From Prince Hal to Stan Mikita to Tony Stewart, welcome May 20 birthday boys | Ken Willis

Improv isn’t just for the stage. Sometimes it visits via the keyboard, especially when an original column idea falls through.

So, with apologies to the Birthday Cocktail Party originator, Adam Carolla, let’s hang the bunting, bake the cake, and open the taps as we round up the sports world’s birthday boys for May 20 . . .

• Let’s start with Hal Newhouser, born 101 years ago on this day. Newhouser was a World War II hero, but not in the American military, but the American League — he won back-to-back MVPs in 1944-45 as the ace of Detroit’s pitching staff.

“Prince Hal” was a combined 54-18 over those two seasons, and to prove he wasn’t just overmatching the depleted rosters of the war years, he went 26-9 in ’46, after most of the boys returned.

By the way, it’s said Hal tried to sign up for military service, but was classified 4-F due to a leaky heart valve.

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• Here come Bud Grant (1927) and Ken Boyer (1931) . . .

How good a coach was Bud Grant? He’s in both the Canadian and American football halls of fame. Best known for his 1967-83 tenure with the Vikings, and for not allowing heaters, gloves or anything else considered cold-weather gear on game days.

In Minnesota!

Bud Grant is the Vikings' all-time winningest coach
Bud Grant is the Vikings' all-time winningest coach

The cold must’ve been quite a preservative, because Bud is still going at 94.

Kenny Boyer was such a respected member of the 1950s-60s St. Louis Cardinals, even Stan Musial labeled him a “pillar of strength” and a father figure to all who entered the St. Louis organization. He was just 51 when he died of lung cancer in 1982.

• It’s probably a good thing Twitter wasn’t around during Dave Hill’s prime years on the PGA Tour. Hill, born 85 years ago today, wasn’t afraid to use his fists (he once fought Chi Chi Rodriguez in the locker room, and fought J.C. Snead on a driving range!).

But his mouth was also a doozy. At the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine in Minnesota, Hill was no fan of the course and suggested they “ruined a perfectly good farm.” In fact, when asked what he thought of the course, he said, “I’m still looking for it.”

His last big blow came in 1991, shortly after Jack Nicklaus turned 50 and suggested he was in no hurry to join Hill and others on the 50-and-over Senior Tour.

Dave Hill
Dave Hill

“I don’t find it a challenge to play against the same guys I’ve beaten for 30 years,” Jack said ahead of his Senior Tour debut in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Hill, a 13-time Tour winner, let ’er rip.

“I always thought Jack was quite a guy,” he said. “I don’t any longer. He’s an (fill in the blank).  I hope that some of us marginal players can hammer him at Scottsdale. I’m going to be doing my best.”

Hill died 11 years ago at 74. And yes, Jack won in Scottsdale.

• You can still find older Chicago sports fans who’ll get a bit misty if you bring up the great Blackhawk, Stan Mikita (1940). Welcome to the party, “Stosh.”

Legendary Chicago Blackhawk, Stan Mikita, in 2011.
Legendary Chicago Blackhawk, Stan Mikita, in 2011.

Younger folks might’ve first met Stan in the 1992 classic, “Wayne’s World,” where he was owner-operator of the Stan Mikita Doughnut Shop. Good stuff.

• Everyone say hey to Bobby Murcer, who built a fine big-league career despite being cursed by an early label: The Next Mickey Mantle.

And why not? Like Mantle, he was from Oklahoma, came up as a shortstop, and eventually settled in centerfield. And like The Mick, he brought a ton of talent.

He was a five-time All Star and had a quality 17-year career, but the Next Mickey Mantle? He eventually showed up in California wearing an Angels uniform, answering to the name Mike Trout.

• OK, who’s gonna keep an eye on David Wells? “Boomer,” quite a hefty lefty, will likely be found within arm’s reach of the snack tray.

• Is that Lawyer Tillman? Yes it is, the 1980s Auburn tight end who played a few years in the NFL. Wasn’t much of a pro career, but you never know when a Lawyer might come in handy.

Not sure where “Lawyer” ranked among the most unique names in sports, but if we haven’t already, let’s proclaim that competition over, because the Oklahoma Sooners recently welcomed a new transfer quarterback named General Booty.

You heard me. He’s not just a name, but a bit of a pedigree, as nephew of two former college QBs — John David Booty and Josh Booty. Alas, General Booty was born in February, so he’s not here.

• Time to clean it up a bit, fellas, because here comes Liselotte Neumann, who became the first Swede to win a major golf championship when she captured the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open.

She wasn’t the last.

Her 24 combined wins between the LPGA and Europe, along with six Solheim Cup appearances, makes you think she should at least be on the fringes of Hall of Fame consideration.

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart

• Finally, here comes Tony Stewart, born on this day in 1971.

Bartender mess up your drink? Chef undercook the bacon-wrapped scallops? Just tell Tony, he’ll gladly — and tactfully, of course — inform the guilty party. He’s good like that.

— Reach Ken Willis at

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Happy birthday to Stan Mikita, Tony Stewart ... and Lawyer Tillman!