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...
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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."
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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.
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While 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...
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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 Cleveland.com.