Saturday, July 18, 2009
Evidently the only person at the British Open (referred to as the Open Championship in England) who doesn’t know that Tom Watson is nearly 60-years-old is Watson himself. Playing against a field of golfers in which many are half his age, Watson enters the final round of golf’s oldest championship with a one-stroke lead.
Now there was a time when Tom Watson leading after 54-holes of the British Open surprised no one. After all, the only player with more Open Championships than the American is Harry Vardon, who last won the title in 1916.
However, just in case you weren’t sure, this is 2009, not 1977 or 1983. Watson is no longer the young golfer who won his first major championship at age 25 and all eight of his major championships before turning 34.
Instead, with his remarkable performance at Turnberry, Watson is the oldest golfer ever to hold a 54-hole lead at a major championship.
To put into perspective just how incredible Watson’s run is, the oldest golfer to win a major championship was Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship at age 48.
If Watson is able to ride the wave through all the way to the title, he will beat that mark by more than a decade.
There have been other golfers of similar age to Watson to flirt with a major title, but none have been able to close the deal.
Sam Snead shot a final round 68 at the 1974 PGA Championships to finish tied for third, three strokes behind Lee Trevino, at 62-years of age.
Jack Nicklaus was 58 when he used a final round 68 to tie for sixth position (four strokes behind champion Mark O’Meara) at the 1998 Masters.
And just last year, 53-year old Greg Norman led the Open Championship by two strokes after 54 holes before finishing tied for third.
But what makes Watson's run particularly impressive, and perhaps gives him a chance to hold on for victory, is that he isn't simply surviving against brutal conditions or making a late tournament charge. Instead, he has been in contention from the very beginning and so far has responded to every challenge and overcome every potential pitfall.
Following an opening round 65 that left him just one stroke out of the lead, it looked like Watson was making the kind of fade from contention expected of a 59-year old.
He birdied the first hole of his second round to take the lead, but then had five bogeys in the next six holes to fall down the leaderboard. At the same time, Tiger Woods, the current number one player in the world seemed to be recovering from a tough start and headed to his rightful place near the top of the standings.
However, a curious thing happened on the way to normalcy.
Woods suddenly ran into a six-hole stretch where he went seven over par and ultimately missed the cut.
Conversely, Watson seemed to suddenly find the kind of magic he had displayed at Turnberry 32 years earlier when he registered back-to-back rounds of 65 to beat Nicklaus by one-stroke in the famous “Dual in the Sun.”
He birdied four of the final 10 holes to shoot an even par 70 and finish the second round tied for the lead.
Suddenly, the novelty of a 59-year old competing for a major championship was wearing off and the reality that no player left in the field has more championship success than Watson started to set in.
For much of the third round, Watson looked like an eight-time major champion. Making putt after putt, he maintained the lead while others around him started to implode.
Through eight holes, Watson was even for the day and continued to maintain his lead.
After a bogey on the ninth hole, Watson finally began to reveal some mortality as he missed relatively short putts and dropped strokes at the 12th and 15th holes to fall out of the lead for the first time on the day.
Then, for the second straight day, Watson seemed to channel his past glory and remember that he was playing for a record-tying sixth Open Championship.
He birdied the 16th hole and then got a very fortuitous bounce on his second shot at the par-five 17th that led to an eagle putt that just missed. He ended up with a second-straight birdie and a one-stroke lead.
When you look at the leaderboard heading into the final round, there is no Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, but there are a number of very talented golfers and former major champions that are poised to challenge Watson’s date with destiny.
Neither of the two players tied for second, Mathew Goggin and Ross Fisher, have ever won a major championship. While Fisher finished fifth at the 2009 U.S. Open, Goggin has never finished better than 36th in a major tournament.
Among the others in the top 10, there are three former major champions, Retief Goosen (tied for 4th, two strokes back), Jim Furyk (tied for 6th, three strokes back) and 2009 Master’s Champion Angel Cabrera (tied for 10th, five strokes back).
Also in contention are two players, Stewart Cink and Lee Westwood, who have both been close in majors, but never been able to pull out the victory.
It seems quite improbable that a 59-year old (he will turn 60 in September) who last made the cut at a major championship in 2006 and hasn’t been in the top 10 at a major since 2000 could actually beat all the other great golfers in the world over a four-day tournament at one of the most challenging courses in the world.
However, if it is ever going to happen it sure seems like Tom Watson is the guy to accomplish such an unimaginable feat. He is the essence of a professional golfer: steady, calm and single-minded in his focus.
As has been said more than once during the championship, even at 59-years of age, Watson doesn’t play the majors to be the ceremonial hand waver. He plays the majors in 2009 for the same reason he played in them 30 years ago, to win.
Sunday he will get his chance and you won’t want to miss it.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Our position-by-position look at the best eligible players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now shifts from offense to defense as we look at the best defensive linemen who have not yet earned a bust in Canton.
From Art Donovan, Deacon Jones and Ben Davidson to Bubba Smith, Mark Gastineau, and Michael Strahan, NFL history is filled with charismatic defensive linemen who were recognized not just for their talent, but also for their showmanship and flamboyance.
Defensive line units have also regularly been fan favorites with names such as “Doomsday”, “The Fearsome Foursome”, “The Purple Gang” and “The Steel Curtain.”
Defensive linemen have also been well respected by Hall of Fame voters, as the position is second only to the offensive line in the number of modern era players enshrined in the Hall.
However, much like offensive linemen, because statistics are inconsistent and tell only a part of the story, ensuring that the most deserving defensive linemen are inducted is a tough challenge.
Though some recognition was given to the sack as far back as the 1960s and sack leaders were printed on Topps football cards in the 1970s, the sack wasn’t recognized as an official statistic until 1982.
This provides a challenge for some of the best defensive linemen of the 1960s and 1970s who were known for their pass-rushing ability, but don’t have the same “numbers” to show for their prowess as players of the last three decades.
There are, of course, also great defensive linemen who were primarily run stuffers and didn’t have impressive stat totals, regardless of whether they played prior to or after the sack became a recognized stat.
In selecting the best defensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame, I looked at the individual statistics of post-1982 candidates, but also looked at overall team defensive prowess for players from all eras.
