8 Franchise Relocations That Fell Through

On Tuesday night, ESPN aired Barry Levinson's The Band that Wouldn't Die, the second installment of its 30 for 30 documentary series. Levinson's film tells the story of the Baltimore Colts' marching band, a group that continued marching in Baltimore even after the team relocated to Indianapolis in 1984. While we were watching the grim tale of sports franchise relocation, we wondered what other moves almost happened, but fell through. Here are a few moves that nearly changed the landscape of sports:

1 & 2. The Seattle White Sox (or Florida White Sox)

soxThe South Siders have almost hit the road on two separate occasions during the last few decades. The first potential move came in the 1970s, after Bud Selig purchased the Seattle Pilots and moved the team to Milwaukee. While Selig's purchase wouldn't seem likely to directly affect the Sox, the sale nearly triggered a massive reshuffling of the American League. A plan emerged in 1975 for the White Sox to slide into the vacant Seattle market while the Athletics left Oakland for a new home in Chicago, a move that sort of made sense because longtime A's owner Charlie Finley was from the Chicago area.

That deal quickly fell through, but the team came even closer to leaving Chicago in 1988. After failing to secure funding for a taxpayer-supported new stadium, the team's ownership group eyed St. Petersburg as a potential new landing spot. Fans in Florida even started printing Florida White Sox shirts as it became increasingly clear the Sox would be moving to the Sunshine State. Indignant Chicago fans inundated St. Petersburg Mayor Robert Ulrich's mailbox with dirty pairs of white socks to let him know those were the only pieces of pale hosiery he'd be getting. Eventually, though, the state legislature relented in an eleventh-hour deal that saved the team $60 million in new construction costs and kept the White Sox in Chicago.

3. The Saskatoon Blues

bluesPet food company Ralston Purina bought the NHL's St. Louis Blues in 1977, but it had a tougher time marketing hockey than it did with kibble. The company lost around $1.8 million a year on the Blues during its ownership, but upper management didn't mind bleeding a little cash to keep a hockey team in St. Louis. However, following an internal power shift in 1983, Ralston Purina decided it no longer wanted any part of this white elephant and quit putting any money into the team. The Blues didn't even make any selections in the 1983 NHL Draft in Montreal; the team didn't even send a representative.

Obviously, Ralston Purina was hot to sell the team, and they found a buyer in Edmonton Oilers founder Bill Hunter. Hunter and his investment group planned to buy the team and move it to hockey-crazed Saskatoon. The NHL wasn't too keen to lose a big market like St. Louis, though, and nixed the deal. Eventually businessman Harry Ornest bought the team and kept it in St. Louis.

4. The St. Louis Patriots

Not everyone was trying to get out of St. Louis, though. In 1992, St. Louis native James Orthwein bought the New England Patriots with the hope of moving the franchise to his hometown. Orthwein, who was the great-grandson of Anheuser-Busch founder Adolphus Busch, never got his relocation act together, though, and in 1994 he sold the team to current owner Robert Kraft.

5. The Louisville Rockets

At the beginning of this decade, the Houston Rockets briefly flirted with a move to Louisville, KY. Although the move never got all that close to happening, it was memorable thanks to a rumor about the team's potential Louisville arena, a Kentucky Fried Chicken-sponsored home called "“ what else? "“ "The Bucket."

6 & 7. The Toronto Oilers and Edmonton Maple Leafs

Teams swap players all the time, but swapping cities? It almost happened in the NHL in 1980. At the time the Toronto Maple Leafs were hemorrhaging money with a lousy roster, and the Edmonton Oilers had a stacked squad that would end up winning five Stanley Cups over the course of the next decade.

According to Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, Leafs owner Harold Ballard called him up with a novel proposition: the teams would simply swap markets. The Oilers would move to Toronto and pay Ballard $50 million in cash for slipping into the bigger market, while the Leafs would take the Oilers' old spot in Edmonton. Pocklington wrote in his autobiography that he was all for the move, but Ballard got cold feet and backed out at the last minute.

