OUT OF LEFT FIELD
The Saga of Liebermans Leap
"Maybe if I charge the net right after I serve, he'll think I'm doing a
'Lieberman Leap' and he'll lose
sight of the ball!"
Left Field rewards a special glory on the playing fields
By STAN ISAACS
We start off the new year by introducing the fabled Liebermans Leap Award. We are wondering if anything happened in the whirring world of sport in 2006 that was worthy of receiving Liebermans Leap honors.
First, for the uninitiated, some history. Liebermans Leap honors a young man named Anthony Lieberman who, in the long ago, joined the ranks of persons who had greatness thrust upon them.
The award stems from a tennis tournament at the Oritani Field Club in Hackensack, NJ. It was a balmy day in June, 1962, and Anthony Lieberman of Philadelphia was playing Sidney Schwartz of Queens, NY in the second round of the Eastern clay courts tennis championships.
Schwartz--I liked to call him the Fast Sidney of the New York tennis circuit--was ranked No. 1 in the tournament. But he was on the verge of defeat against the sturdy, unknown Philadelphian.
Schwartz won the first set, 6-1. He then lost the second set, 6-0, and he was behind, 5-3, in the final set. Lieberman was serving at 40-30. Match point.
In Liebermans words, It was my serve. I gave him a twist serve that took him off the court at his backhand. His return was a soft, high bounce left of center. I was coming in toward the net. I jumped and hit a high backhand shot that took him off the court at his forehand. I didnt figure hed be able to go for it, let alone get it.
So Lieberman, with the momentum of his rush to the net, continued running and leaped over the net in that inimitable tennis gesture, ready to shake hands and accept congratulations from the loser. As long as that gesture is in tennis, it will remain a gentlemans game, I believe.
Fast Sidney Schwartz forgot to offer congratulations. Instead he ran furiously to the side of the court to return the shot. Miraculously, perhaps, Schwartz got his racket on the ball.
Hes a pretty agile fellow; he runs fast," Lieberman said.
Schwartzs ball lofted high in the air, went over the net and plopped to earth Lieberman never dreamed where-on his side of the court.
Lieberman, a victory-less conqueror, gulped. Here the two combatants memory of the event conflicted.
Schwartz, who loved talking about it, said, He was breathless. He sat there with a despondent grin. He didnt want to talk. He said he was over-anxious.
Lieberman, who was a bit chagrined on the phone when I tracked him down, said, I knew exactly what happened. I told him, Nice shot. I was being carried by my momentum toward the net and kept going because I didnt think he would get the ball. Even if I had not jumped over, I wouldnt have been able to get his return shot.
Under the rules it didnt matter whether Schwartz shot fell in or not. A player is not allowed to leave his side of the net until his shot has taken a second bounce. Lieberman disqualified himself by jumping before his ball bounced. He was a dead clay-court pigeon.
There were about 200 people in the stands, Schwartz said, and I thought they would fall out of the stands. They were doubled up, howling.
So what happened after that, you may ask.
Schwartz came back to tie the score and go on to win the set--and the match. He also went on to win the tournament. The incident made a one-paragraph item in the New York Times--which I was delighted to spot.
On the phone Lieberman continued, The Philadelphia papers didnt make too much fuss about it--for which he seemed glad. His friends kidded him about it for a few weeks, he admitted. He was, in truth, embarrassed about it.
I told him he shouldnt be; that he should learn to bask in the greatness that had been thrust upon him. Had Lieberman not been moved by the certain something which lifts a man out of the ranks of the multitude to a place with the Titans, he might merely have won the point and the match-and maybe even gone on to win this minor tournament.
Instead, Anthony Lieberman brought about the glory of the Liebermans Leap Award. Leaping across the net into the hearts of sportsmen/women everywhere, he enriched the sports year of 1962 and served as an inspiration for future glorious actions.
We have had many gritty "Liebermans" through the years, but I am disappointed to declare now that no worthies achieved the rarified heights of a Liebermans Leap in dear, departed 2006. Oh, there were some contenders.
Like golfer Tom Kenney, who took a mulligan (i.e. extra ball) after he was unable to find his tee shot on the 370-yard 18th hole at Batavia, NY. This wiped out the hole-in-one he had just scored with his first ball.
And former Florida State receiver Fred Rouse, charged with burglarizing the house of an ex-teammate, allegedly left a wide receivers glove with his uniform number on it at the scene.
And it was reported that at Canton, Ohios Timken High--where the sports teams are called the Trojans--13 per cent of the girls at the school were pregnant.
We will be ever on the lookout for stalwart Liebermans in 2007.
©2006 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The cartoon is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. East, San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted Jan. 1, 2007.
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