I also analyzed how each candidate compared to players of their own era in regard to Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections.
Selecting the top 10, and event the best 25, was quite a challenge as there are many great defensive linemen who have yet to receive the call from Canton, but who were regular participants in the Pro Bowl or key performers on championship teams.
One player who ended up being ranked much lower on the list than one might expect is former Viking Jim Marshall.
At the time of his retirement, Marshall had played in more games than any other player in NFL history. On a line that included Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Alan Page, Marshall was generally considered to be equal to those two greats.
However, when comparing his credentials with those of other comparable defenders, Marshall surprisingly didn’t stack up. He participated in only two Pro Bowls and was never an All-Pro.
In addition, Marshall famously was man handled by a variety of offensive linemen in the four Super Bowl appearances for the Vikings.
Despite being eligible for the HOF for 25 years, Marshall has been a finalist only once, in 2004.
So, here is my list of the top 10 eligible defensive linemen not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I look forward to your comments, discussion, and disagreements.
Click Here to read more and see pictures of each player in the top 10.
10. Neil Smith – Kansas City Chiefs/Denver Broncos/San Diego Chargers – 1988-2000
9. Alex Karras – Detroit Lions – 1962-1978
8. Charles Haley – San Francisco 49ers/Dallas Cowboys – 1986-1999
7. Claude Humphrey – Atlanta Falcons/Philadelphia Eagles – 1968-1981
6. Roger Brown – Detroit Lions/Los Angeles Rams – 1960-1969
5. Chris Doleman – Minnesota Vikings/Atlanta Falcons/San Francisco 49ers – 1985-1999
4. Richard Dent –Chicago Bears/San Francisco 49ers/Indianapolis Colts/Philadelphia Eagles – 1983-1997
3. L.C. Greenwood – Pittsburgh Steelers– 1969-1981
2. Cortez Kennedy – Seattle Seahawks – 1990-2000
1. John Randle – Minnesota Vikings/Seattle Seahawks – 1990-2003
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The absence from The Open Championship (often referred outside of England as The British Open) of Tiger Woods last year and the decision by Phil Mickelson not to make the trek across the pond this year harkens back to a time when it was common practice for the top Americans to skip golf’s oldest championship.
Of course, both Woods (knee surgery) and Mickelson (family illness) have legitimate reasons for not competing in the only major tournament not played in the United States. However, had it not been for a decision nearly 50 years ago by popular American golfer Arnold Palmer to compete in The Open, it is possible that the list of great Americans not playing in the tournament would be significantly longer.
Though The Open, which was first played in 1860, was the oldest of the four major championships, in the 1940s and 1950s it was not a popular tournament among the top American players. The hassles associated with traveling overseas, the relatively small prize money and the stark contrast of playing on the links golf courses made it unattractive for most American players.
It had not always been that way.
Between World War I and World War II the top American golfers of the era regularly withstood the difficulties to participate in The Open.
Starting in 1921 when Jock Hutchison, who was born in Scotland but became an American citizen in 1917, prevailed in a playoff over England’s Roger Wethered, the Americans enjoyed a decade of dominance.
In 1922, Walter Hagen became the first American born champion of The Open and he went on to claim the championship four times in the decade.
Amateur Bobby Jones claimed the championship three times and in 1930 won his own unique “Grand Slam” as he claimed both the U.S. and British Open and U.S. and British Amateur Championships in the same calendar year.
Victories by Gene Sarazen in 1932 and Denny Shute in 1933 completed a stretch when seven Americans (including four born in the U.S. and three naturalized citizens) claimed 12 of 13 Open Championships.
The Great Depression and increasing instability in Europe limited the number of top Americans participating in the tournament over the remainder of the 1930s and an English player won the title each year for the rest of the decade.
After not being played from 1940-45, American Sam Snead hoisted the traditional champion’s prize, The Claret Jug, in 1946. Snead would not compete in the tournament again until 1962.
Similarly, the other great American golfer of the era, Ben Hogan, competed in The Open only once in his career, winning the tournament in 1953. During that amazing season, Hogan became the first player to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. He did not compete in the fourth major, the PGA Championships, that year.
In 1960, Palmer had a chance to match Hogan’s feat having won the Masters and U.S. Open titles.
Having never previously made the trek to play in The Open, it took persuading by Palmer’s business partner Mark McCormack before Palmer agreed to participate.
While most were focused solely on the golf tournament, McCormack saw the bigger picture and recognized the enormous potential for the charismatic Palmer to become a global giant.
Palmer just missed the title in 1960, falling by a single stroke to Australian Kal Nagle. However, subsequent victories by the American in 1961 and 1962 convinced other Americans that they could win across the pond and forever sealed Palmer’s legacy as an international golf superstar.
Once Palmer opened the door, the Americans quickly walked right in and made themselves at home.
Tony Lema claimed the 1964 title in his first appearance in the tournament. Jack Nicklaus won his first of three championships in 1966.
Beginning with a victory by Nicklaus at St. Andrews in 1970, Americans claimed 12 of the next 14 Open Championships.
Leading the way was Tom Watson, who claimed the championship five times–each on a different course–between 1975 and 1983.
Between 1984 and 1994 the Americans hit a surprising drought as the only title brought back to America was by Mark Calcavecchia in 1989.
The Americans returned to prominence beginning in 1995 when John Daly claimed the title in a four-hole playoff.
He started a string of 10 victories by Americans over the next 12 years. Leading the charge was Tiger Woods with three victories, including consecutive titles in 2005 and 2006.
Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington ended the Americans’ run in 2007 and repeated as champion a year ago.
In all, since Palmer made his fateful trip to St. Andrews in 1960, Americans have claimed 27 of the 49 Open Championships.
With Woods back in the field this year and a number of young Americans, including U.S. Open Champion Lucas Glover, on the prowl, there is certainly a good chance that the 50th tournament in the American Invasion could result in another American hoisting the Claret Jug come Sunday.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
After the National League dominated the competition throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including a stretch of 19 victories in 20 games, the rolls have completely reversed in recent years.
The American League has claimed 17 out of the last 20 meetings and has not lost to the National League since 1996.
