New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: V

Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy (Pro Basketball.  Born, Hemet, CA, Jan. 19, 1962.)  When he succeeded Don Nelson and became the 18th coach of the Knicks history on Mar. 8, 1996, Jeff Van Gundy was just 34, the N.B.A.’s second-youngest bench boss. However, he had already served almost seven seasons as an assistant coach under Stu Jackson, John MacLeod, Pat Riley, and Nelson. Van Gundy was 13-10 for the balance of that season, and his first full campaign (1996-97) saw the Knicks finish 57-25. By 1999, his career had entered a “soap opera” phase as club president and general manager Ernie Grunfeld was fired, Van Gundy’s contract was in its final year, and the Knicks appeared destined to miss the playoffs. With injuries to star center Patrick Ewing and forward Larry Johnson, the Knicks somehow survived, the crowds chanted Van Gundy’s name, and the team surged all the way to the N.B.A. final before being outmanned in five games by San Antonio. Van Gundy then got a long-term contract. After two more playoff teams, he resigned suddenly Dec, 8, 2001, despite a 10-9 record, citing “diminished focus,” and finished with a 248-172 Knicks record (plus 37-32 in the playoffs), his teams never finishing under .500.  . The Knicks did not finish over .500 again until 2010-11.  In 2003 he became coach of the Houston Rockets and later a television analyst.  Van Gundy is an ardent tennis fan and as a young man rooted for the Oakland Raiders.

Keith Van Horn

Keith Van Horn (Pro Basketball.  Born, Fullerton, CA, October 23, 1975.)  Perhaps payback for the 1976 deal when the then-New York Nets sent their greatest player ever, Julius Erving, to the 76ers for cash, the Nets acquired potential All-Star forward Keith Van Horn from Philadelphia on June 27, 1997, in a transaction involving eight players.  Van Horn was the second overall pick in the N.B.A. draft that year and his first two seasons generally justified that ranking.  In 1997-98, he became the first rookie since 1978 (Bernard King) to lead the team in scoring (19.7) despite missing 17 games at the outset with a sprained right ankle.  The former Utah star was fifth in the league in scoring during the truncated 1999 season (21.6), although he missed the last eight games with a broken thumb.  In his third season, Van Horn moved to “small” forward despite his size (6’10”, 250 pounds) and he responded by averaging 19.2 points and playing 80 games.  In 2001-02, led the team in rebounding and averaged 14.8 points per game as the Nets reached their first N.B.A. final.  After the season, he was traded to Philadelphia and then acquired July 23, 2003, by the Knicks in a four-team deal.  Van Horn played 47 games for the Knicks (averaging 16.4 points per game) before he was dealt to Milwaukee Feb. 15, 2004, in a three-team trade.  He played his last N.B.A. game in 2006 for Dallas (which also reached the N.B.A. final), took a year off, and then was part of the Feb. 19, 2008, trade that sent Jason Kidd from the Nets to Dallas and brought Devin Harris to New Jersey.  Van Horn, however, never played for the Nets and retired after being waived by the team before the 2008-09 season began.

Butch van Breda Kolff

Butch van Breda Kolff (College basketball.  Born, Montclair, NJ, Oct. 22, 1922; died, Spokane, WA, Aug. 22, 2007.)  A Princeton basketball captain and member of the Knicks, Butch van Breda Kolff became a legend in the ranks of basketball coaching with a career that began in 1951 and extended to 1994.  He coached at four colleges, two of them twice (Hofstra and Lafayette), six pro teams in three different leagues, and at a high school.  After he concluded his second tour at Hofstra (1989-94), he compiled 482 victories as a college coach. He also coached Lafayette twice (1951-55 and 1984-88), Princeton (1962-67) and the University of New Orleans (1977-79). All but 32 of those 482 came at the three schools in the New York region.  van Breda Kolff also coached the Lakers, Pistons, Suns and New Orleans Jazz of the N.B.A. and Memphis of the old American Basketball Association (A.B.A.).  In addition, he coached New Orleans in the Women’s Basketball League and Picayune (Miss.) High School.  In 1946-47, Willem van Breda Kolff was the captain at Princeton and for the next three seasons, he played for the Knicks.  In his first tour at Lafayette, he rebuilt a faltering program that by 1955 produced a 24-3 team that earned an N.I.T. bid.  Then, he moved to Hofstra for his first tour with the Flying Dutchmen (1955-62), starting with a 22-4 team in 1956 and compiling a 136-43 record by 1962 when he moved to Princeton.  There, he coached Bill Bradley, among others, winning three Ivy League championships.

