A quiet, dignified gentleman who came to the Cleveland Indians in a 1976 trade with Montreal for pitcher Jackie Brown, Andre “Thunder” Thornton played for ten memorable seasons with the Tribe. During that time, the slugging first basemen/designated hitter connected for 214 home runs, just 12 short of Earl Averill’s record. A knee operation which forced him to miss the entire 1980 season undoubtedly cost him the mark. When he retired, he ranked eighth on the Indians career rbi list and tenth in total bases and slugging percentage. His single season total of 109 bases on balls was the second highest in club history at the time. Those figures helped earn him selections to the American League All-Star Team in 1982 and 1984. He was selected the Indians Man of the Year in 1978 and shared the honor in 1982 with teammate Toby Harrah. He has made Cleveland his home since his retirement in 1986.
Born and raised in Shaker Heights where he attended Shaker Heights High, Roger Penske developed a love of cars and speed which launched a career leading to his emergence as one of the most influential figures in the history of auto racing. During his short span of six years as a driver, for which he is honored by the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame, he won a total of 34 road racing titles, driving Porsche, Fiat, Maserati, Cooper, Ferrari and Chaparral machines, and was named Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year in 1962. After tabling his own competitive driving to concentrate on responsibilities in an expanding business empire, he launched Team Penske, the most successful team in the history of championship car racing. Team Penske established records for most victories (99), national championships (9) and Indianapolis 500 victories (10).
Norbert “Nobby” Lewandowski could have served as the poster boy for Cleveland’s lauded amateur baseball program in the mid-20th century. He began competing in the program’s Class F league as an elementary school student in Cleveland’s Slavic Village and worked his way up to the Plain Dealer-sponsored AAA league. Along the way, using the skills he developed on the sandlots, he earned four baseball letters at Benedictine High, which in turn earned him Kent State University’s first baseball scholarship and four more letters there. He pitched in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system from 1960-1962, then returned to the sandlots in 1963 to start for perennial league champion Wenham Truckers until 1970. During that time he was called “the most dominant pitcher in Ohio amateur baseball during the 1960’s era” by a Plain Dealer sportswriter.
A nationally known sportswriter, Hal Lebovitz entertained and informed Cleveland sports fans for more than 50 years with his incisive reporting talents. A graduate of Glenville High and Western Reserve University, he became a full-time writer for the Cleveland News in 1946, covering high school sports. In 1950 he became the paper’s baseball beat writer, then moved to the Plain Dealer with the same assignment when the News folded in 1960 and began a 20-year reign as the PD sports editor in 1964. His highly popular PD sports columns continued thereafter in a chain of papers serving much of Greater Cleveland. So did his “Ask Hal, The Referee” columns, which appeared nationally in The Sporting News from 1947 to 1993. The column drew on Hal’s vast situational sports knowledge acquired through many years as an umpire and referee.
A member of the U.S. National and International Figure Skating Teams from 1986 through 1998, Tonia Kwiatkowski ranks among the very best ice performers ever to come out of the Cleveland area. She earned a berth as an alternate on the 1998 United States Olympic Figure Skating Team to climax a career which included appearances in the World Championships in 1993, 1996 and 1998, two World University Games championships (1991 and 1995), a silver medal in the 1996 Senior U.S. National Championships, and three bronze medals in the U.S. Nationals, one at the Junior Level in 1987 and two at the Senior Level in 1993 and 1995. Considered one of the best liked and most respected competitors of her era in her sport, she is a graduate of Lakewood High School and Baldwin-Wallace College.
In an era when Cleveland was renowned for producing talented young boxing prospects, Jackie Keough ranked among the best. While just 17, the West Tech High School product advanced to the 1943 finals of the city Golden Gloves lightweight championship. The next year he came back to win the Northeastern Ohio Golden Gloves welterweight title. After spending 27 months in the Navy during World War II, he returned home in 1947 to win the national AAU welterweight championship in Chicago’s Tournament of Champions after winning the welterweight crown for the East in the National East-West Confrontation in New York as well as a second Cleveland Golden Gloves title. This prompted the Plain Dealer to hail him as “the best professional prospect to come out of Cleveland since Jimmy Bivins.” After 200 amateur bouts, he turned pro in 1946.
A native Clevelander who starred at John Hay High, John Hicks went on to a stunning college football career at Ohio State and a highly successful professional stint. He started three Rose Bowl games for OSU at offensive tackle, was named All-Big Ten and a Walter Camp All-American as a junior in 1972, then capped an awesome senior year by repeating those honors and adding Kodak All-American laurels, winning college football’s Outland (best interior lineman) and Lombardi (best lineman) Awards. He finished as runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1973 and was honored as the Sporting News College Player of the Year. Joining the NFL’s New York Giants in 1974, he was NFC Rookie of the Year that winter and NFL Man of the Year in 1975 as well as being named All-Pro in both of those seasons. John also played for Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl championship teams in 1978 and 1979 before retiring.
A seventh round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns while only a junior at the University of Mississippi in 1957, Gene Hickerson joined the team in 1958 to launch a 16-year career which earned him acclaim as one of the finest blocking guards in the history of professional football. Started his pro career as one of Paul Brown’s storied messenger guards, he later switched to right guard where he played for a decade. Gene led the interference for future Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown (for the last eight seasons of Brown’s nine-year career) and Leroy Kelly. Beginning in 1963, he was named to five consecutive all-NFL and six Pro Bowl teams and was a key member of the Browns 1964 NFL championship team. After retiring in 1973, the native of Trenton, Tennessee remained in Cleveland as a sales representative and restaurateur.
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