In this final installment of the three part series in which we have reminisced about some of the great moments, games and players in All-Star history, we look at the most memorable games of the last two decades.
July 10, 1990 (Wrigley Field, Chicago)
The addition of lights at Wrigley Field allowed for the All-Star Game to be played at the storied venue for the first time since 1962.
The lights came in handy as the game endured 85 minutes worth of rain delays, which made it difficult for either team to develop a rhythm or establish a consistent pitching rotation.
The American League used six pitchers and the National League went through nine hurlers in the contest.
The game was scoreless until a two-run double by Julio Franco gave the AL all the runs they needed in posting a 2-0 victory.
July 12, 1994 (Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh)
In one of the most exciting All-Star Games in recent memory, the lead changed hands five times before the National League pulled out the victory in the 10th inning.
The NL jumped to a 4-1 advantage before the AL stormed back to claim a 7-5 lead entering the bottom of the ninth.
With Lee Smith, with 29 saves prior to the All-Star break, on the mound, the American League seemed poised to claim their fifth straight victory in the series.
However, Fred McGriff blasted a two-run home run to tie the game and send it into extra innings.
In his first All-Star Game, Moises Alou drove home the winning run with a double in the 10th inning to give the NL an 8-7 victory.
Given the excitement of the Midsummer Classic, few could have predicted that just one month later a work stoppage would end the season and deprive fans of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.
July 8, 1997 (Jacobs Field, Cleveland)
Eight American League pitchers allowed the National League only three hits as the Junior Circuit pulled out a 3-1 victory.
The game was tied 1-1 until Cleveland Indian catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. delighted the home crowd by blasting a two-run home run in the seventh inning.
Earlier in the inning, Javy Lopez became only the 11th player to hit a home run in his first All-Star Game at bat.
July 7, 1998 (Coors Field, Denver)
It was no surprise that the first All-Star Game played in a stadium known for producing runs would result in the highest scoring game in All-Star history.
A year after his brother earned game MVP honors; Roberto Alomar kept the award in the family as he had three hits, including a home run, to earn the honor.
Alex Rodriguez also homered for the AL and Cal Ripken Jr. drove home two runs.
Barry Bonds hit a home run for the National League and he and his father, Bobby, joined Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr. as the only father-son combinations to hit home runs in All-Star competition.
July 13, 1999 (Fenway Park, Boston)
The final All-Star Game of the 20th Century is better remembered for the star-studded program prior to the game than actually for the game itself.
Many great Hall of Famers from the history of baseball joined the current All-Stars on the field for a special pre-game ceremony. Red Sox legend Ted Williams received the loudest ovation and was surrounded by current players as he made his way onto the field in a golf cart.
On the field, it was a current Red Sox star that took control of the game. Starting pitcher Pedro Martinez did not allow a hit while registering five strikeouts in two innings on the mound.
The AL scored twice in the first inning as Jim Thome and Cal Ripken Jr. each drove home runs. They also added two runs in the fourth inning to claim the 4-1 victory.
July 10, 2001 (Safeco Field, Seattle)
Few All-Star goodbyes have been as dramatic as the final All-Star appearance of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.
Having previously announced his retirement, Ripken was elected as the starting third baseman. However, when the game started, shortstop Alex Rodriguez encouraged Ripken to switch positions and return to the shortstop spot where he earned 14 of his 19 straight All-Star selections.
In the third inning, Ripken permanently stamped his mark on the game by blasting a solo home run off Chan Ho Park.
A pair of sixth inning home runs by Derek Jeter and Magglio Ordonez sealed the 4-1 victory for the American League.
July 9, 2002 (Miller Park, Milwaukee)
Over time, the All-Star Game had transformed from being a battle between rival players in the two leagues to an exhibition with the primary mission being to get as many players involved as possible.
That change in philosophy led to a nightmare scenario in 2002 when the game was ultimately declared a tie after 11 innings when both teams ran out of pitchers.
The game opened with excitement as Torii Hunter leaped high above the fence to rob Barry Bonds of what seemed to be a first inning home run. Bonds was not to be denied in the third inning as he blasted a two-run homer.
The NL led 5-2 before the AL rallied with four runs in the top of the seventh to take a 6-5 lead.
However, the advantage would be short-lived as a two-run single by Lance Berkman in the bottom of the inning put the NL back in front.
The final run of the game was scored in the eighth inning when Omar Vizquel tripled home the tying run.
Neither team scored through the first two extra innings with AL hurler Freddy Garcia and NL pitcher Vincente Padilla each throwing two scoreless innings.
As the 12th inning approached, the two managers–Joe Torre and Bob Brenly–curiously headed to the stands to confer with Commissioner Bud Selig.
As it turns out, they were relaying to the commissioner that there were no pitchers remaining for either team. Left with no other choice Selig, who ironically had been the owner of the host Milwaukee Brewers before assuming his duties, declared the game a tie.
It was the first time since 1961, when rain ended the game after nine innings that the game ended without a winner.
To make a bad situation even worse, it was decided that no Most Valuable Player Award would be given. That proved particularly embarrassing because the award had recently been renamed to honor the legendary Ted Williams, who had died a week prior to the contest.
Following the tie, several changes were made to increase the competitiveness of the game and ensure that teams would not again run out of players. Additional roster spots were added and, for the first time, the league that won the All-Star Game would receive home-field advantage in the World Series for that season.
July 11, 2006 (PNC Park, Pittsburgh)
The City of Pittsburgh hosted the All-Star Game for the fifth time with new PNC Park serving as a picturesque venue for the Midsummer Classic.
The National League took a 2-1 lead following single runs in the second and third innings. Neither squad could muster another run as the game headed to the ninth inning.
With closer Trevor Hoffman on the mound, the NL appeared poised to break their nine game losing streak to the AL.
However, after Hoffman retire the first two batters, he allowed consecutive hits to Paul Konerko and Troy Glaus. Michael Young then followed with a two-run triple to give the AL a 3-2 advantage.
The AL then turned to its own super-closer Mariano Rivera and he was able to seal the deal for the American League.
