] thoroughly" for the job at KENT. Jerry Byrd's Shreveport Journal column said that Manasseh often would call Zeidman -- without saying hello -- and tell him a good story, then simply hang up.
        Irv, when applicable, would tell the story with a Yiddish dialect.
        And Manasseh recalled being out with IZ when Irv would take over the mike at an establishment and serenade the crowd.
        In 1975, when LSU played Rice in football at Shreveport's State Fair Stadium -- LSU's first game there in 16 years -- Zeidman offered to sign the pregame national anthem. That didn't work out, but Manasseh hired him to do the press box play-by-play announcements.
        So we got to hear Irv on the mike again. Two months later, he died -- and as Manasseh noted then, he had just mailed Irv his $15 payment.
        A poignant story involves Manasseh's daughter Marcae, the oldest of Paul's three children and the only girl.
         "When my sister was a toddler, Irv would hold her and boastfully promise to sing at her wedding," recalled Jimmy Manasseh, the youngest child and now an attorney in Baton Rouge (and LSU's press-box announcer for home football games; the press box is named for his father),  
        Cruelly, at age 20, Marcae -- before wisdom tooth removal surgery -- had a fatal allergic reaction to the anesthetic. It was a month before her scheduled wedding.
        "Irv was crushed just like our family," said Jimmy. "Instead of singing at her wedding, he sang beautifully at her funeral. It was terribly sad yet comforting to my family."
        Jimmy said that "one of the only times I saw my Dad cry was when he learned of his [Irv's] death. They were very close. He always meant a lot to my Dad."
        He meant a lot to many folks.
        Next: If he were a rich man ...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Irving Zeidman: sports broadcaster

