OUT OF LEFT FIELD
A Sports Primer
By a Non-Fan
JOE LOUIS knocks out Germany's MAX SCHMELING in the first round of their historic rematch, making Hitler quite unhappy.
Ten moments in sports history that stand out
By STAN ISAACS
Many years ago the lovely young woman wanted to know what happens to a sports writer after the World Series. I know they have big boxing bouts sometimes and Joe Louis knocks somebody out, she said, but is there anything else before they start playing baseball again. What do all you people do?
My defense got off running with a quick mention of college football with its Saturday afternoon thrills and the basketball tournaments. I slowed down somewhat at the thought of the hockey bruising which stretched into the middle of the spring. I was down to a slow trot at the mention of the roller derby World Series, the dog show and the horse show at Madison Square Garden.
Now it is many years later and a lovely older woman said, I probably shouldnt say this to you, but I dont know much about sports. Hardly anything. She was assured she was regarded as an upright citizen even if she didnt know a two-base-hit from a daily double.
As it turned out she was being overly modest. After noting the title of my recent epic, Ten Moments I Covered That Shook the Sports World, she wondered if she could name 10 great sports events. She compiled this list, somewhat hesitantly passed on to me with an occasional comment or two.
A Non-Fans Top Ten:
No. 1. She said, Joe Louis wins a big fight.
This was of course Louis knocking out Max Schmeling in what was the biggest and most meaningful fight of the 20th century. Many fights have been Battle of the Century. This one was exactly that.
Schmeling had handed Louis his only defeat in 1936, knocking him out in the 12th round. As Germany threatened the world, soon to invade Poland for the start of World War II, the Schmeling-Louis rematch for the heavyweight championship won by Louis over Jim Braddock in 1937 took on political implications. Schmeling was pictured as a Nazi favorite of Adolf Hitler; Louis was the good guy American whose victory would strike a blow for democracy. Louis knocked Schmeling out in two minutes and four seconds of the first round on June 22, 1938. Many years later, when Louis was broke and Schmeling prosperous, Schmeling, who had never been close to Hitler, loaned Louis money and paid for his funeral.
No. 2. Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. I know that one well.
This was the Battle of the Sexes on Sept. 20, 1973. King beat Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Riggs, a shrewd opportunist, brandished himself a male chauvinist pig. He beat the womens champion, Margaret Court, 6-2, 6-1 on May 13, 1973. That provided the impetus for a Battle of the Sexes showdown against King in Houston that turned out to be the most famous and richest tennis match of all time. Promoted like a heavyweight fight, each player was guaranteed $150,000 with the winner gaining another $100,000. King, 26, played a defensive game, running Riggs, 55, from side-to-side and beat him handily. The male vs. female angle, though a sham, invigorated the womens movement. Riggs and King became fast friends.
No. 3. Secretariat wins something important.
That is a bit understated. She was referring to Secretariats smashing 32-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes that enabled him to win the Triple Crown.
Secretariat had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and went into the Belmont Stakes a 1 to 10 favorite in a five-horse field. Sham, who had finished second to him in the Derby and Preakness, battled him early and faded after six furlongs. As Secretariat continued to extend his lead, the crowd oohed and ahhed, and track announcer Chick Anderson made his famous call. Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine. Secretariat paid $2.20 on a two-dollar bet. Among a crowd of 67,605, bettors holding 5,617 winning tickets never redeemed them, presumably keeping them as souvenirs.
No. 4. That Olympic hockey team with Arizone or somebody.
This was the celebrated Miracle on Ice in the 1980 Olympics. The United States hockey team, made up of amateur and collegiate players, upset the Soviet team which had won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament since 1972.
Team U.S.A. faced Russia in a medal round, not the final. The teams played to a 1-1 tie in the first period. The Russians led 3-2 after two periods. The U.S. pulled even early in the third period on a power play goal. A defensive mistake created the history-making moment. Captain Mike Eruzione scooped up an errant pass and let go a wrist shot from 25 feeT that beat the screened goalie. The frenetic last seconds were described by Al Michaels on ABC. He said, eleven seconds, youve got ten seconds, the countdown is going on right now five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES. After that victory Team U.S.A. had to beat Finland for the gold medal. Behind 2-1 after two periods, coach Herb Brooks told his team before the last period, If you lose this game youll take it to your graves, your blankety graves. The U.S. won, 4-2. The upset of the Russians is regarded as one of the greatest victories by any American team in any sport.
No. 5. One of Tiger Woods big victories. The Masters? Was he the first black man to win?
Yes, he was the first (and only) black golfer to win the Masters.