July 15, 2008 (Yankee Stadium, New York City)
In the final All-Star Game to be played at the original Yankee Stadium, the American League continued their dominance of the National League by claiming a one-run victory for the third straight year.
Unlike when the two teams ran out of pitchers after just 11 innings in 2002, both squads were able to make it through 15 innings without repeating that disastrous outcome.
The NL took the early lead with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
The AL tied the score in the seventh on a two-run home run by J.D. Drew.
After each squad scored once in the eighth inning, the game remained tied 3-3 through the 14th inning.
In the bottom of the 15th inning, a sacrifice fly by Michael Young scored Justin Morneau with the deciding run.
Even though the American League has won the last 11 meetings, the National League still holds an overall advantage of 40-37-2 entering the 80th installment of the series at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
It has been a series filled with great performances, dramatic finishes and unexpected moments and there is little doubt that more special memories will be created this year and on into the future.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
The no-hitter Friday night by San Francisco Giants hurler Jonathan Sanchez is a reminder that one of baseball’s most hallowed accomplishments is not just reserved for pitchers with lofty career statistics. Instead, for one night anyone (even a pitcher with a 16-26 career record) can look like a Hall of Famer and stamp himself a place in baseball immortality.
No-hitters have a special place in baseball lore because, while there are other accomplishments that occur with less frequency, a no-hitter is one feat that can seemingly come out of nowhere.
That was no more evident than in the case of Sanchez.
Having spent the last three weeks in the bullpen after losing his spot in the rotation–he entered Friday’s game with a 2-8 season record–Sanchez only got the start against the San Diego Padres because future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (owner of two career no-hitters) went on the disabled list earlier this week.
The left-hander made the most of his opportunity, as he was nearly perfect. He struck out 11 batters and had a perfect game until an error in the eighth inning. He did not surrender a walk in the contest.
No-hitters are also a special moment for an entire team because, while the pitcher gets and deserves much of the credit, it is truly an achievement that is dependent on everyone playing at a high level for the entire game.
That was quite clear in the ninth inning Friday as Sanchez’s bid would have ended two outs shy of completion had centerfielder Aaron Rowand not made an incredible catch at the wall to rob Edgar Gonzalez of an extra base hit.
Sanchez is just the latest in a long line of pitchers with otherwise forgettable careers who will forever be recognized as having been, for one night at least, un-hittable.
His no-no is the 262nd in baseball history and 220th since 1900.
While there are many Hall of Fame pitchers who have thrown no-hitters, including Nolan Ryan (seven times), Sandy Koufax (four), Warren Spahn (2), Jim Bunning (2), Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver and Juan Marichal, there are many pitchers with plaques in Cooperstown that never achieved such one-game greatness.
In fact, except for Johnson, the most recent additions to the 300-victory club never accomplished the feat. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens combined to win 1,014 career games, yet none of the three ever threw a no-hitter.
Then consider that four pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this decade–Anibal Sanchez (15 wins), Clay Buchholz (5), Bud Smith (7) and Sanchez (16)–have a total of 42 career victories between them.
Other pitchers whose names may not be recognizable, but who pitched a no-hitter in the majors include Ed Halicki (55 wins), George Culver (48), Tommy Greene (38), Joe Cowley (33), Juan Nieves (32) and Mike Warren (9).
Of course, the most famous no-hitter in baseball history was the perfect game thrown by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. Larsen was never confused for one of the greats of his era as he posted an 81-91 career-record and never won more than 11 games in a season.
No-hitters also are magical because they can serve as the defining moment for pitchers who have battled against great odds and difficulties to gain, or return to, greatness.
The no-hitter in 1993 by Jim Abbott, who pitched 10 years in the majors despite being born without a right hand, will forever serve as inspiration for people trying to overcome adversity.
Similarly, the no-hitter by Jon Lester in May of 2008 served as his signal to the baseball world that he was completely recovered from the lymphoma that many thought might end his promising career just two years earlier. He went on to win 16 games that season and remains one of the key hurlers on the Red Sox.
It is not surprising that Dwight Gooden pitched a no-hitter during his career, but what is surprising is that it didn’t happen during his tenure as the best pitcher in the game for the New York Mets. Instead, it happened a decade later while pitching for the New York Yankees.
At the time, Gooden’s no-no seemed to serve as a re-birth for the former All-Star following his long-time battle with substance abuse. Even though his struggles continued following that moment, the memory of him being carried off the field by thrilled teammates illustrates the power a no-hitter can have to, in one night, turn mediocrity into greatness.
It is likely that Sanchez’s career peaked with his near-perfect performance against the Padres. However, for he and his father–who was in attendance–it is a memory that will never get old.
Plus, for the rest of time, Sanchez will know that for one night, he was the best pitcher in baseball.
Friday, July 10, 2009
After becoming an American tradition following its inception in 1933, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game evolved into the “Midsummer Classic” through some memorable moments in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
The exhibition eventually moved beyond being just a game to include a home run contest and many other activities that gave fans the opportunity to see their heroes in a completely different atmosphere than ever before.
From the very beginning, the All-Star Game was a highly competitive contest that even though technically an exhibition, lacked little in desire by the great players to win the game and claim bragging rights over the other league.
The game began to lose a little of the competitive edge following the inception of free agency in the 1970s. More players were switching from league to league and by the 1980s it started to be more important to give as many players as possible a chance to play, rather than keep your best players out there for the entire contest.
Of course, that strategy culminated with the 2002 game, which had to be called with the game tied in the 12th inning because both teams had run out of players. We will look more in-depth at that game in part three of this series.
In this second installment of the three part series, we will relive some of the legendary moments and games in All-Star history between 1960 and 1989.
July 13, 1960 (Yankee Stadium, New York City)
Between 1959 and 1962, two All-Star Games were played each year to provide the opportunity for fans in different cities to see the players up close and personal.
The second All-Star Game of the 1960 season provided a homecoming for Willie Mays, who had not been back to New York City since the Giants moved to San Francisco following the 1957 season.
He didn’t disappoint as Mays led off the game with a single and then hit a home run in the third inning.
Eddie Mathews, Ken Boyer and Stan Musial also blasted home runs for the National League as they won the game 6-0.