      (Part 2 of 4)
      I first "met" Irv Zeidman -- play-by-play broadcaster of the 1950s-early 1960s Shreveport Sports -- on radio. 
      He was a fabric of the baseball teams of my youth, the  main connection through radio. Same with the basketball-playing Centenary Gents, for me from 1958 to 1965.
      He was, for those familiar with sports broadcasting in North Louisiana, the forerunner to two future legends: Jim Hawthorne (Centenary, then LSU) and Dave Nitz (Shreveport Captains and Louisiana Tech athletics).
       They were good. They were not IZ.
       My IZ experience began with -- I might have written about it previously --  our first radio in the United States.
       We did not have a television yet; we had never had one in The Netherlands. Radio was how I first connected with sports (Dutch soccer). So when Dad came home with a radio early in 1956, only a month or two after we arrived in Shreveport, it was unique.
       It was in the shape of a microphone with large letters on it: KENT.
       Bill McIntyre's Shreveport Times column on Irv in November 1975 reminded me: "... The station used to give away, or sell, small radio sets. The only station you could get on it was KENT."
       Yes, one station. 
       Hardly knew anything about baseball, but we went to a game early that season -- Texas League Park was within walking distance from where we lived -- and I learned that the games were broadcast on ... KENT.
       IZ taught me a lot that memorable season (it was the year Ken Guettler hit a Texas League-record 62 home runs for the not-so-hot, seventh-place Sports).
       Speaking of home runs, I recall Irv's call: "It's going ... going ... going ... and (drawing it out) theeeerrrreee she goes." (The reason I recall it is because in the early 1970s, I wrote a column in The Times mentioning that, only I messed it up -- as Irv pointed out to me a few days later.)
Irv Zeidman, second from right, taking part in a mid-1950s Shreveport
Sports baseball promotion; that is majority team owner/operator
Bonneau Peters (white hair, crew cut)
       Here is what else those Sports listeners remember: "IZ for 5D." Cities Service was the main sponsor for the broadcasts; 5D was its premium gasoline, and Irv was doing the commercials. 
       From 1959 to '61, when the Sports were in the Southern Association and one of the broadcast sponsors was Jett Drilling (George Jett was one of the team investors, with general managing partner Bonneau Peters), Irv's slogan became "IZ for JD."
       He was the "voice" from Texas League Park-turned-SPAR Stadium and from the road-game "re-creations" done from a radio studio via wire-ticker play-by-play.
       "He was masterful at that," his daughter Susan recalled. "He had all the sound effects, and he could tell a good story [to fill the time.]"
       To a young listener not exactly aware of that, he could have fooled me ... and did. I thought he was always on the scene ... in Birmingham or Atlanta, Chattanooga, Memphis, New Orleans, Fort Worth, Dallas, wherever. 
       I thought Irv as a baseball broadcaster was as good as any I'd heard. In Shreveport, we had St. Louis Cardinals' games -- as in much of North Louisiana -- and later the Houston Colt 45s/Astros and, for a time in the mid-1960s, the Chicago White Sox, and later the Texas Rangers. Irv Zeidman was as interesting, as professional, as any of the broadcasters.
       And maybe he was even better at college basketball. Any chance I had to listen to him do Centenary games, I tuned in (these were my junior high and high school days). Heard him do Gents' games from our Hirsch Youth Center to Philadelphia to Arizona and throughout the South.
       He was not impartial. OK, Irv was a "homer," no question he was taking the side of the Sports or the Gents. If he disagreed with umpire or officials' calls (and that was often), you knew. And Jerry Byrd wrote in a 1975 Shreveport Journal column, baseball official scorers' decision were not exempt. 
       McIntyre's column tells several stories of how the Centenary delegation, on road trips, made life an adventure for Irv -- and vice versa. 
       One story: "He was such a good sport," said then-Centenary athletic director/head basketball coach Orvis Sigler. "He loved those boys and we had a lot of good times. Irv never met a stranger. He used to like being recognized wherever he went and once, in Richmond, Don Ensley paid a little shoeshine boy to go up to him and say, 'Hey, aren't you Irv Zeidman.' "
       Here is what else Coach Sigler said then, and what I remember:
       "I always thought he was a great broadcaster because he got so excited and involved. He lived and died with those boys. And I used to say he inhaled and didn't chew his food so he wouldn't miss a word."
       For a couple of years, KSLA-TV (Channel 12) in Shreveport showed Centenary home games on a delayed basis late at night, following the 10 o'clock news, with Irv doing the play-by-play. I watched those, often rushing home if the team I was keeping stats for also played that night.
       Centenary dropped its broadcasts in the mid-1960s (not enough sponsors), but Irv didn't drop the Gents. He was an avid fan. 
       At a game in Ruston, maybe 1968, IZ was upset at a string of officials' calls that went against Centenary (we, Louisiana Tech, won the game) and he came out of the stands and headed for the floor toward those officials. He was, thankfully, stopped short.
       Both McIntyre and Byrd's columns mention that, but I didn't need the reminder; I distinctly remember it. By now I was a Tech student and sports information assistant/statistician reluctantly rooting against Centenary. So I had to laugh. Tough luck, IZ.
       By then, he had become a chartered life underwriter for Prudential Insurance, but he never lost his love for the games and his teams.
       In the early 1970s, during the Robert Parish era, Irv had a couple of heart attacks and was warned not to get too excited. So he would go to Centenary games, but when they got close near the end, he would head to the Gold Dome foyer and wait it out. 
       His broadcasting career in Shreveport began in 1954 when he was hired by KENT, primarily to do Sports games. 
He was a good-luck charm.
       That season, 1954, was the only time from Shreveport's recorded pro baseball history through 1986 -- so, roughly 65 seasons -- that Shreveport finished first in its league in the regular season.
       McIntyre's column: " 'We came in the same year together,' remembers [team manager] Mel McGaha, going back to 1954. 'Every tie he introduced me from then on -- we won the Texas League pennant that first year -- he always took credit for it and passed it on down the line ... IZ as 5D, and he brought us in No. 1.' "
        The next year the Sports won the Texas League playoffs and played in the Dixie Series (vs. the Southern Association champions). The following year was the Guettler season. 
        And Irving darned near brought in the 1960 Sports as Southern Association regular-season champs. Missed by a half-game.
        Couple of other memories: 
        One I remembered, and used in that Times column -- Irv said he was in Yankee Stadium on October 8, 1956, when Don Larsen pitched his World Series perfect game (Game 5 vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Irv, having lived in Brooklyn as a kid, was rooting for the Dodgers.)
        The other: Susan's clippings showed that, in 1961-62, Irv did a weeknight sportscast on KTBS, Channel 3 ... as far as I know, the first TV sportscast in Shreveport. (Bob Griffin on KSLA-12 came along a couple of years later.)
        IZ's broadcast career, and his baseball broadcasts,  actually began in Monroe, La. In fact, his life in Louisiana began there. It was a long road. That's a story in itself.
        Next: Hitting the road         

Sunday, October 15, 2017

IZ: broadcaster, actor, singer ... legendary character

     (Part I of 4)    

      There was a young man named Irving
      Who to sing was always right willing
       He burst into song
       At the sound of the gong
       And to hear him was always right thrilling.
                            -- Alice Thomsen
Irving Zeidman ("IZ") at home
in Shreveport's old ballpark.