8. The Memphis Hornets

The Memphis Grizzlies are right up there with the Los Angeles Clippers in the race for the dubious title of the NBA's biggest laughingstock, but they won at least one major battle this decade. On March 26, 2001, both the then-Vancouver Grizzlies and the moribund Charlotte Hornets applied to relocate to Memphis. When the NBA granted the Grizzlies the right to move to Elvis' old city, the Hornets had to scramble to find another landing place. After eyeing Norfolk, Louisville and St. Louis, the Hornets settled for New Orleans and moved to the Big Easy for the start of the 2002-2003 season.

And the Time the Colts & Rams Swapped Deeds

Who needs to swap cities when you can just swap deeds? It happened with the Colts and the Rams in 1972. Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom was tiring of owning an NFL team in Baltimore thanks to his squabbles with the local media and the Orioles' ownership. He did like owning a team, however. Rather than move the team, Rosenbloom would just have to get creative.

Enter Robert Irsay, who was considering becoming a minority owner in any deal to buy the Colts. Irsay and Rosenbloom came up with a clever way to make everyone happy: Irsay would buy the L.A. Rams. Irsay then traded the deed to the Rams for the deed to the Colts and $3 million in cash. Just like that, the teams changed hands without moving an inch. Irsay, of course, would become Baltimore's number one public enemy in 1984 when he moved the Colts to Indianapolis.

[Mayflower/Baltimore Colts image credit: Lloyd Pearson, Baltimore Sun]

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Alamy
On Top of the World: Remembering the Lost Trend of Flagpole Sitting
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alamy

Flappers and bootleggers might be the most memorable aspects of the 1920s, but there's a lesser-known, yet no less colorful, trend from that decade: flagpole sitting. From the glamorous hills of Hollywood to the blue-collar dwellings of Union City, New Jersey, this unusual pastime turned eccentric showmen and ordinary people into overnight celebrities, before the crushing reality of the Great Depression grounded their climb to stardom.

Flagpole sitting is exactly what it sounds like: a person climbing on top of a towering pole, usually in the middle of a city, and testing their endurance by sitting atop it for as long as their body holds up. It began in Hollywood in January 1924, when a former sailor, boxer, steelworker, and stuntman named Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly was hired by a local theater to sit on a pole outside of the building for as long as possible to drum up publicity for a new movie. Kelly, a New York City native—whose nickname was supposedly inspired by his dubious claims as a Titanic survivor—wowed crowds by perching himself on the pole for an astonishing 13 hours and 13 minutes. The stunt worked, and once it got picked up by the papers, offers started pouring in from more businesses to perform pole-sittings. Kelly was eager to oblige.

News of Kelly's exploits spread, and before long, men, women, and children were climbing poles of their own. There was the three-week feat of Bobbie Mack, a young woman from Los Angeles; Joe “Hold ‘em” Powers, who sat for 16 days in Chicago in 1927 and climbed back down with six fewer teeth than he started with after a storm smacked him face-first into his pole; and Bill Penfield, who braved a pole for 51 days in Strawberry Point, Iowa before a storm forced him down. In 1928, a 15-year-old named Avon Foreman of Baltimore even established a juvenile sitting record of 10 days, 10 hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds (he practiced on an 18-foot hickory tree in his backyard). Foreman’s accomplishment was so inspiring to Baltimore mayor William F. Broening that he publicly declared that the youngster exhibited “the pioneer spirit of early America.”

Still, Kelly was the one making a big business out of pole sitting. Even when he wasn’t holding the record, he was the ambassador of the bizarre sport. He toured 28 cities, attracting massive crowds that jammed streets and lined rooftops just to get a glimpse of the daredevil poking out among the apartment buildings and businesses of Downtown, USA.

Kelly's notable feats included an 80-hour sit in New Orleans and the 146 hours he spent high above Kansas City's Old Westgate Hotel. But even those were overshadowed by his largest-scale stunts: 312 hours on top of Newark’s St. Francis Hotel in 1927, 22 days on a pole above a dance marathon (another endurance fad of the time) in Madison Square Garden, and 23 days in 1929 in Baltimore’s Carlin’s Park on a pole that was 60 feet high. By Kelly’s own calculation, he’d spend around 20,613 hours pole-sitting during a career that lasted over a decade.

