A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Lester Hayes at an autograph signing. Hayes was the ultimate cornerback. He played 10 seasons with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders. In 2001, he was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but just missed it by a few votes. Lester’s greatest season was 1980 when he intercepted 18 passes, including five in the postseason. He picked off 47 passes in his pro career, including eight in postseason, and the two Super Bowl rings he wears represent the impact he had on Super Bowls XV and XVIII. In addition to having been a great football player, Lester Hayes is a super nice guy!
I’ve always felt that home field advantage in baseball is not all that important. (It shouldn’t be important in any sport if the visiting team has its competitive head screwed on straight, and can mentally tell the crowd to put their noise where the sun doesn’t shine.) But in games through 8/10 YTD, of the 30 MLB teams, just five have winning records on the road. In the AL, it’s Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and whatever the Angels call themselves; in the NL, it’s St. Louis.
Albert Pujols of the Cardinals recently became the first MLB player in history to hit at least 30 home runs in each of his first five seasons. And very soon he’ll be the first to drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first five seasons; he has 89 YTD through 8/10. His talent is flat-out scary. And get this; the Dominican native is only 25 years old. Just imagine what his numbers will look like when he gets to Cooperstown.
Do you remember when Roger Clemens beaned Mike Piazza a few years ago? Do you remember when, for good measure, he also threw Piazza’s broken bat at him as Mike headed for first base? Piazza never did a thing to retaliate, but that’s not Clemens’ fault. Roger Clemens is now 43 years old, and through 8/10 YTD, he is the MLB leader with a 1.38 ERA through 156 innings pitched. Amazing performance! (I’d still like to see Piazza wrap a bat around his neck, but that’s not gonna happen if it hasn’t already.)
Story of the Week
Recently, I heard Dan Patrick interview the ever-loquacious Charles Barkley on ESPN radio. Patrick asked Barkley about the best power forwards ever. They discussed Kevin McHale, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan and, of course, Barkley himself. There was no mention of Elvin Hayes in the conversation, and there should have been. (See my imminent feature story on Hayes on 10/6.) And one who warrants that same respect, and the numbers certainly substantiate that premise, is Bob Pettit, as great a power forward as any who ever played basketball.
Pettit, the brilliant Milwaukee and St. Louis Hawk, replaced George Mikan as the NBA’s greatest offensive force, and retired in 1965 at the top of the NBA career lists in scoring (20,880 points) and rebounding (12,849 points), although Wilt Chamberlain, after only his sixth season, was already nipping at Pettit’s heels in both categories. Bob Pettit’s legacy remains fully intact as the first ever to score 20,000 NBA points and also as the most talented rebounding forward of the league’s first half-century.
In the first 10 of his 11 pro seasons, this prolific clutch player never finished lower than fifth among league leaders in scoring and rebounding. Such accomplishments would be remarkable enough for even the most gifted of athletes. They were simply overwhelming for a player who was cut twice from his high school team and later considered too frail physically to succeed in the NBA despite two All-American seasons and a 27.4 career scoring average at LSU. (In 1974, Pettit was named the greatest player in Southeast Conference history.)
There was far more to Bob Pettit and his marvelous career than mere numbers. He was, for one thing, the most relentlessly driven and highly competitive star of his era. His also was the strongest of work ethics. Bob Pettit was arguably the greatest second-effort player in all of basketball history. No one has ever worked harder than this 1955 NBA Rookie of the Year, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and 11-time league All-Star. And no one could be more devastating to the opposition when it came to crunch time.
No example of Pettit’s “money play” outshines one memorable 50-point performance delivered in the exciting sixth game of the 1958 NBA title series. Avenging a previous year’s defeat by the Celtics, Pettit put Boston away with a torrid shooting display that included 19 of the Hawks’ final 21 fourth quarter points, including the game-deciding tip-in with 15 seconds left on the clock. It was the most stunning offensive display in a NBA postseason game with the league championship squarely on the line.
Bob Pettit averaged 26.4 points and 16.2 boards throughout his great NBA career. I place great importance on players being able to sink free throws; Pettit averaged over 76% from the charity line over his career, and still holds the NBA record for most free throws attempted and made in a NBA Finals game (set against Boston in 1958). Pettit is logically in the Basketball Hall of Fame. It is no wonder as well that he was voted to the NBA 50th. Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.
Dan Patrick and Charles Barkley should read this article. They’d both learn from it.
Last Week’s Trivia
It doesn’t get more obscure than Cesar Gutierrez in MLB. He was a shortstop in the major leagues for four years. His lifetime batting average was .235 soakin' wet. He had all of 128 career base hits. But the sun was his personal spotlight on 6-21-1970. While with Detroit, Gutierrez collected seven base hits in seven at-bats on that day in a 12-inning win over Cleveland.
Trivia Question of the Week
The NHL Devils were two different teams in two different locales before moving to New Jersey. Name them. My bet is you’ll know only one. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.