Mike Vaccaro

Mike Vaccaro (Sportswriter.  Born, Flushing, NY, Jan. 1, 1967.)  For Michael Francis Vaccaro, Jr., the trip from Queens to becoming the lead sports columnist at the Post passed through five newspapers in four states.  A facile writer with a deep knowledge of sports history and a intelligent fan’s perspective, Vaccaro came to the Post in November 2002 after more than four years at the Newark Star-Ledger.  He started at the Times-Herald in Olean, N.Y., shortly after graduating from St. Bonaventure in that city in 1989.  In June 1991, Vaccaro went to the Northwest Arkansas Times of Fayetteville (Ark.) and moved to the Times Herald Record of Middletown, N.Y., in October 1993.  He subsequently joined the Kansas City (Mo.) Star in June 1997.  Vaccaro was a sports features writer and columnist there before going to the Star-Ledger as the national baseball writer in June 1998.  He became a columnist for the Star-Ledger in February 1999 and handled that assignment for nearly 40 months before assuming his position at the Post.  He also has written several acclaimed books, including 1941:  The Greatest Year in Sports, Emperors and Idiots (about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry), and The First Fall Classic, about the eight-game Red Sox-Giants World Series of 1912.

Bobby Valentine

Bobby Valentine (Baseball.  Born, Stamford, CT, May 13, 1950.)  Though his relationship with the press was often tempestuous, Robert John Valentine presided over the development of the Mets into one of baseball’s most exciting teams in the late 1990s.  He became the first Mets manager ever to guide the club into the post-season in successive years by winning the wild card with a 94-68 record in 2000.  He then took the Mets to their fourth N.L. pennant.  In 1999, the team’s stirring run into the wild-card playoff game (in which the Mets beat Cincinnati, 5-0), the Division Series victory over Arizona, and the N.L. championship series against Atlanta were among the highlights of the baseball season.  By creating a tie for the wild-card berth on the last day of the season, the Mets salvaged a season that had seemed lost only three days before. But after a disastrous 75-86 season in 2002, Valentine was fired Oct. 1.  He had an overall 536-467 record as Mets field boss.  Valentine became the Mets’ 16th manager on Aug. 26, 1996, when Dallas Green was fired and he was promoted from the Triple-A club at Norfolk. Valentine had managed at Texas nearly eight seasons (1985-92) in addition to an earlier hitch at Norfolk (1994) and a one-year stint in Japan. He returned to Japan in 2004 after serving a year as an ESPN baseball analyst.  Among the most celebrated scholastic athletes in Connecticut sports, he played football (three times all-state) and baseball, as well as running track at Rippowan H.S. in Stamford. Son-in-law of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, Valentine was a major-league infielder, primarily a shortstop, who began his career in the Los Angeles organization. He played 639 major-league games from 1969-79 in a career curtailed by a severely broken leg. He played parts of two years (1977 and 1978) with the Mets. He owned three restaurants (Norwalk and Stamford, Conn., and Newport, R.I.), and, briefly, another in Queens.

Dazzy Vance

Dazzy Vance (Baseball.  Born, Orient, IA, Mar. 4, 1891; died, Homosassa Springs, FL, Feb. 16, 1961.)  Given up on by the Yankees, Clarence Arthur Vance became a Brooklyn legend and nearly pitched the Dodgers to the 1924 pennant.  After being 0-4 with Pittsburgh and the Yankees (1915, 1918) and knocking around the minors, Vance was signed by Brooklyn in 1922.  He immediately, at age 31, became a star.  The 6’2” righthander was 18-12 and 18-15 in his first two years with the Dodgers.  Then came two sensational seasons.  In 1924, Vance was 28-6 (including a 15-game winning streak) with an earned-run average of 2.16 and 30 complete games in 34 starts.  He and Burleigh Grimes led Brooklyn to a second-place finish, just 1½ games behind the Giants.  Vance struck out 14 Cubs (including seven in a row) on Aug. 1 and on Aug. 23 fanned 15 Cubs, the most in the N.L. in four decades.  Vance was the N.L. M.V.P. that season, selected by a panel of sportswriters.  In 1925, he was 22-5, led the N.L. in wins again, and hurled a no-hitter Sept. 13 against Philadelphia, winning 10-1.  Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts his first seven seasons with Brooklyn (1922-28) and was 22-10 in 1928.  Overall, he had a 197-140 career record (190-131 with the Dodgers, 1922-32, 1935).

