BY KEVIN KERNAN
So often, it seems, all roads lead back to baseball. Even the road to the Super Bowl.
Here at BallNine we love to find the story behind The Story. On this Super Bowl Sunday the two quarterbacks have a baseball family background. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ father, Pat, pitched 11 years in the majors. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy’s dad, Shawn, pitched eight seasons in the minors, rising as high as AAA.
But there is another baseball/athlete connection in the same backfield as Brock Purdy.
Running back Christian McCaffrey is the grandson of 1960 Olympic 100 meters silver medalist Dave Sime (rhymes with rim, the e is silent). McCaffrey’s maternal grandfather was a star baseball player. In 1957, his freshman year at Duke he batted .376 to lead the ACC before giving up baseball to pursue track.
BallNine digs deeper and this heritage athletic baseball story actually starts way back in 1949.
It all began, though, 75 years ago on those baseball fields in northern New Jersey and we are lucky enough to hear first-hand stories about Dave Sime from Jack Keyser…
That is the year that a first baseman/pitcher named Jack Keyser was teammates with Dave Sime, playing games in the Ridgewood Little League, and later they played high school baseball against one another. “He was 12 and I was 11,’’ Keyser told BallNine. “I lived in Prospect Park, Dave lived in Fair Lawn and nearly everyone else on the Little League team was from Hawthorne. We played in Ridgewood and we beat the life out of everybody.
“We’d have games on Saturday mornings, we’d all meet at Lincoln School in Hawthorne and then would go where we had to go in Ridgewood. He was a great kid. Dave Sime was the best non-professional guy I ever played with or against,’’ Keyser told me. “With us, he played shortstop but in high school at Fair Lawn they put him out in centerfield. He hit about .500 for Fair Lawn High School. I heard when he was in high school he played against a Cuban team in the Polo Grounds and hit two home runs against those guys.’’
Keyser, 86, was no slouch as a ballplayer himself.
He had a tryout with his beloved New York baseball Giants, did well but was told by Giants scout Chick Genovese to come back next year “and put on 30 pounds.’’
Noted Keyser, “The next year they were gone to San Francisco.’’
Keyser wound up pitching at Paterson State Teachers College, now known as William Paterson University. In 1984, Jack Keyser was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. He pitched the school’s first no-hitter in 1958, striking out 13. He also set a school record with 19 strikeouts in a game. The following year he led the staff and also hit .385 as Paterson went 18-1 to win the conference and went on to its first national baseball tournament, the 1959 NAIA World Series.
Jack Keyser knew talent when he saw talent and there was no one like Dave Sime on the diamond.
“I remember one game in high school and I was playing first base and Dave walked,’’ Keyser said. “He was a pretty quiet guy, not a loudmouth, and I started talking to him and Dave said, ‘What are you trying to do?’ I said, ‘I’m trying to distract you, I know you are going to run on the first pitch.’
“I grabbed his pants to try and hold him back.
“Dave was so fast that the catcher would pitch out on him and he would still steal second base standing up.’’
Now you know where Christian McCaffrey gets his explosive speed. The running back is one legendary athlete with the genes to match. Christian’s father Ed was a wide receiver who won three Super Bowls with the 49ers. His mom Lisa, Dave’s youngest daughter, played soccer at Stanford.
It all began, though, 75 years ago on those baseball fields in northern New Jersey and we are lucky enough to hear first-hand stories about Dave Sime from Jack Keyser, who went on to become a teacher, nine years in Wyckoff, NJ and 26 years in Franklin Lakes, NJ, and also spent 30 years as an basketball referee and baseball umpire through 1995, so he saw generations of athletes. Former Reds pitcher Tom Acker (1956-59) was Keyser’s officiating partner, quite the knowledgeable crew.
“Dave Sime was a big red-headed kid and he also became an ice skating champion at 13, winning the Silver Skates at Madison Square Garden,’’ Keyser told me. “He played basketball, baseball and football for Fair Lawn. In baseball, they had a great team. They had Ron Perranoski who pitched for the Dodgers.’’
Perranoski was a lefty reliever who pitched 13 years in the majors and appeared in five World Series, winning two with the Dodgers in 1963 and ’65.
“They had a whole bunch of great guys on that Fair Lawn team and won the state championship,’’ Keyser said. “I was a junior and Sime was a senior.’’
Keyser played his high school ball at Hawthorne High School.
“I remember Fair Lawn came to play us at Hawthorne and there must have been 3,000 people at the game. I never saw so many people at a high school baseball game,’’ Keyser said. “At that time Perranoski had a long scoreless streak, something like 57 scoreless innings. He had a full ride to Michigan State. He comes in and the score is tied in the last of the seventh inning. Our third baseman gets up and gets a base hit, and I was up next, I knew the bunt was coming, so I laid down the bunt, got the runner to second on a sacrifice. The next guy up was a pitcher named Ted Kincaid, but that day he played right field, and he was a left-handed hitter. So Perranoski throws him a pitch and I guess he swung late on the fastball.’’