The first win in a major championship by Woods was his victory at the 1997 Masters. Woods gave a record-setting performance. At age 21 he was the youngest-ever winner of the Masters. He won by 12 strokes, the largest-ever margin of victory in a Masters. His final score of 270 was a record as the lowest winning score in the tournament.
No. 6. Roger Bannister set some kind of record, didnt he?
Bannister ran the first four-minute mile. He ran the mile in three minutes, 59 seconds and four-tenths (3:59.4) to break the psychological barrier on May 6, 1954 at the Iffley Field track at Oxford.
The mile record of 4:01.4 had been set by the Swede, Gunder Haegg, in 1945. The four-minute mile was considered not merely unreachable, but according to some physiologists at the time, dangerous to the health of any athlete who attempted to reach it. Bannister, a 25-year-old, medical student, did his rounds in a London hospital early in the day, then took the train up to Oxford for his run in the late afternoon. Before a crowd of no more than 1,000 spectators, he was paced by teammates Charles Chataway and Chris Brasher. Bannister ran the half-mile in 1:58.2, the three-quarters in 3:00.5. When he crossed the finish line, he sagged to the ground and had to be helped up. The time was announced, Three The rest was drowned out by cheers.
No. 7. Jesse Owens won many medals at one of the Olympics.
Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He won the 100 and 200-meter dashes, the broad jump and was one of the runners on the United States gold-medal winning 4 by 100 relay.
A myth has grown up that Owens scored a personal triumph over Adolf Hitler because Hitler did not congratulate him after his victories. Actually, the American high jumper, Cornelius Johnson, was the first black American to be honored in a victory ceremony. A German won after that and he was invited to Hitlers box to be congratulated. The Olympic officials then told Hitler that he couldnt just single out German winners. So Hitler desisted after that and it was then that Owens won his medals. Owens knew a good thing when he had it and did not correct the Hitler Snubs Owens myth. The triumphs by many black Americans shamed Hitlers Aryan supremacy mouthings.
No. 8. The Mets win their first World Series. The Mets were formed in 1962. They set an all time record of 120 losses that still stands. They won their first World Series seven years later in 1969.
They beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in 1979. They lost the first game behind Tom Seaver, 4-1. They swept the next four games. They won, 2-1 (winner: Jerry Koosman); 5-0 (winner Gary Gentry); 2-1 (winner: Seaver) and 5-3 (winner: Koosman). Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda made spectacular catches for the Mets. In the Mets victory parade down Broadway I rode in a car with Karl Ehrhardit, the beloved Met Sign Man who became a fan favorite flashing signs that underscored heroics and foibles at Shea Stadium.
No. 9. Branch Rickey hired Jackie Robinson to break the color line in major league baseball. I wasnt a big baseball fan but I was delighted about that.
Rickey signed Jackie Robinson as the first black player under major league contract on Oct. 23, 1945.
Rickey was a shrewd baseball man with an eye on the dollar and with a social conscience. After World War II, it became apparent that baseball could not continue to keep good black ball players from playing in the major leagues. With the black press and Lester Rodney of the Daily Worker putting constant pressure on baseball to sign a black player, Rickey acted in the face of objections from fellow owners. After scouting many players from the Negro Leagues, Rickey chose Robinson as the man he felt could handle the difficult assignment of breaking the color line. Robinson was a four-letterman at UCLA in baseball, football, basketball and tennis. He also showed leadership in the army. Robinson agreed to a contract with the Dodgers Triple- A farm team, the Montreal Royals. He had a good season there and officially broke the color line when he put on Dodger uniform No. 42 in April 1947.
No. 10. The Munich Olympic Games tragedy. Im not sure that would qualify as sports, but it was the Olympics. I recall watching the terrorist standing on the balcony in the athletes area.
The 1972 Olympic Games are remembered mostly for the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes and officials by Palestinian terrorists. .
I wrote that for these games the five Olympic rings stood for Terrorism, Fanaticism, Hypocrisy, Incompetence and Arrogance. All of these contributed to the series of events that led to the deaths of eleven Israelis, a West German police officer and five terrorists. On Sept. 5 a group of eight Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Black September organization broke into the Olympic Village, killed two Israelis and took nine hostages. As the world watched on television a single terrorist on a balcony negotiated with authorities to flee Germany. There was a firefight at the airport and the rescue of the hostages failed. The Olympic events were not suspended until several hours after the incident, resumed shortly afterward. Avery Brundage, the pugnacious International Olympic Committee president declared The Games must go on.
©2012 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted July 30, 2012.
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