Also of note in the game was that it marked the 18th and final All-Star appearance for Ted Williams.
July 31, 1961 (Fenway Park, Boston)
The second meeting between the All-Stars in 1961 marked the first time that the game ended in a tie as the game was knotted at 1-1 when rain prevented the game from continuing after nine innings.
The American League scored first on a home run by Rocky Colavito in the first inning. The National League didn’t score until the sixth inning when Eddie Mathews scored on a hit by Bill White.
July 13, 1965 (Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington)
The National League was 11-1 against the American League in the 1960s and when looking at the depth of the annual lineup the NL put on the field it is easy to understand why.
The 1965 team was a perfect illustration as three Hall of Fame outfielders–Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson and Billy Williams–were the outfield reserves behind Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell.
This game also marked the All-Star debut for all-time hit king Pete Rose, who was the starting second baseman for the National League. Rose also started All-Star games at leftfield, third base and first base during his career.
Mays led off the game with a home run and the NL scored five runs in the first two innings to seize control.
However, the AL rallied to tie the game in the fifth inning thanks to home runs by Dick McAuliffe and Harmon Killebrew from the host Minnesota Twins.
A walk by Sam McDowell of Mays in the seventh led to the game winning run as Mays scored on an infield hit by Ron Santo. The potential tying run was at second base for the AL in the ninth inning, but Bob Gibson promptly struck out Killebrew and Joe Pepitone to end the game.
July 11, 1967 (Anaheim Stadium)
Until being matched in 2008, the 1967 All-Star game stood as the longest game in the fabled legacy of the Midsummer Classic.
The 1967 game was also one of the most dominating pitching performances in the history of the game as the two teams combined for only 17 hits in 15 innings.
Richie Allen gave the NL a lead in the second inning with a solo home run. The AL tied the score in the sixth on a home run by Brooks Robinson.
Over the next eight innings, the two pitching staffs combined to allow only eight total hits while striking out 15 batters.
Finally, in the 15th inning, Tony Perez finally broke the deadlock when he put a pitch from Catfish Hunter over the left-field fence. At the time, there was no limit on how many innings a pitcher could throw in the game and Hunter pitched the final five innings for the NL.
July 14, 1970 (Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati)
This game is best remembered for the ferocious collision between Ray Fosse and Pete Rose that resulted in Rose scoring the game-winning run in the 12th inning. However, that moment would never have happened had the AL not blown a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth.
A leadoff home run by Dick Dietz trimmed the advantage to two runs and then three straight hits and a sacrifice plated two additional runs to tie the game.
In the bottom of the 12th inning, Rose singled and then went to second on a hit by Billy Grabarkewitz. Looking to score on a single by Jim Hickman, Rose rounded third and arrived at home plate at almost the same instance as the throw from centerfielder Amos Otis. The collision with Fosse kept the catcher from securing the throw and Rose scored the winning run.
Many are quick to point to that moment, which occurred in Fosse’s first full season as a starter, as the pinnacle point in his career and the reason he never became a superstar. However, I tend to believe the moment is given too much credit.
Fosse was hitting .312 at the time of the All-Star break. He returned to the lineup immediately upon the resumption of the schedule and raised his average as high as .318 in the second half before finishing with a .307 average. The next season he hit .276 with 12 home runs and a career-high 62 RBI.
What may have been even more detrimental to Fosse’s career was the crushed disc in his neck that was suffered trying to break-up a clubhouse fight between Reggie Jackson and Billy North while Fosse played with the Oakland A’s in 1974.
July 13, 1971 (Tiger Stadium, Detroit)
The only American League victory in a 20-game stretch between 1963 and 1983 is specifically remembered for the mammoth home run that Reggie Jackson blasted off the light tower roughly 520 feet from home plate.
Jackson’s blast proved to be just one of many fireworks for the Junior Circuit, which erased an early 3-0 deficit on their way to a 6-4 victory.
Frank Robinson became the first player to hit home runs for both leagues with a two-run shot in the third inning. Killebrew also had a two-run home run for the AL.
July 19, 1977 (Yankee Stadium, New York City)
The National League seized control early as Joe Morgan led off the game with a home run and Greg Luzinski later blasted another off of starting pitcher Jim Palmer as the NL took an early 4-0 lead.
The AL trimmed the lead to 5-3 in the sixth inning, but the NL added two more runs in the eighth and won 7-5.
One interesting moment prior to the game was an argument between manager Billy Martin and pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Martin asked Ryan to replace his teammate, Frank Tanana, as the starting pitcher when Tanana couldn’t pitch due to an injury. Feeling he should have been picked originally, Ryan refused to pitch. It led Martin to proclaim that he would never again select Nolan Ryan for the All-Star Game.
Of course, Martin managed only twice more in the Midsummer Classic and Ryan was not on his staff.
August 9, 1981 (Municipal Stadium, Cleveland)
Following a strike that lasted nearly two months, baseball returned with only the second All-Star Game played in the month of August.
Gary Carter led the NL with a pair of home runs and Dave Parker and Mike Schmidt also hit homers as the Senior Circuit rallied to win 6-5.
The game marked the All-Star debut for colorful left-hander Fernando Valenzuela, who earned the start for the National League in his rookie season.
July 6, 1983 (Comiskey Park, Chicago)
Marking the 50th Anniversary of the first All-Star Game, the American League broke out of an 11-year funk to defeat the NL for the first time since 1971.
They did it in grand fashion, as Fred Lynn became the first player in All-Star Game history to hit a grand slam. The AL scored seven runs in the third inning and easily ended the losing streak with a 13-3 victory.
July 10, 1984 (Candlestick Park, San Francisco)
Fifty years after Carl Hubbell struck out five consecutive Hall of Famers in the 1934 All-Star Game, two of the best pitchers of the era commemorated the achievement with an impressive one of their own.
Fernando Valenzuela struck out three future Hall of Fame members–Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson and George Brett–in the fourth inning. The following inning, Dwight Gooden ran the streak to six by striking out all three batters he faced– Lance Parrish, Chet Lemon and Alvin Davis.
The NL took advantage of the great pitching and home runs by Dale Murphy and Gary Carter to win the game 3-1.
