Muhammad Ali & Mike Scioscia
Ali captivates clubhouse
Visit by former heavyweight champion is a special moment for players and coaches.
By Mike DiGiovanna, Times Staff Writer
March 28, 2007
TEMPE, ARIZ. — Sporting royalty needed a walker to shuffle into the Angels' Tempe Diablo Stadium clubhouse Tuesday, the once lean and powerful body of Muhammad Ali ravaged by age — he's 65 — and Parkinson's disease.
But that did nothing to diminish the aura surrounding the former heavyweight champion, who is considered the most recognizable man on earth.
About 45 minutes before the Angels' 12-2 win in a Cactus League game against the Chicago White Sox, Ali, who lives in Scottsdale and has a son who plays high school baseball in the area, took a seat in the middle of the Angels' locker room.
That chair might as well have been a throne, as players, coaches, trainers, front-office officials, clubhouse employees and Manager Mike Scioscia all waited in line for their moment with the self-proclaimed "Greatest of All Time," who posed for pictures and, with the help of his handlers, signed a few bats and baseballs.
"I've never seen the clubhouse so quiet and everyone be in awe like it was today," utility player Robb Quinlan said. "It's pretty special to see."
It's very difficult for him to speak, but Ali, a political and cultural icon who was named Athlete of the Century by Sports Illustrated, playfully balled a fist for several pictures.
Though he appeared expressionless, staring straight ahead most of the time — a far cry from the brash, outspoken and controversial Ali of his prime — any time a small child was placed in his lap, Ali's eyes would sparkle.
"He's arguably the greatest athlete to ever live," reliever Scot Shields said. "In my opinion, it's him and Michael Jordan…. You know you're pretty big when you've got the whole clubhouse standing around, and every single person wants to take a picture with you. That's something special."
Ali's visit was arranged through Gerald Gibbs, who runs a Los Angeles-based marketing firm that handles many of Ali's appearances and is a friend of Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications.
Players were finishing up their morning workouts when word began to circulate that Ali, who watched four innings from a stadium suite, was going to visit. Within minutes, the clubhouse was abuzz.
"Man, is there a camera here?" pitcher Kelvim Escobar said. "He's one of the greatest ever. He's one of the guys I've always wanted to shake hands with."
Fifteen minutes before first pitch, players were still basking in Ali's presence.
"We're not worried about the game right now — it's not often you see that happen," Shields said.
"I'm glad I was a part of it