To answer the many e-mails about my thoughts regarding the lack of parity in MLB. despite all four underdogs winning their encounters to get to the ALCS and NLCS for the right to go to the World Series, I thought it was great. However, it was an aberration, to be sure. The point is that the major-market MLB teams still have the big bucks to spend for talent. Whether they spend it wisely and win titles with that talent is not the point. They have a great advantage before the opening gong, and that is not fair to either the small-market teams or their fans. One playoff season ala 2002 doesnít change my mind whatsoever. True parity cannot be achieved in this system, and I suspect youíll see that when some of the players from the 2002 ALCS and NLCS move to the "big money teams" next year as free agents.
Story of the Week
Of all of Larry Wilsonís assets as a football player, the one I admired the former free-safety for the most was his incomparable tenacity. His team, the St. Louis Football Cardinals, trailed more often than it led; I know because I lived in St. Louis during most of Wilsonís 13 years with the Big Red from 1960 to 1972, and owned season tickets to this Bill Bidwell comedy series. (Youíll forgive me if I donít do an article on team owner Bill Bidwell.)
But Larry Wilsonís ability to withstand discomfort, to overcome major injuries, was legendary around the NFL. In 1965, after breaking his left hand and a finger on his right hand against the New York Giants, Wilson started the following week against Pittsburgh with casts on both hands. In that game, he blocked a pass, cradled it to his chest, and returned the pick 35 yards for a touchdown.
Said teammate Jerry Stovall, "With his hands like that, he couldnít wrap his arms around a ball-carrier. So he tried to butt them down, like a goat. Finally, he got sliced across the forehead. None of that stopped him."
In a 1967 game against Green Bay, the Packers were attempting to run out the clock while holding an eight-point lead. Instead of going through the motions on defense, Wilson hurled over bodies in an effort to pry the ball from the carrier.
Jerry Kramer, the Pro Bowl guard for Green Bay, recalled Larry Wilson in his book, Instant Replay, as the finest football player in the NFL. Not shabby praise from a guy whose own team was as star-studded as the legendary Packers.
Such respect didnít come easy. Former Pittsburgh quarterback Bobby Layne recounted the time hard-bitten running back John Henry Johnson unloaded on the free-safety at Pittsburgh, laying him out on the turf. "I thought he was dead. But he missed one whole play, and came right back in for more. And he applied his patented safety-blitz in the very next series of downs."
Wilson led the league with 10 interceptions in 1966. He finished his career with a club-record 52 picks. His anticipation in coverage was one reason the seventh-round draft choice from the University of Utah received eight Pro Bowl invitations during his career. There was another reason. According to Bobby Layne, Larry Wilson was the toughest guy, pound-for-pound, he ever saw in the National Football League.
I would unquestionably choose Larry Wilson as the very best free-safety Iíve ever seen.
Last Weekís Trivia
Who replaced Satchel Paige as the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout in major league baseball. Phil Niekro did it at the age of 46.
Trivia Question of the Week
What playerís poster became the biggest seller in NFL history? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.