July 11, 1989 (Anaheim Stadium)
From the very beginning, there was little question that the 1989 All-Star Game was all about Bo Jackson.
Jackson led off the game with a monstrous home run to centerfield and finished the game with two hits and two RBI. He made a great defensive play on a liner by Pedro Guerrero to stop a potential NL rally and also had a stolen base.
Jackson’s opening blast was followed by a home run by Wade Boggs and the American League went on to score five runs in the first three innings on their way to a 5-3 victory. Unfortunately, it proved to be the only All-Star moment for Jackson as he suffered a severe hip injury playing football in 1990 and never again appeared in the Midsummer Classic.
Be sure to check back on Sunday, July 12, for the final article in this series as we look at memorable All-Star Games and moments from 1990-2008.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Since its inception in 1933, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game has provided fans an annual opportunity to see most of the great stars of the game on the same field. While the game is an exhibition and has withstood periods of indifference by some players, management and fans, it remains a special mid-season moment.
There have been many memorable games and moments in the first 79 incarnations of the annual meeting between the top players of the American and National Leagues.
This is the first of a three-part series where we will relive some of the great moments and games in the history of this special series.
July 6, 1933 – Comiskey Park, Chicago
The idea of bringing the top players from both the American and National Leagues together in the middle of the season for one “All-Star” game was initiated by Arch Ward, a sports editor for the Chicago Tribune. The first game was played at Comiskey Park to coincide with Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition.
In a fitting testimonial to his legendary career, Babe Ruth hit the first home run in All-Star history when he lifted a pitch from Bill Hallahan into the right-field stands in the third inning.
The American League went on to win the game 4-2 with Lefty Gomez earning the victory.
July 10, 1934 – Polo Grounds, New York City
Though the American League scored six runs in the fifth inning and held on for a 9-7 victory, this game is best remembered for the amazing pitching performance of a National League left-handed hurler.
When Carl Hubbell surrendered a hit and a walk to the first two American League batters in the opening inning of the game, it looked like the Junior Circuit was going to jump out to a big early lead. After all, the next three batters were all-time great sluggers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.
However, Hubbell settled down and mowed down all three batters on strikes. He opened the second inning by increasing his streak of strikeouts of future Hall of Famers to five when he struck out Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.
July 11, 1939 – Yankee Stadium, New York City
It was fitting that in the first All-Star Game played at Yankee Stadium, New York great Joe DiMaggio would provide the fireworks. His solo home run in the fifth inning gave the American League a 3-1 lead and they would hold on for the victory.
The game was particularly memorable because 20-year old Bob Feller made his All-Star debut and allowed only one hit in three and two third innings to earn a save.
July 8, 1941 – Briggs Stadium, Detroit
The final All-Star Game before the start of World War II proved to be quite a memorable one.
The National League, behind two home runs by Arky Vaughan, scored five runs between the sixth and eighth innings to take a 5-3 advantage into the bottom of the ninth.
With one out in the ninth, the American League loaded the bases with Joe DiMaggio coming to the plate. DiMaggio hit what seemingly would be a game-ending double play grounder to shortstop Eddie Miller. However, the throw from second baseman Billy Herman to first base was wide and DiMaggio was safe while one run scored.
The next batter was Ted Williams, making his second-ever All-Star appearance. The left-handed hitter sent a Claude Passeau fastball into the fight-field stands to give the American League a come-from-behind 7-5 victory.
July 9, 1946 – Fenway Park, Boston
After the 1945 game was canceled due to World War II, baseball was able to welcome back its great stars with a special celebration at Fenway Park.
The game itself was not one of the more competitive contests in the series as the American League easily won the game 12-0.
However, the game was fittingly a return to prominence for Boston great Ted Williams. He had four hits, including two home runs, and five RBI in the game. He also was part of the most memorable play of the game as he launched the famous “Eephus pitch” (also known as the blooper pitch) from Rip Sewell into the stands for an eighth inning home run.
July 12, 1949 – Ebbets Field, Brooklyn
Just two seasons after Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the modern era of baseball, Robinson was one of four black players to make their All-Star debut.
Fittingly played at Ebbets Field, the same park where Robinson had played his first game, Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe represented the National League and Larry Doby was on the roster for the American League.
The American League won the game 11-7 as Joe DiMaggio had two hits and drove in three runs. Robinson went 1-4 in the game, but scored three runs.
July 11, 1950 – Comiskey Park, Chicago
In the first All-Star Game to go extra innings, Ralph Kiner hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth to tie the game. National League pitchers didn’t allow a run over their final nine innings to keep the NL in the contest.
Finally, in the 14th inning, Red Schoendist blasted a leadoff home run to break the deadlock and the NL held on to win 4-3.
The American League lost more than a game as Ted Williams hit the wall making a running catch in the first inning and suffered a broken shoulder. In typical Williams’ fashion, he stayed in the game and went 1-4. It wasn’t until after the game that the extent of his injury was revealed.
July 13, 1954 – Municipal Stadium, Cleveland
In a game that tied or set All-Star records for hits, home runs and runs scored, the American League used a late rally to post an exciting 11-9 victory.
The National League took a 9-8 lead into the eighth inning.
Hometown hero Larry Doby excited the crowd by blasting a pinch-hit home run to tie the game. The AL then loaded the bases and Nellie Fox poked a hit into short center field to score two runs and give the Junior Circuit the lead.
Closer Virgil Trucks sealed the game for the American League in the top of the ninth.
July 12, 1955 – County Stadium, Milwaukee
It appeared early on that the American League would win this game in a blowout. Mickey Mantle blasted a home run to lead a four-run first inning for the AL and they led 5-0 after six innings.
However, the National League scored twice in the seventh and three times in the eighth inning to knot the game.
In the 12th inning, Stan Musial blasted the game winning home run off of Frank Sullivan to complete the comeback for the National League.
July 9, 1957 – Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis
Even before it began, the 1957 game was surrounded by controversy as fanatical Cincinnati voters stuffed the ballot boxes and elected seven Reds’ players to the starting lineup. Commissioner Ford Frick didn’t take kindly to the action and removed two of the Reds, Gus Bell and Wally Post, from the lineup. After the game, Frick changed the voting structure for the game and fans didn’t get to vote again until 1970.