Mike Vanderbilt

Mike Vanderbilt (Sailing.  Born, Oakdale, NY, July 6, 1884; died, Newport, RI, July 4, 1970.)  Harold Stirling Vanderbilt was the son of William K. Vanderbilt, president of the New York Central Railroad at a time when the industry was dominant and the Central was one of the dominant roads in the industry. Yet, despite his millions (or perhaps because of them), Mike Vanderbilt led a very active life. In 1925, he invented the modern form of contract bridge and actively promoted the game.  But it was Navy service during World War I that had given him a taste for the sea and led him to his most famous exploits. Three times in the 1930s, Vanderbilt was to carry the U.S. flag into international competition and three times he successfully defended the America’s Cup.  In 1930, Vanderbilt skippered the Enterprise in its successful defense against Sir. Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock V from Ireland, winning in four straight races.  Four years later, Vanderbilt was at the helm of Rainbow for its victory over T.O.M. Sopwith’s Endeavor from England, taking four of six races. In 1937, it was Ranger under the helmsmanship of Vanderbilt for a four-race sweep of Endeavor II, another Sopwith English entry.  During the 1934 series, Vanderbilt pressured the racing committee into allowing his wife, Gertrude, aboard Rainbow, breaking the long-standing tradition against women on racing yachts. (Mrs. Sopwith was also allowed on board her husband’s Endeavor). She later said her role was to keep the stopwatches wound and report on the position of the challenging yacht.  Vanderbilt was also a trustee of Vanderbilt University, which was founded by his great-grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Andy Varipapa

Andy Varipapa (Bowling.  Born, Carfizzi, Italy, Mar. 13, 1891; died, Huntington, NY, Aug. 25, 1984.)  Perhaps the most famous bowling star of the early television era, Andrew Varipapa came to the United States in 1903 and began one of the most remarkable careers in the history of American sports.  He began bowling in 1905 in New York and bowled his first 300 game in 1931.  He was to bowl a total of 70 sanctioned 300s in his long career.  Varipapa first came to public notice on Jan. 17, 1932, when he was already 40.  He bowled a six-game series in Queens Village, with a total pinfall of 1,652, an average of over 275 pins per game.  In the 1930s, Varipapa became the first bowler to make his living by giving exhibitions.  He developed a group of trick shots that have not been consistently performed by anyone else to this day.  He starred in a series of motion picture short subjects on the sport, helping to popularize bowling across the U.S.  Before the formation of the present pro tour, the B.P.A.A. All-Star was the major tournament and Varipapa became the first bowler to win successive All-Star titles with back-to-back championships in 1946 and 1947.  He later became a star of televised bowling matches in the early days of television both as a competitor, with his repertoire of amazing trick shots and his personality.  Varipapa’s shock of white hair and brilliant smile helped make him a fan favorite.

Mo Vaughn

Mo Vaughn (Baseball.  Born, Norwalk, CT, Dec. 15, 1967.)  Following a stellar career at Trinity-Pawling (N.Y.) high school, Maurice Samuel Vaughn was rated as a sure-fire college baseball star.  The lefthanded power hitter more than lived up to his advance billing, hitting a school-record 28 home runs in his freshman season at Seton Hall.  In three varsity seasons (1987-89), Vaughn batted .417 with 56 homers and drove in 218 runs for the Pirates.  He was then the first-round choice by Boston (23rd overall selection) in the 1989 draft and was signed by Matt Sczesny.  By 1991, Vaughn was playing in Boston and in 1993 hit .297 with 29 homers and 101 runs batted in.  In 1995 he led the American League in r.b.i. with 126.  In 1996, he hit .326 with 44 homers and 143 r.b.i., and earned A.L. M.V.P. honors.  Two years later, Vaughn hit 40 homers and batted .337.  Vaughn signed as a free agent with Anaheim in Nov. 1998 but injuries (to his ankle in 1999 and bicep tendon surgery in 2001) cost him significant playing time.  After missing the entire 2001 season, Vaughn was traded to the Mets Dec. 27, 2001, for righthander Kevin Appier.  His first Mets season started with a homer in the second game he played (April 3), but, having missed all the previous year, Vaughn needed time to find his stroke.  He finished with 26 homers (and hit only .259) in 2002, but 21 of his homers came in the final 85 games.  By the time he started hitting, the Mets were already in fourth place and sinking.  Burdened with an arthritic left knee, Vaughn played his last major league game, for the Mets, in May 2003.  He finished his career with 328 career homers and an OPS of .906.

George Vecsey

George Vecsey (Sportswriter.  Born, Jamaica, NY, July 4, 1939.)  Starting as a part-timer handling high school sports at Newsday in 1956, George Spencer Vecsey progressed to a columnist for The New York Times.  Shortly before graduating from Hofstra (where he majored in English), Vecsey became a full-time sportswriter at Newsday in February 1960.  He rapidly progressed to college sports and by 1962 covered the fledgling Mets.  In 1968, Vecsey moved to The Times, handling mainly college basketball and major league baseball.  Over the next 14 years, he wrote about many subjects for The Times besides sports, but, in 1982, joined the roster of regular “Sports of The Times” columnists.  Vecsey’s father, George, sports editor of the old Long Island Press in the 1930s, was dismissed for trying to organize editorial employees for the then-new Newspaper Guild, and subsequently worked at the Daily News and The Associated Press.  Vecsey’s brother, Peter, is the noted N.B.A. columnist for the New York Post.  Vecsey was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters by Hofstra in 1990.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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