A Warm Round of Applause for Our Newest Contributor

Editor's Note: The mental_floss staff emails around a lot of articles. A few months ago, we realized that Bud Shaw of The Cleveland Plain Dealer had written a lot of the stories we'd been compelled to share. So we asked if he'd be interested in writing for us, and bam! Here we are. His first real article will come tomorrow, but here's an introduction from our newest contributor. Ladies and gentlemen, Bud Shaw!

Obviously lacking a keen eye for talent -- I thought I might become a big league pitcher before the day in Little League I gave up back-to-back home runs to twin brothers on the first two pitches of a game -- I've instead served as a sentry looking out for the odd characters in sports, the statistically quirky, the curiously hypocritical and the clueless.

Take, for example, Leon Spinks.

Spinks stood in his Sunday best inside a restaurant bar in suburban Detroit when I found him one frigid morning in 1991. I was on assignment for The National Sports Daily to write about Spinks' planned comeback as a heavyweight boxer nearly 13 years after his shocking upset of an aging Muhammad Ali earned him the heavyweight championship in just his eighth fight.

Spinks had another claim to fame -- the Olympic gold medal he won in Montreal fighting along side his brother, Michael, who also won gold. That made the gap-toothed smile he wore on the cover of Sports Illustrated after defeating the 36-year-old Ali in 1978 even more recognizable.

Well, three claims to fame. There were the late nights he kept, promoting his reputation as a party animal and no doubt playing a part in Spinks handing that same heavyweight title back to Ali when he lost a rematch seven months later.

OK, four claims to fame, but the fourth came later. One of the members of his expansive entourage was a tough looking character by the name of Mr. T.

But Spinks traveled much lighter on that Sunday afternoon in 1991, arriving at the restaurant with his wife after attending church. In a rambling, often unintentionally comical interview about his planned return to greatness, Spinks told me -- in an attempt to show his commitment to his craft, "I've stopped smoking and drinking."

I remember writing that in my notebook, circling the quote and adding a few asterisks. It wasn't that remarkable in and of itself. A lot of boxers give up their vices while training.

What made it so memorable is that Spinks was alternately sipping a mixed drink and puffing a cigarette as he spoke...
* * * * *
In three decades of sports writing, not every story carried a moral but the interview with Spinks did: don't believe everything you hear; in fact, it's more often recommended in this business to believe the exact opposite of what you hear...

Caught contradicting himself in the same 24-hour period, boxing promoter Bob Arum once cooly explained his flip-flopping by saying, "Yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth."
* * * * *
Sportswriting has taken me to six Olympics -- in Canada, South Korea, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Japan and Australia.

It brought me to the home of a Buddhist monk in Nagano, Japan. I searched him out to talk about this mega sports event descending on a small town in a country where the lifestyles of the inhabitants outside the big cities are throwbacks to centuries gone by.

I had the right country, but this was the wrong monk.

Upon hearing that I worked in Cleveland where Ohio State football is religion -- he smiled and said, "Go Blue." Seems he did undergrad work at Michigan.
* * * * *
jesse-vWhile working at The National, I sat in the living room of a former pro wrestler running for mayor of a city in Minnesota. He talked about the local politics, how he'd rubbed people the wrong way by rumbling to council meetings on his motorcycle and challenging their opinions.

The mayoral hopeful didn't so much talk as growl during our interview. He spoke of having national political aspirations. Good luck with that, I thought.

Once his wrestling celebrity had time to wear off, I figured he'd have to put every Minnesota voter in a hammerlock to get enough votes to get elected to anything.

And that's how I "discovered" Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura...
* * * * *
I've worked in the Pittsburgh area, New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Diego, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. I've been a sports columnist in Cleveland since 1991. The last time any Cleveland team won a championship was 1964, so it helps to keep a healthy sense of humor. Starting tomorrow, I'll give it a try with mental_floss once a month.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for The Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at


Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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