His peak came in 1930 when he lasted 49 days and one hour on a 225-foot pole on Atlantic City’s steel pier. The feat was witnessed by as many as 20,000 onlookers during the weeks he spent up top, becoming one of the first of many spectacles that would grace the pier in the 1930s. (He’d eventually be followed by acts like Rex, the water-skiing “wonder dog”; JoJo, the boxing kangaroo; and the city’s infamous diving horse routine.)

Estimates of Kelly’s fees range from $100-$500 a day throughout his career, paid by whatever outlet needed the publicity and sometimes by crowds who spent a quarter to get a view of his act from nearby hotel rooftops. And what did those onlookers see, exactly? A man on a circular padded seat high above the rabble, sometimes reading the paper, other times enjoying a shave. For food, he’d stick mainly to a liquid diet of broth and water, along with cigarettes, all of which were lifted up to him in a bucket. When he needed to sleep, he’d stay seated by wrapping his ankles around the pole and securing his thumbs into holes in his seat before nodding off. That's if he rested at all—he was also known to deprive himself of sleep on the pole for as long as four days.

The big money would dry up soon after his Atlantic City stunt, and the realities of the Great Depression put an end to flagpole sitting as a career. With up to a quarter of the population unemployed, people were apparently less interested in opening their papers to stories of men and women testing endurance at the top of a pole for more money than the readers would likely see all year.

"As Shipwreck Kelly analyzed it, it was the Stock Market crash that killed pole-sitting as the golden egg that paid the goose," a writer for The Evening Sun in Baltimore put it in 1944. "People couldn't stand to see anything higher than their busted securities."

Kelly’s personal story ends on a similarly somber note. Penniless and stripped of his daredevil veneer, he died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 59, his body found not far from the room he rented on West 51st Street in New York City. Underneath his arm at the time of his death was a scrapbook of newspaper clippings detailing his accomplishments as a once-champion flagpole sitter.

Though flagpole sitting has fallen out of the public eye since the Depression, it has occasionally shown faint signs of life. In 1963, 17-year-old Alabama native Peggy Townsend cruised past all of Kelly's highest marks by spending 217 days on a pole for a radio contest. That time was later beaten by Kenneth Gidge, who topped her at 248 days in 1971 before becoming an artist, inventor, and New Hampshire state representative later in life.

Today, the occasional pole-sitter still pops up in the news, though they're now most likely perched for protests or as living art installations. Regardless of the purpose behind it, it's unlikely that a person atop a flagpole will ever attract a sea of thousands of onlookers again—and the days when a man like Kelly could become a household name and dub himself the "Luckiest Fool on Earth" seem long gone.

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Mobot
This Water Bottle Doubles as a Foam Roller
Mobot
Mobot

It hydrates and it massages. The MOBOT bottle, as spotted by Outside magazine, is being billed as “the world’s first and only foam roller water bottle,” and many outdoor and adventure enthusiasts swear by it.

The stainless steel bottle is wrapped in non-toxic EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam, which can be rolled along your calves, hamstrings, glutes, or arms to soothe sore muscles and relieve joint paint. It was designed with athletes in mind, but we could see it being used by stressed-out office workers with stiff muscles who could benefit from a little self-care. Plus, the lightweight bottle is great for keeping your beverage cold all day, whether you’re at work, at an amusement park, or at the beach. A top loop allows it to be hooked onto a backpack or beach bag.

The bottle is available in three sizes: the 40-ounce “Big Bertha,” the 18-ounce “Firecracker,” and the 27-ounce “Grace.” There’s a range of colors and patterns to choose from, including neon-colored camouflage for those moments when you can’t decide whether you want to stand out or blend in.

You can order it on Amazon, but some styles have already sold out. Check out MOBOT's video below to see different ways of using the bottle.

[h/t Outside]

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