Kincaid’s base hit to left scored the winning run.
“We beat them 3-2 and to this day, I can still see Ron Perranoski sitting on the bench crying like a baby, but they won the league and the state championship,’’ Keyser said, remembering details from 75 years ago as if it were yesterday.
Such is the power and beauty of baseball.
“After that I didn’t see much of Dave because he went on to Duke University,’’ Keyser said. “We had also played basketball against one another.’’
Sime went on to have quite a life, becoming Dr. Dave Sime, a much sought-after ophthalmologist in the Miami area and also a team doctor with the Dolphins. He died of cancer at the age of 79 in 2016 and in his New York Times obituary it was noted that his patients included President Richard M. Nixon, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Bob Griese and Sugar Ray Leonard. Pulitzer Prize winning sports columnist Jim Murray also was a patient of Sime and covered him as a track athlete.
Sime passed up 23 football scholarships and a $65,000 signing offer from the New York baseball Giants as he became a world class runner and in the mid-50s broke or tied five world records outdoors and four indoors in the sprints and low hurdles. In the 1956 Olympics he was considered a “lead pipe cinch’’ to win at least one gold medal but he pulled a groin muscle riding a horse, the first time he was ever on a horse. The muscle eventually tore. He bounced back to race the 100-meter dash and finished in a photo finish with Germany’s Armin Hary in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, both runners timed at 10.2 but Hary’s chest got there first. Instead of gold, Sime won the silver.
“You move on,’’ he once said and he did just that, he moved on.
Sime only played one year of baseball at Duke but what a year as he hit .376. his freshman year in 1957, playing centerfield. He certainly could have had a pro baseball career if he wanted to follow that path. How fast was he?
The New York Times once wrote of Sime the baseball player: “Here at last is the player who can steal first base.’’
Dave Sime didn’t run track his freshman year at Duke but the track coach saw him playing baseball and all that blazing speed. The first time Sime was timed in the hundred in practice he ran 9.8. At the time, the world record was 9.3. No more baseball.
Oh yes, he also played one year of football at Duke, his freshman year he was the “lonesome end.’’
While at Fair Lawn High School a coach named Vince Lombardi recruited him
“Vince Lombardi came to his house when he was an assistant coach for Army at West Point,’’ Keyser said. “Dave wanted to be a pilot but they tested him and he was color blind so the Army wouldn’t take him.
“He was a fantastic end,’’ Keyser said. “On his first play against Notre Dame, they threw him the ball and he out-runs everybody and he gets a touchdown on the first play of the game. The next time Duke gets the ball they do the same thing, he gets another touchdown. The rest of the game they triple-teamed him.’’
One and done in football. In the 1960 Olympics, author David Maraniss of “Rome 1960’’ fame wrote that just before the Games, the CIA recruited Sime to try to get Soviet long jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesya, a friend of Sime, to defect to the US. It didn’t work out.
Pretty much everything else did.
And now his grandson Christian McCaffery has a shot at winning the Super Bowl if the 49ers can stop Mahomes magic. McCaffrey rushed for 1,459 yards in the regular season and scored 14 touchdowns. He must have a big day for the 49ers to win but he comes from a family of top of the line athletes and told reporters this week in Las Vegas of the ability to run fast: “You have to have good genes.’’
Keyser said that Sime gave his 1960 Olympic Silver Medal to his mother.
“If he went 4-for-5,’’ Keyser said, “his father would start yelling at him, ‘You should have went 5-for-5.’ No matter what he did his old man wanted something better out of him. But that was that.’’
And that was the times.
Many years ago Keyser was given a scrapbook of the Little League team (including a picture when Sime and Keyser hit back-to-back home runs) by the wife of the former coach. Through the years the scrapbook got put somewhere where he has yet to find it but is still looking for it. Keyser is a high level baseball autograph collector and even owns a Babe Ruth autograph.
“I was nine years old and the Babe was dying in a hospital in New York and I sent him a get well card and I got this nice card back from him signed in a fountain pen,’’ Keyser said.
In the Small World Department, Keyser’s grandson went to college at Appalachian State and worked at a local cleaners and would see Dave Sime, who had a home in the area. Sime would regularly play golf with the likes of Bob Griese, Brian Griese and Don Shula and they would bring their dirty clothes to the cleaners.
Jack Keyser witnessed athletic greatness 75 years ago whose lineage continues in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Although a Giants fan, Keyser said, “I’ve got to root for Dave Sime’s grandson.’’
The Legacy continues. Dave Sime’s nickname for his grandson at Stanford was “Snowball’’ because once he gets rolling he gets bigger and faster.
Maybe at the end of this Super Bowl, Christian McCaffrey will be holding up the trophy named for the football coach who once tried to recruit his grandfather.