Column #HR191 Remembering Rick “The Hammer” Ney

Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Column HR191
Remembering Rick “The Hammer” Ney

The photo says it all about Rick Ney. His youthful joy of winning. The photo is from the 1985 World Cup – the US team’s old medal win in Brisbane, Australia.

Rick “The Hammer” Ney was a legend in the world of darts – a major part of Golden Age of American darts. He was a character of the first magnitude and maybe one of the greatest dart players ever. The Old Dart Coach nicknamed him “The Hammer” not because he played with Bottelsen’s hammer head darts. He was “The Hammer” because that’s how his darts attacked the board. They didn’t glide in with a delicate, elegant touch but rather attacked the sisal like a ten penny nail propelled by a “John Henry” 5-pound hammer.

Rick passed away on April 9th, not in a peaceful way – but in a violent automobile accident on Interstate 81 in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.

There’s a misconception that “good ole boys” come only from the southern part of the United States. Rick was a “good ole boy” from Pennsylvania. Not the city but from rural Pennsylvania where every day was a struggle and where family counted above all else. Rick Ney was that good ole boy from Pennsylvania.

Rick’s darting accomplishments qualify him one of the all-time greats. In 1986, he finished runner-up to Bobby George at the News of the World – at a time when it was one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world. In 1988, he lost in the semi-final to Bob Anderson at the Embassy. These statistics don’t come close to defining Rick Ney. Sure, he was an ADO champion and, sure, he was as good a money player – but there was a lot more.

Rick Ney would never choose to dine at a fancy restaurant with three forks, six plates, and where the featured dishes all had French names. Rick was meat and potatoes guy. If that fare wasn’t available then McDonalds and Kentucky Fried would fill the bill. On an early trip to London with family members he spent most of the time in the hotel room playing cards. When they did eat it was take out. Rick made it clear to one and all that the “The English are backward… their food’s not very good.”

One who heard that comment was England’s Dave Whitcombe, who loved to give everyone the “Mickey” with his subtle humor. Rick’s humor was never subtle. He was the Three Stooges. At breakfast one morning at the Hilton Hotel in Bracknell where players stayed during the Embassy, Dave asked Rick what he thought of English food…

“Well, they’re getting better now that they have McDonalds and Kentucky Fried.”

Upon hearing of Rick’s passing, Dave Whitcombe wrote, “RIP, Rick Ney – one of the USA’s finest dart players.”

In a poignant post on Facebook, Judy Sinnaeve captured the era…

It was FAMILY at the tournaments. They were fierce competitors at the line but finished the match and went back to the table to play cards or talk or eat together. So many are gone now – Nicky Virachkul, Danny Valletto, Rick Ney, Dan Pucillo, KC Mullaney, and many more. Lucky there are still some around guys like Jerry Umberger, David Miller, Larry Butler, Dave Kelly, Paul Lim, Tony Payne, Ron Deane, John Kramer, Dennis Hassett – and of course my husband Bob Sinneave. This was when darts was great. It’s easy to be nostalgic when you get older but I can’t help but wonder how many darters in North America know the history and success of those players. It’s like your family tree and your ancestors. We never seem to ask questions about our past ’till the ones we need to ask are gone. Feeling sad today and remembering those great times. RIP Rick.

Not only did we play darts, talk and eat, but on occasion, almost any, we shared a beverage or two.

The great Jerry Umberger acted as big brother/father to Rick because he needed both on the darting trail. He was a man/child. Rick grew up with darting great Kathy Karpowich. At times they played mixed doubles. At a tournament, when playing with Kathy, Rick opined…

“We should have gotten married.”

Kathy replied, as only she would, ”I’ll kill myself first.”

As a kid Rick got a money match with the late Danny Valleto. Valleto showed up in jeans and a ball cap. He whipped Rick without breaking a sweat.

“I want a rematch.”

“I’m busy – call me in a couple of months.”

Danny and Rick became lifelong friends. They loved to play tricks on each other, most of them too ribald to mention here. During the 1985 World Cup in Brisbane, Rick and Danny were roommates while down the hall was John “JK” Kramer and the Old Dart coach. Toss in Hoppy Hopkins and you had a The Stooges’ movie with 5 players. Rick brought out the inner child in all, although for four of the five it didn’t take much.

A little known fact about the photo that heads this column is that Rick was playing under somewhat of a handicap. As mentioned, he and Danny loved to play “jokes” on each other. When either playing or practicing, one of their favorites was to break wind while the other stood behind. Under the Brisbane City Hall as the American team was warming up, Rick was throwing with Danny behind him. Rick saw his chance and took it.

But…

His first steps to retrieve his darts were rather quick but his pace slowed as he approached the board. His awkward waddle up to Captain the late Glenn Remick was even slower…

“How long before we play?”

“What difference does it make?” replied Remick.

Rick explained, in not the most delicate language, what had occurred. He then moved carefully down the hall to the gents, corrected the situation, and played the game against England, which America won 9-0, commando.

It’s hard to believe that this bear of a man could be called charming. But he was. He was charming because of his simple approach to the challenges of life. On the dart board if he needed a Ton 80 he didn’t think about it – he just hit it.

He now joins those darters that have gathered at that big blind draw in the sky. Judy Sinneave mentioned most of them but forgot a few as will happen – Dick McGinnis, Bill Nicoll Sr,, “Primrose” Pete Polinsky, Jocky Wilson, Leighton Reese, John Markovich, and Barry Twomlow.

As age approaches the list of those gone on grows longer while the number of those left to morn becomes smaller and smaller. If indeed Rick’s at the big blind draw in the sky, and where else would he be, and there’s vodka and coke, McDonalds and Kentucky Fried he may not even miss us.

It doesn’t matter though because we miss you, Rick, and will always remember you with a warm heart and maybe even a tear or two.

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Howie Reed
The one and only Howie Reed (the Old Dart Coach) goes back decades with the legends of our sport - he knows where the skeletons are buried. Just ask any of the ADO and WDF old-timers! His widely popular column, Toeing the Oche, is a must-read.