Sporting Paybacks

Tale of the Sharp Cleat

Circa Early 1950's/ Crackertown, FL

The opposing team is well-known to Billy Bruce's baseball club, with a reputation for dirty-play. It only takes a few innings for that reputation to be confirmed.

On a sacrifice fly ball, their runner at third base tags up and charges home. The throw from right-field is coming fast and accurately. With no chance to beat the throw, the runner resorts to a hard-slide. In this era, each player's shoes are soled with sharp metal cleats. At full-speed, the runner slides and raises his feet to intentionally spike Bruce's catcher. The impact knocks the ball loose (runner, Safe!) but deeply gouges the catcher's leg. It's a season-ending wound, requiring surgery and rehab.

Bill prevents his team from storming the field for an all-out brawl. Instead, he swats a long home run on his next at-bat. As he jogs around the bags, Bill elbows the dirty-player (who's at third base) hard in the chest. Bruce takes off on a full-sprint towards home. The cleated third-baseman gives chase, fighting mad! As Billy tags home base (runner, Safe!) he stops sharply, whirls around 90 degrees, and lands a sucker punch flat into the face of the oncoming opponent, who’s running full-speed to catch up...and knocks the SOB out-cold.

Tale of the Unpaved Roads

Circa Mid 1960's/ Miami, FL

"This broadcast is brought to you by Volvo Automobiles and Trucks of Sweden, where they have over 40,000 miles of unpaved roads...."

Bill Bruce is doing the radio play-by-play commentary for a football game in the mid-1960's. Like all announcers, he follows a schedule to acknowledge the program sponsors and pitch their wares. The game proceeds and the Volvo ads are intoned over and over by Bill "....from Sweden, where they have over 40,000 miles of unpaved roads."

Not all listeners catch it when Bruce makes his last pitch of the night, late in the 4th quarter of the game.

"This broadcast has been brought to you by Volvo Automobiles and Trucks of Sweden, where they have over 36,000 miles of unpaved roads While this game was being played, Sweden finally went out and paved some of those roads!"

The ad-lib was noticed, however, by the advertiser. Bill was fired from the job.

Tale of the Well-Timed Call

Circa 1969/ Miami, FL

Bill Bruce is on the dais, the permanent Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) of the Miami Touchdown Club. He's conducting the FAME Awards Banquet, with many hundreds in attendance.

Each year the Club honors the best player in the NFL and College Football. The previous year, O.J. Simpson was selected, but failed to show (despite a firm commitment). This year the Touchdown Club is honoring Calvin Hill of the Dallas Cowboys, and Jim Plunkett, QB of the Stanford Cardinal. Bruce begins, as always, with a repertoire of acerbic jokes poking fun at the celebrities and honorees.

No one has noticed, but Bill previously positioned a telephone on the head table, adjacent to his podium. He's got a plan. In the middle of a joke, the phone rings jarringly. Bruce pauses, appears surprised, and tentatively reaches out to pick up the handset.

He says "Hello?” seems to listen intently, and then shakes his head slowly. Bill snaps into the phone (to the roaring approval of his knowledgeable audience) "O.J., you dumb sonuvabitch, that was last year!"

Tale of the Golden Silence

Circa Late 1970's/ Miami, FL

Bill stares at his note cards before the banquet. He handwrites them the day of each event on old-fashioned computer cards, to prompt himself with punch lines. The words are his and he uses the cards to keep track during roasts; but Bruce has an indelible memory for jokes. Better than the stories themselves, his reputation is based on the acerbic ad-libs he unleashes on anyone who attempts to upstage the Man with the Microphone.

Just before the banquet begins, one of the self-important guests at the head table sends over his personal assistant to address Bill. She asks about his note cards, and he explains how he uses them. The woman asks to preview the notes, to assure her boss that Bill's comments will be 'appropriate'. Bill quickly dismisses her request. She insists. He refuses. The stand-off is interrupting Bill's preparations, so he asks to see the woman's purse. "What? That's personal!" she exclaims. "So are my notes" he says. The woman stomps away in a huff.

The evening unfolds perfectly, as each of the distinguished guests is slowly and carefully 'roasted' like a coffee bean. The audience loves the barbs, the guests bask in the attention of the 'EmCee', and everyone has a great time...except for the one VIP who sent the assistant to 'protect' his image. Bill Bruce was the MASTER of Ceremonies, and as this disappointed guest learned, Bruce ran the show. He never mentioned the man's name once. It was an excruciatingly long night, being the only person at the head table who was ignored.

Bill Bruce knew the power of the spoken word; and the devastating power of silence.

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