As Jackie Robinson’s greatest fan, I take great pleasure in advising you that the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation this month to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Jackie for having broken the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947.
Story of the Week
Although Wayne Gretzky’s assault on the NHL record books is over, statisticians were kept busy appending his records right until the end. Gretzky, already owner of most significant single-season and career scoring records, decided to retire after the 1998-99 season, before he slipped out of the NHL elite.
Even as a youngster, he was the center of Canadian national attention. At age 10, he scored 378 goals in a 69-game season, and in 1978, at 17, he signed his first pro contract with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA. His contract was soon sold to Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers, one season prior to the NHL buying out the WHA.
In his rookie NHL season, he scored 51 goals, and registered 86 assists, tying him with Marcel Dionne for total points. But for the next seven years, he beat his closest rival by an average of 66 points. He didn’t have power ala Bobby Hull, or speed like Bobby Orr, but he had the same magic. It was interesting that he later gave credit to his eyes and his mind for what he lacked in power and speed.
Gretzky was always a very hard worker. He had a passion and a love for the sport of hockey, and he had a great dedication to it. He dominated the NHL during the regular season, most notably 92 goals and 120 assists during the 1981-82 season, and 52 goals and 163 assists during the 1985-86 campaign. After leading the Oilers to four Stanley Cups, he was sold to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.
This move was seen by many Canadians as a national disaster, but his presence invigorated the L.A. franchise. He even took the Kings to their only Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1993. (The one thing Gretzky did wrong as a King was bring his pal, Marty McSorley, with him from Edmonton. Remember the infamous "curved stick incident" in game two of the 1993 finals? It changed that entire series, and Montreal skated to victory.)
Wayne Gretzky stimulated NHL popularity in the southern United States. Gretzky won three scoring championships in L.A., but requested a trade to a contender in 1995-96. After a very brief stay in St. Louis, he went to the New York Rangers.
Wayne Gretzky formally announced his retirement the day before playing his final game in Madison Square Garden in April, 1999. He scored one last assist, but the highlights happened before and after the game. Amid an abundance of ovations and accolades, the National Hockey League announced the most fitting tribute of all. No player on any team will ever wear Gretzky’s sweater number 99 again.
When the numbers were tabulated, Gretzky led the NHL in assists 16 times, he shattered dozens of scoring records, and tallied more than 200 points (a threshold no other player has ever crossed) in four different seasons. He was appropriately referred to as "The Great One."
Last Week’s Trivia
Who are the only three major league pitchers to record at least 4,000 career strikeouts? Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.
Trivia Question of the Week
St. Louis got clobbered when they traded two great left-handed pitchers after the 1971 season because of salary disputes. One was Steve Carlton, who had pitched for the Cardinals for seven seasons, and went on to pitch another 17 years in the majors. The other had pitched for the Cards for three seasons, and went on to pitch another 19 years in the "bigs". Who is he? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.