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Good people gone

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  July 16, 2008 01:54 PM

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Some phone calls from old friends are nice. Some are not so nice.

Well, I guess "nice" isn't exactly the issue here. What I'm talking about is unfortunate news.

The bearer of sad tidings in this case was former Boston College basketball coach Bob Zuffelato, who has long been an NBA personnel man. He was calling to report the unfortunate news that one of his BC players was dead of a pulmonary embolism.

Billy Collins was BC's starting center from 1973-74 through 1975-76. He was solid rather than flashy and he remains one of the best rebounders BC ever had. He is eighth in total rebounds and fifth in average among on the all-time BC list. He averaged more than 10 rebounds a game in both his sophomore and junior seasons and just under 10 as a senior.

Billy Collins was a member of the greatest high school crop in Boston basketball history. Along with Ronnie Lee, Bobby Carrington, Will Morrison, King Gaskins and Steve Strother, he was one of the celebrated "Boston Six." There has never been a group like them. The Boston Shootout was created by Ken Hudson for the express purpose of showing off the Boston Six, and they did him proud by winning that first four-team tournament in 1972.

Collins was a Dorchester native who starred for Kevin Mackey at Don Bosco. "One of my all-time favorites," Zuffelato says. 'He was a nice kid."

Collins did the dirty work for Mr. Z's teams, playing on one NIT squad and one NCAA team. Collins had 18 points in BC's first round conquest of Furman in the 1975 NCAA tournament, and he also had 18 in the ensuing loss to Kansas State in the Eastern Regionals in Providence.

Zuffelato had been able to keep in touch with Collins over the years, and so he was among those contacted by Collins' widow when he died last month in Las Vegas, where he'd made a home for some time.

For those of us who remember the Boston Six with great fondness, this is very sad news. Bill Collins was 54.

Now unless you're a New Yorker it's very possible the name of Red Foley has no resonance. He was not a superstar in the newspaper business and he had no national profile.

But Red Foley was very much a part of the baseball experience in New York for more than 40 years. He was a dedicated, no-frills baseball writer for the New York Daily News, and when he retired he continued on as an official scorer for the Yankees and Mets. He was so renowned as a scorer that he worked a record 10 World Series.

A small, dapper man with an astonishing baby face right out of the "Our Gang" comedies, Arthur (Red) Foley was a Runyonesque character whose great abiding passion was baseball. He was a lifelong bachelor who might as well have been betrothed to Mother Baseball. He had a healthy head of well-groomed hair and he was always immaculately dressed, even on a hot summer day. He loved his stogies, too.

He was poifect for the Daily news, churning out endless lively prose that had "tabloid" oozing from every syllable. A fly that produced a run was a "sac fly;" no need to add superfluous letters. The slugging right fielder for the Yanks in the 70s was Reggie Jax. He left the fancy word crafting to others. Red Foley got right to the point.

He was part of a ruling hierarchy of New York baseball writers. Men like Jack Lang, Leonard Koppett, Phil Pepe and, of course, the legendary Dick Young set the tone and the agenda for the dispensing of New York baseball information and criticism in the pre-internet, pre-talk show
world. There would have been no place for a kindly, gentle, uncomplicated man such as Red Foley in the hurly-burly of today's media climate.

Red Foley was a man of his times. He died peacefully at 79, leaving behind nephews, nieces and a lot of fans who'd like to see "Reggie Jax drove home the fifth run on a sac fly" one more time in the Daily News.

Bill Russell. Name sound familiar?

It might not be had it not been for a man named Hal DeJulio, who has passed away from the complications of Alzheimer's at 81 in suburban San Francisco.

DeJulio was a member of the 1949 NIT champion University of San Francisco team coached by Pete Newell. He was merely a role player, but he wound up making lasting contributions to the school and its basketball program. There may have been no more devoted USF alum anywhere.

His greatest contribution was to identify the possibilities inherent in a lanky, unpublicized kid at Oakland's McClymonds High School. The kid's name was Bill Russell. No one else seemed very interested in this prospect, but DeJulio was transfixed, convincing USF coach Phil Woolpert to grant a scholarship to this gawky lad, who had no apparent offensive skills. Of course, he did have a few other things to offer.

"I knew when he [Woolpert] got him in there and saw him run and jump, he'd see he had a man from Mars, something he'd never seen," DeJulio said. "He had incredible timing, speed and he was intelligent right from the start. Russell's the greatest basketball player who's ever lived."

He's surely the greatest team sport winner in American history; that is beyond argument. he won two NCAA championships, an Olympic gold medal and 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons. In 21 winner-take-all games, spanning his collegiate NCAA games, Olympic medal round games, and best-of-5s and best-of-7s in the NBA, Russell was 21-0.

Case closed.

But it's entirely possible none of this would have happened had DeJulio seen and appreciated what Russell could do. He had no name and could easily have fallen between the cracks.

Russell knows. He has never failed to mention Hal De Julio when the subject of his career beginnings is raised.

* * *

Bud Selig got away with one on Tuesday night, but another damaging tie in the All-Star Game is always possible, and, short of 15 or 18-man pitching staffs, I offer the only plausible solution to the problem.

Back to the future; that's all.

You identify a starter who is in a position to go three innings (if he merits them) and then you let him go three. You follow that with a guy for the next two, and then one guys for the sixth and seventh. Now it's the eighth and you've only used three pitchers. None of this one inning stuff, starting with the third. You're sitting there in the eight with seven or eight guys ready to go one, or more. That should get you to the 18th, or even 20th.

You stop worrying about getting everyone into the game. You manage to win.

And you might think about stocking the teams with more starters and fewer closers. Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of glorifying closers at the expense of starters.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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