Monday, August 25, 2008

Let's go, Buffalo! Making of the Book Part 2,

by Chris Wendel

As I recollect the chronology of this book it dawns on me how long the process has taken and how many pilgrimages I have made to Buffalo. Recently someone asked me why I have dedicated so much time and effort into a book about the Braves.

You see I was a Sabres fan first growing up. Playing hockey from age eight to eighteen in Lockport (when it had a rink) put hockey at the forefront. Still I had good recollections of the Braves. I believe I first heard the cheer “Let’s go, Buffalo!” at a Braves game televised in 1970. Now my five year old says the same cheer in the same old cadence, when we drive past a field of bison on our regular trips to town. The years may pass but it has stayed with me.

July ’05: The Courier Express files have a limited number of Braves pictures; this is going to be a problem. What kind of coffee table book will it be without a large number of action photos? I start to search ebay for photos and memorabilia. Plenty of miscellaneous Topps cards, pennants, and Elton Brand throw back jerseys. One day I end up with a great video collection of Braves highlight films narrated by Van Miller.

Why not put the video into a CD that could be added to the book? I check with my contact with the NBA legal department who warns me to quell any video aspirations. The league is apparently quite protective of any of their video and the Braves intellectual property still belongs to the NBA, not the LA Clippers.

January ’06: Through my “real” job I run into a graphic design person here in Michigan who might be right for putting the book together. He has a strong affinity for sports and quickly shows an interest in what we are trying to do. He starts to appreciate the Braves despite the fact that he grew up in Saginaw and knows much more about hockey and the Tour de France then basketball.

March ’06: Another trip to Buffalo to file through Ranallo columns and past Courier articles. There are plenty of banner headlines highlighting a big Braves win, the amazing scoring exploits of Bob McAdoo, or a 17,000 night of attendance at the Aud.

I get some solid leads on former team photographers through two Braves fans who wonder why I’m always bidding against them for items. One asks; “What are you doing writing a book or something?”

The odyssey leading to the photographers is next.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Making of the Book (Part 1 )

By Chris Wendel
Summer 2004: My brother Tim and I wax poetic about Phil Ranallo, the late, great columnist for the now defunct Buffalo Courier Express newspaper. Ranallo’s column “What’s New Harry” was a breakfast staple during our adolescent days growing up near Buffalo in Lockport, New York. I recall making the mad dash to the paper box on cold mornings, just to read the column while eating my morning cereal. Tim was fortunate to work with Phil at the Courier after college in the early 80’s. We wonder where the old columns are if they still exist at all.

November ’04: Tim informs me that old issues of the Courier exist in the archive section of a Buffalo library. I decide to take my first of what turns out to be many trips back to Buffalo to view old articles and microfilm of the Courier Express. I live in Michigan and use the trips to visit my parents in Lockport and look at the columns. Revisiting the Ranallo columns 25 years later is somewhat surreal. To my relief his writing stands up well over time and I still can’t stop reading them.

January ’05: I’m back in Buffalo collecting columns with the help of the library’s helpful staff. Looking at microfilm for a few hours causes serious eye strain but fortunately there are also plenty of old columns that someone literally cut out of the old paper and mounted on typing paper. After reading 50 or so columns and several conversations with Tim it is apparent that Phil has a soft spot in his heart for the Braves. We decide that the Braves have been placed on a shelf long enough and their story that needs to be retold.

April ’05: Another trip to Buffalo and more research. Tim is an accomplished writer and I enjoy the grunt work of finding pictures and assembling the Ranallo columns. The format is unclear until I talk with Mike Romstadt of Village Press here in Michigan. The debate between us will continue for months. Mike thinks that this has the makings of a high quality coffee table style book that should be printed in a limited quantity and sold for a premium price. I run this scenario past several people I know and trust. Two camps quickly develop; the first includes those who think that there likely is a market out there (that already pays hundreds for decent game tickets) for a high quality book about the Braves. The second consists of folks who know little or Buffalo or sports and think that I’m nuts.

What we’re lacking is pictures. Finding the photos is a story we will save for the next installment.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Before Krzyzewski; Duke (and Braves) were better known for Jack Marin

Still musing about globalization and sports regionalization as the Summer Games begin in China. The U.S. men’s basketball team arrived in Beijing to crowds chanting for Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

“The Chinese people love basketball,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and we’re excited we’re playing the first game against China.”

My prediction? This year’s Team USA brings the gold back to America, probably in convincing fashion.

One of the assistant coaches Krzyzewski has along for the Olympic carpet ride is Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim.

Boeheim was named the Orange’s coach my sophomore year at SU. A few years later, when I was the sports columnist for the local morning paper, I always appreciated Boeheim’s class. Sure, he could be sarcastic and didn’t suffer fools gladly. But he always returned my phone calls and made time to answer the media.

Since such meager beginnings, he’s gone on to a 771-278 record and was selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. But way back when, when Boeheim first took over in the Salt City, the SU program was only slightly better than Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure in terms of national notoriety. The difference? Boeheim and Syracuse became charter members in the Big East conference, which ESPN soon made into a household word.

Also, consider how much things have improved for the NBA since the mid-1970s when Boeheim took over at his alma mater. In several cities besides Buffalo, the league was hanging on by its fingernails. Ironically, the Braves were one of the first teams to hype individuals instead of team. Guys like Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith and Dr. Jack Ramsay started to become known nationally while the team was going down the tubes locally.

Sometimes life comes down to the company you keep. Wrong choices can haunt a team, a city, for a long, long time.