The American League led 3-2 entering the ninth inning and promptly increased their edge to 6-2 with three runs. In the bottom of the inning, the National League scored twice before Minnie Minoso made a running catch of a drive off the bat of Gil Hodges to win the game.
Be sure to check back on Friday, July 10, for the second part of this series as we look at great All-Star moments from 1960-1989.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Roger Federer’s recent move past Pete Sampras in the tennis record books and the readiness by many to label Federer the “greatest men’s tennis player of all-time” begs the question of whether true greatness can really be measured through records-held.
Every sport has at least one iconic statistic or record. Whether it is the baseball career home run record, career passing and rushing yardage records in football, most major championships in golf, or most points scored in basketball, there are some numbers that are coveted and cherished.
However, in many cases the players who hold these coveted records are not the same players regularly in the conversation when discussing the “greatest player of all-time” in that particular sport.
Plus, as the nature and style of games change over time. Some statistics become easier, or more difficult, to accomplish, thus making it even more difficult to compare eras.
Let’s first look at basketball. There is little argument that Michael Jordan was the best player ever to play the game.
Yet, he ranks only third in career points scored. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a great NBA center for 20 years, but whose name rarely comes up in conversations about the best players ever, holds that record.
Instead, Jordan, Oscar Robertson (11th), Jerry West (18th), Wilt Chamberlain (fourth), Larry Bird (29th) and Magic Johnson (66th) are among the players generally regarded as being better than Kareem.
Perhaps no record in sports evokes a greater emotional response than the record for most career home runs in Major League Baseball.
Emotions (both positive and negative) were peaked in 1973 and 1974 when Hank Aaron pursued and eventually passed Babe Ruth for the all-time home run record.
Similarly, when Barry Bonds moved past Aaron in 2007, many baseball purists believed that the alleged use of performance drugs by Bonds was just cause for ignoring his statistical accomplishment.
Yet, while the baseball world has grown to appreciate Aaron and his accomplishments, he has never really been considered to be on the shortlist for the “greatest player of all-time.”
Instead, that conversation usually includes the man he passed for the record, Ruth, as well as one of Aaron’s contemporaries Willie Mays. Others including Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb are often mentioned before you get to Aaron when looking at the best of all-time.
The discrepancy between greatness and holding a record is even more distinguishable when looking at the single-season home run record.
In 1961, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs to pass Babe Ruth for the single season record. It was a mark that stood for 37 years until being passed by three players (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds) who all have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.
For that reason, many consider Maris to still be the legitimate record holder. Yet, Maris will never be considered one of the great players of all-time and, in fact, isn’t even a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tennis is a sport where situations in different eras make it very difficult to truly be able to use records as the determining factor for deciding who might be the “greatest of all-time.”
Prior to 1968, the four “Grand Slam” tournaments—Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Championships—allowed only amateurs to participate.
Because of that restriction, many great tennis players who chose to earn a living playing professionally were unable to play in the most prestigious tournaments in the sport during some of their prime years.
Australian Rod Laver won six grand slam titles as an amateur between 1960 and 1962. In 1962 he claimed all four championships.
Laver was 24-years old when he turned pro after the 1962 season and did not play in any of the four majors again for five years–until he was nearly 30-years old.
When professionals were allowed to participate in the majors in 1968, Laver won the Wimbledon title. The next year, during which he turned 31, he became the only player in the open era to earn all four grand slam titles in the same calendar year.
He finished his career with 11 grand slam titles.
Federer, who will turn 28 the day before Laver turns 71 in early August, has earned 10 of his 15 grand slam titles since turning 24.
Considering that Laver was ranked as the number one player in the world from 1964 until 1970, it is very likely that had he participated in the 20 major championships held between 1963 and 1967 he would have claimed enough victories to easily put the record for grand slam victories well out of the reach of Federer, Pete Sampras or any of the other players in the open era.
Another factor that makes it deceiving to use major championships as the true judge of tennis greatness is that for many years it was not uncommon for top players to skip one or more of the grand slam tournaments.
Bjorn Borg, who won 11 grand slam tournaments in his career, played in the Australian Open only once. Jimmy Connors, who claimed eight grand slam titles, appeared in the tournament twice, winning the championship in 1974 and reaching the finals in 1975.
The reality is that while we seem to have a great obsession with being able to label someone the “greatest of all-time,” that determination is really only subjective.
We will never be able to accurately judge players from one era with those of another in a manner that accounts for all the variables that change over time.
Whether it is equipment, medical treatment, conditioning, style of play, ease of travel, or significance of events and numbers, circumstances are different from one era to another in all sports.
So, rather than worrying about which player might be the “greatest of all-time,” maybe we should instead enjoy the moment and appreciate the fact that all sports have been blessed with many great stars who all keep us watching.
Monday, July 6, 2009
In the fifth installment of our position-by-position look at the best eligible players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we are looking at the position that has sent more than twice as many players to the Hall of Fame in the last 15 years than any other, the offensive line.
Since 1996, 17 offensive linemen have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. By comparison, in the same time period a total of only 22 offensive skill players (8-WR, 7-QB, 4-RB, 3-TE) have been selected.
Overall in the modern era, more offensive linemen (34) have been enshrined in Canton than players from any other position. Standing second is the defensive line with 27.
Given the abundance of offensive linemen in the Hall of Fame, you might think that creating a list of the best linemen not in the Hall of Fame would be a little like making a sandwich from Thanksgiving leftovers; enough decent pieces to get a meal, but obvious that the best stuff is already gone.
Surprisingly, that really isn’t the case.
With most of the other positions I have evaluated so far there are usually 3-4 players at the top of the list who obviously have been overlooked by Hall of Fame voters and deserve induction, but then most of the others on the list have enough flaws that it is clear to see why they have not been chosen.
Of the offensive linemen on my list, you could easily make a strong case that most of the top 20 deserves to one-day be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Because offensive linemen don’t have individual statistics on which to be judged, their merit for greatness is generally based on such things as Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition and team success.