      Irving Zeidman -- the memorable and legendary IZ in Shreveport -- was a magnetic personality, a center-stage character.
      Center stage, figuratively and literally.
      He was, to those of us who knew him first as a sports broadcaster, our introduction and early education to baseball (Shreveport Sports, 1954-61) and college basketball (Centenary College, late 1950s through mid-1960s).
      After that, through the end of his too-short life, he was most remembered as "Tevye," the milkman/narrator of Fiddler on the Roof, and he starred in the summers of 1971 and '72 in one of the Shreveport Little Theater's most popular productions ever (to this day, I would guess).
      Irv was Tevye -- his Jewish roots showing, his beautiful baritone voice (he really could sing) booming, his large sense of humor ever-present.
      He was a big man (6-foot-4, 200-plus pounds), an athlete once and forever (in his mind), a funny, loud story-telling, room-dominating presence. If the situation presented itself, he would sing ... anywhere, any time.
      He was not -- obviously -- bashful. He was not, at times, humble, and not often soft-spoken. But he was genuine. 
      Long before Fiddler, as a younger man, he participated -- and sang, naturally -- in other plays and even an opera. In the first half of the 1970s, he became a Little Theater regular; among his roles, Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
      His dream "trilogy" of roles: Tevye, Don Quixote and Zorba The Greek. But Zorba was his impossible dream. He never got the chance.
      We lost Irv on November 6, 1975, heart disease (arteries). He was only 57. It was, apparently, hereditary; each of his parents also died of heart troubles at about the same age.
      Born too soon. A few years later, and maybe the medical developments that soon came to be -- bypasses, stents, etc. -- might have given IZ more time. 
Young Irving, left, with his father Abraham, mother
Sena, younger brother Morris, in Boonton, N.J.
      Only 57. As we grow older, as society grows older, we realize now his was a relatively short life. But he packed so much into it, and he had so much fun, gave pleasure to so many.
      In his lifetime, he was a good son, brother, football player and discus thrower, a husband, father and grandfather ("Zeda"), a soldier, a radio personality (morning show), a baseball-basketball-football announcer, insurance salesman, community theater actor who might have gone big-time. 
      If you knew Irv -- and that became my privilege as a young sportswriter -- he was (obviously as I write this) unforgettable. 
      He knew my parents, knew their story and, because he'd grown up Jewish -- his parents were immigrants from Europe --  and he'd been in the U.S. Army in World War II, he could relate.
      We would see him around town, and he always spoke. His visits to The Shreveport Times sports department (early 1970s), mostly to see sports editor/columnist (and friend) Bill McIntyre -- who wrote about the Sports and Centenary -- were always interesting. Irv, as noted, took over the room, always with stories and opinions.
      He had grown up in Boonton, N.J., close to New York City (where he was born) and his boast for years was he was "the greatest athlete to ever come out of Boonton." The reply would be: Was there any competition?
      This year, as I again researched professional baseball in Shreveport and touched on the first "golden age" of the Shreveport Sports (in the early 1950s), I thought of Irv often.
      Knew he was a native New Yorker, transplanted Southerner. But when and how had he come to Shreveport?
       Remembered his youngest son, Danny, from athletics in the early 1960s and at Byrd High School. Remember Irv's wife (Hazel) with a strawberry-blonde complexion; Danny favored her. Knew of Irv's sports and stage connections.
       But what else? Wanted to write about him.
       So through Internet and then Facebook searches, I found a grandson, who led me to the two Zeidman daughters -- Barbara and Susan -- who survive. The two sons, David (Susan's twin) and Danny, died too soon.
        Susan, as it turns out, has resided in this area (Fort Worth-Dallas) for years. She now lives in Frisco; we corresponded by Facebook, and then met recently, where we perused a large stack of newspaper clippings/stories about IZ, and photos, too.
        Some of what I am writing is taken from those clippings, especially the columns done by McIntyre (The Times) and Jerry Byrd (Shreveport Journal) a day or two after Irving's death, recounting his life and contributions. Some are Susan's recollections.
         Some are mine. Because he was a significant part of my early days in this country and Shreveport.
         Next: IZ, the sports broadcaster