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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Armstrong: Amazing but Not a Dominator

There's no question that Lance Armstrong's seven consecutive wins in the Tour de France was a remarkable accomplishment.
But that's not what I came here to tell you about. It's merely a disclaimer, so less attentive readers don't get the idea that I'm knocking Armstrong.
I have to take issue with the notion that Armstrong somehow dominated his sport over that seven-year period. That's popped up in several places.
Winning one event seven times doesn't constitute dominance of an entire sport. Armstrong has won just one Olympic medal, and it was bronze, not gold. He won one world championship, way back in 1993. He's never won a U. S. national championship.
In fact, aside from those seven Tours de France, Armstrong hasn't win many races at all. Eddie Merckx, whom many consider the greatest cyclist ever, won the Tour de France "only" five times. But he also won the Tour of Italy five times and the Tour of Belgium and Tour of Lombardy twice each, to go with single victories in the Tour of Spain and Tour of Switzerland. In all, Merckx won more than 500 races in his 14-year career. Armstrong has won about 25 races in 14 years.
The golfing equivalent of Lance Armstrong would be someone who won the British Open seven years in a row without winning another tournament. You could hardly say that he dominated his sport over that period.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How Many Majors Are There?

An interview with Nick Faldo caught my eye just before the British Open. Faldo said that Tiger Woods might eventually break Jack Nicklaus's record for most major championships won.
Not that it's far-fetched. But Faldo's statement was reported as if it were a brand-new idea that had just occurred to someone for the first time.
Actually, a couple of years or so ago, it was almost generally accepted that Tiger would break that record. Then he played in ten majors without winning a single one, and the thought seems to have been misplaced.
Now that he's won two of three this year, the record is being discussed again. But the question arises: What is the record?
The sources I saw agreed that Nicklaus won 18 majors and that Tiger now has 10. I don't think that's correct, though.
Let's go back a few years. . . to 1930, to be exact.
That was the year Bobby Jones won the four major championships of the time: the U. S. and British Amateur and Open championships.
George Trevor of the New York Sun called it "the impregnable quadrilateral of golf." That phrase didn't catch on, though.
"Grand slam" did. Borrowed from contract bridge, it was first used by O. B. Keeler of the Atlanta Journal and quickly entered the lexicon of sports, to be used later in baseball and tennis.
Jones announced his retirement a month after completing the Grand Slam. Gradually, his feat became a golden but distant memory.
Arnold Palmer came up with the idea of a new, professional grand slam in 1960. After winning the Masters and U. S. Open, he was flying to Scotland for the British Open with Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press. Palmer commented that, if he were to win the British Open and the PGA, it would constitute a new, professional grand slam.
Drum wrote about that idea and it stirred quite a bit of interest, even after Palmer lost in Scotland by one stroke. And Tiger Woods has refocused attention on the Grand Slam, especially after he won all four professional majors in succession in 2000 and 2001.
Between Palmer and Woods, there was Jack Nicklaus, who made no secret of his ambition to win more major championships than Bobby Jones had. Nicklaus credited Jones with 13, including the British and U. S. Amateurs. He also counted his own two victories in the U. S. Amateur.
By that reckoning, Nicklaus won 20 major championships. And Woods, with his three consecutive wins in the U. S. Amateur added to the majors he's won as a pro, has a total of 13. So he's a little bit closer to Nicklaus's record, in my book, than most of those other sources say.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Larry Brown Gets No Apologies

Less than a month ago, in the midst of the NBA finals, Detroit Piston Coach Larry Brown was being ripped up one side and down the other by a large assortment of media types.
The rumor was that Brown had already agreed to become president of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the playoffs.
A distraction to his team! That was the howl. Some writers even decided that Brown's rumored defection was the main reason Detroit lost Game 5 to San Antonio at home.
Then the Pistons won Game 6 and the cry died down somewhat. Even after San Antonio knocked off the Pistons in the seventh game, Brown didn't get much blame, and the Cleveland job was hardly mentioned.
Now Brown is talking about his future in Detroit. He's been saying all along that he wants to keep coaching the Pistons if he's healthy enough.
It now looks as if the rumor was wrong. So the distraction to the Pistons, if there was one, was the reporting of the false rumor.
Yet I haven't seen a single apology.
I guess being a sportswriter means never having to say you're sorry.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Extremely Political

Skateboarder Danny Way jumped over the Great Wall of China yesterday (Saturday, July 9).
Jumping over the wall has evidently become something of a fad lately, but Way was the first person to do it without the assistance of a motor.
Way already held the world skateboarding records for height (23 1/2 feet) and distance (79 feet). The wall jump was only 61 feet horizontally, so it wasn't a new record.
Here's what really caught my eye, though: The Chinese minister of extreme sports was among the thousands of spectators.
Now, a lot of countries have a minister of sports, but I've never heard of a minister of extreme sports before.
I wonder if China also has a minister of non-extreme sports?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Horry for Hall? Not Here

Largely on the strength of one shot, a lot of people suddenly seem to feel that Robert Horry belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible, if not sooner.
That one shot, of course, was the three-pointer he hit to win the fifth game of the NBA finals for the San Antonio Spurs.
Sure, it was a big shot. Without it, the Spurs may well have lost not just that game, but the series and the championship, to the Pistons.
It was probably as big the famous Bucky Dent home run that won the 1978 American League pennant for the New York Yankees. But that didn't lead to a big campaign to elect Bucky to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I know, that's a bit of an unfair comparison. Dent hit only one memorable home run in his career, while Horry has hit several memorable three-point shots.
But the comparison is apt in this respect: If Dent hadn't hit that home run, no one would have noticed. Just as no one seems to notice when Horry misses a big shot, as happens pretty often.
In fact, Horry has missed 415 three-point shots in the playoffs. They weren't all big shots, of course, but some of them were. His three-point shooting percentage in the playoffs is only .363, which is mediocre, at best. (The percentage for the entire NBA last season was .355.)
This isn't meant as a knock on Horry. I like him, and I wouldn't mind having him on my team if I owned an NBA title contender.
But, I'm sorry, he's not a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. Not even close.