Of the 34 modern era offensive linemen in the Hall of Fame, only seven never appeared in a Super Bowl or NFL/AFL Championship game.
One reason I believe that Hall of Fame voters have been so aggressive in selecting offensive linemen to the HOF in recent years, rather than filling the slots with offensive skill players is that you don’t have the same level of statistical confusion with linemen that you do with skill position players.
As offensive statistics have exploded over the last three decades due to rules changes and offensive styles, it has made it significantly harder to distinguish which skill position players really deserve to be labeled as the best of all-time.
At most positions the answer has simply been to select only those obvious “no-brainer” choices and put off selecting players who are at all questionable.
Those slots have been going to offensive linemen because there are a plethora of players at the guard, tackle and center positions that regularly stood out through Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections as being among the elite in the league.
However, the one flaw with that scenario is that each year a lot more offensive linemen receiver Pro Bowl recognition than players at the skill positions. While usually only two running backs, three quarterbacks and four wide receivers earn Pro Bowl selection per conference, as many as 10 offensive linemen can be selected from each conference.
Thus, there are a total of 98 eligible offensive linemen who are not in the Hall of Fame despite having earned at least three trips to the Pro Bowl (many of them five of more) during their careers.
With so many worthy candidates to select from and no individual statistics with which to differentiate players, it was a challenge to identify the best players not in the Hall of Fame at this position.
As with the other positions, I looked at how they compared to players of their own era in regard to Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. I also reviewed how the team annually rated in offensive categories and gave special consideration to players on teams that annually ranked among the best in the league either running or throwing the football.
I also looked at team success, but primarily only when other categories were too-close-to-call.
So, here is my list of the top 10 eligible offensive linemen not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I look forward to your comments, discussion, and disagreements.
Click Here to read more and see pictures of each player in the top 10.
10. Joe Jacoby – Washington Redskins – 1981-1993
9. Mick Tingelhoff – Minnesota Vikings – 1962-1978
8. Jay Hilgenberg – Chicago Bears/New Orleans Saints – 1981-1993
7. Dick Stanfel – Detroit Lions/Washington Redskins– 1952-1958
6. Bob Kuechenberg – Miami Dolphins – 1970-1983
5. Dick Schafrath – Cleveland Browns – 1959-1971
4. Walt Sweeney –San Diego Chargers/Washington Redskins – 1963-1975
3. Dermontti Dawson – Pittsburgh Steelers– 1988-2000
2. Jim Tyrer – Kansas City Chiefs/Washington Redskins – 1961-1974
1. Jerry Kramer – Green Bay Packers – 1958-1968
Sunday, July 5, 2009
The classic Wimbledon men’s final between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer served as another reminder of why so many of us have a lifelong love affair with sports. Even when we think we know the expected outcome, something magical can happen.
When defending champion Rafael Nadal had to pull out immediately before the tournament, conventional wisdom was that Roger Federer would have an easy time earning his sixth Wimbledon title and record 15th Grand Slam championship.
As the tournament unfolded, little was happening on the court to indicate that anything other than a Federer coronation was likely.
Federer predictably romped his way through the field while the other top players were falling by the wayside.
When Federer trounced Tommy Haas in the semifinals to earn a spot in the finals for the seventh straight year, his date with destiny seemed set.
If anything, the upset of Britain’s own Andy Murray in the semifinals by American Andy Roddick seemed to demolish the only remaining obstacle between Federer and the title.
In 20 previous career meetings, Federer had defeated Roddick 18 times, including twice in the finals of Wimbledon.
Neither of those matches, in 2004 and 2005, proved to be particularly memorable as Federer won in four sets the first time and then in three sets a year later.
Thus, when Federer and Roddick took to the court for the finals of the 2009 Wimbledon, few could have predicted that the match would turn out to be equally as compelling and well played as the 2008 championship between Federer and Nadal, which was called by many the “greatest tennis match ever played.”
From the very beginning, Roddick didn’t look like a guy who expected to finish second.
With the first set tied at 5-5, Roddick withstood four break point opportunities by Federer before closing out the game. He then quickly surprised his opponent by taking advantage of his own break point opportunity to win the set.
Roddick appeared to be cruising to a two-set advantage when he assumed a 6-2 advantage in the second set tie-breaker. However, Federer used that moment to remind everyone that he was the one vying to become the greatest men's tennis champion of all-time as he reeled off six straight points to steal the set from Roddick.
This momentary lapse didn’t affect Roddick for long as he continued to hold his serve and put pressure on Federer.
The third set ended in another tie-breaker with Federer having a slightly easier time in winning it 7-5.
In past matches between the two players, this would usually be the point where Roddick faded and Federer started preparing his victory speech.
However, this was not the same-old Andy Roddick on the court.
Roddick took advantage of a rare Federer miscue to break serve in the fourth game of the fourth set and went on to even the match.
The fifth set was a battle between two players determined not to be the one to blink first.
The set quickly reached 5-5, which meant that the next break of serve would undoubtedly decide the champion.
With Federer serving first, each service game he claimed put pressure on Roddick as he knew there was little margin for error.
Amazingly, Roddick was even better than could have been expected as he claimed 10 straight games while needing a win to stay in the match. He impressively did so without facing a single match point.
Finally, after Federer took a 15-14 lead, Roddick showed his first signs of fatigue. Three mishits gave Federer an opening and he walked right through to claim the match.
By the time it was over, the match had lasted 77 games, the most ever for a Wimbledon final. With 30 games, the fifth set was the longest final set in tournament history.
While the history books will forever recall the 2009 Wimbledon Finals as the victory that moved Roger Federer past Pete Sampras in the record books, the championship will also be remembered by anyone who watched as the tournament in which Andy Roddick forever emerged as a member of the tennis elite.
Though his name was not added to the list of Wimbledon champions on this day, Roddick forever stamped himself as a tennis champion. He was nearly flawless on the court and gracious following his heart-breaking defeat.
Roddick’s determination and refusal to quit illustrated just what is great about sports.
Even though the final outcome was technically what most expected, the way the conclusion was reached proved to be beyond anyone’s grandest expectations and truly was a special gift for sports fans.