Friday, 13 January 2012

The Power Of Numbers

Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Jackie Robinson

Players of three completely different sports, yet instantly recognisable by the numbers they wore on their backs. It is possibly as a result of their success that it is difficult to imagine another name above "their" numbers, as a mark of respect for their achievements, both Gretzky's 99 and Robinson's 42 have been retired league-wide.

In an industry where merchandise sales are just as, if not more important than ticket sales to a sports team's revenue, their success can forever be cashed in on. The next time you're at a Chicago Bulls game, county the number of fans wearing a 23 jersey. These revenue streams are becoming more popular and you can now buy various retro jerseys all over the world of your favourite football, basketball or soccer jersey. The NFL had a weekend where teams "celebrated" their history by donning the uniforms of the past. The NHL's Winter Classic has not only boosted the national profile of hockey, but has also become a vehicle for a look back at old-time hockey, and specifically the throwback sweaters teams wear. Within hours of these games finishing the "limited edition" jerseys were available online. I have to admire this strategy particularly as the younger fans can be disinterested in a team's glory days, particularly if they're a Cubbie. Therefore a father can buy his kids their Crosby, LeBron or Aaron Rodgers jersey and treat himself to a Bill Russell, Gordie Howe or Johnny Unitas shirt and while you're at it why not pick up a 'MOMS LOVE (insert team her)' shirt to take home. In a country where sports is king, sports merchandise is most definitely a booming industry.

Furthermore could the same influence permeate our young sports stars? When David Beckham joined Real Madrid, the number 7 he had become synonymous with at Manchester United was occupied by club legend Raul. Beckham opted to adorn his jersey with 23. Why? It's obvious, because his favourite basketball player Michael Jordan wore it, and so began a chain, when i was playing sports as a kid, I always wanted to wear my heroes' jersey number (Bobby Orr's 4) so can it be that those emerging into professional sports only want to emulate their heroes too? I had a closer look at whether or not it made any difference or whether the success of the number was infectious. Can you be more successful if you change your number that of a great from years gone by? Kobe Bryant changed his number from 8 to the 24 that he wore in high school before the start of the 06-07 season, the following season he won his only MVP award, the season after that he won his 4th NBA Championship. Coincidence, maybe, but I have tried to compile a list of the most successful numbers in North American sports in terms of accolades won by the following individuals (maximum of 5 players per number):

33, as worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Patrick Roy, Scottie Pippen and Tony Dorsett. They won a combined 15 NBA titles, 4 NBA Finals MVP awards, 9 NBA MVP awards, 4 Stanley Cups, 3 Conn Smythe trophies and 1 Superbowl for a total of 37 trophies.

4, as worn by Bobby Orr, Brett Favre, Jean Beliveau, Lou Gehrig and Mel Ott. They won a combined 12 Stanley Cups, 3 Conn Smythe trophies, 5 Hart trophies, 1 Superbowl, 3 NFL MVP awards, 7 World Series and 2 AL MVP awards for a total of 33 trophies

5, as worn by Nicklas Lidstrom, Joe DiMaggio, Albert Pujols, Hank Greenberg and Brooks Robinson. They won a combined 4 Stanley Cups, 1 Conn Smythe trophy, 15 World Series, 1 World Series MVP award, 6 AL MVP awards and 3 NL MVP awards for a total of 30 trophies

16, as worn by Joe Montana, Whitey Ford, Bobby Clarke, Brett Hull and Len Dawson. They won a combined 4 Stanley Cups, 4 Hart trophies, 5 Superbowls, 4 Superbowl MVP awards, 3 NFL MVP awards, 6 World Series and 1 World Series MVP award for a total of 27 trophies

12 as worn by Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler. They won a combined 11 Superbowls, 6 Superbowl MVP awards and 4 NFL MVP awards for a total of 21 trophies

It is clear by looking at this short list, if you want your kid to be successful at; basketball wear 33, hockey wear 4, baseball wear 5 and football wear 12. What could possibly go wrong?


NHL All-Star Game 2012

This week the NHL filled out the rosters for the 2012 Tim Hortons All-Star game in Ottawa. 6 "starters" were chosen by the public and it's no surprise that Ottawa fans crashed the vote to ensure they league the league with 4 representatives, they are Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson. The other 2 players voted in by the public are Dion Phaneuf of the Maple Leafs (big market that Toronto is) and reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner Tim Thomas of the Bruins. In selecting the other 36 the NHL obviously was looking to balance the rosters between all 30 teams, but that begs the question, why? If the idea of an all-star game is to pick players from almost every team to make sure everyone is represented, they may as well go back to pee wee hockey and make sure everybody has fun instead of trying to create the spectacle fans lust for by naming the best 36 players not selected by the public.

As I was already aware of the 6 "starters" (from now on I'll refer to them as tokens, as only Thomas deserves to be there as a first choice) I decided to try and fill out the rest of the rosters myself, and continuing with the NHL's fantasy draft system, an idea which I am a big fan of if only to see the look on Phil Kessel's face as he was picked last in 2011 which you can view here:
As I had no idea who would be picked as teams captains or alternate captains, I decided that the honour should go to the hometown captain Daniel Alfredsson and the league's poster boy (or girl depending on your opinion of last June's Stanley Cup finals) Henrik Sedin. From this point I filled out my rosters and then grabbed a friend who knew nothing about hockey and we made our schoolyard picks.

Team Alfredsson
Michalek OTT
Spezza OTT
Alfredsson OTT
Nash CBJ
Bergeron BOS
Perry ANA
Benn DAL
Malkin PIT
Seguin BOS
Lupul TOR
Couture SJ
Hossa CHI
Timonen PHI
Doan PHX
Chara BOS
Byfuglien WIN
Karlsson OTT
Weber NSH
Thomas BOS
Anderson OTT
Quick LA

Team Henrik
D Sedin VAN
H Sedin VAN
Zetterberg DET
Datsyuk DET
Stamkos TB
Kessel TOR
Gaborik NYR
Toews CHI
Kane CHI
Elias NJ
Giroux PHI
Pominville BUF
Phaneuf TOR
Cambell FLA
Keith CHI
Boyle SJ
Lidstrom DET
Del Zotto NYR
Lundqvist NYR
Howard DET
Elliott STL

A quick head count will tell you I got 31/42 including the tokens, but this masks my true ire on the subject. Notable omissions include Patrice Bergeron, Henrik Zetterberg, Michael Del Zotto and Jonathan Quick.

The thing that really grates me is Bergeron's omission, I mean I get that the NHL doesn't really have the need for a top defensive forward in the All-Star game however they have included 3 time Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk and perennial front runner Jonathan Toews. Bergeron was second in the playoffs last season in plus/minus, second in assists, 60% in faceoffs, scored 2 shorties and this season he's even better. He's 3rd in faceoff percentage with 57.6% behind David Steckel and Jonathan Toews, third in plus/minus, he leads the Bruins in assists and is arguably the biggest part of the Bruins leading the Northeast.

Even although Zetterberg is playing below his own lofty standards this season, he's exactly the type of player you'd want in this contest as shown by last week's shootout winner against Phoenix:

Del Zotto has been a standout in the Rangers resurgence and their current lead of the Eastern Conference, sure the Rangers have a defensemen in the game, but why not have 2? He's the only non-Bruin in the top 5 plus/minus and he's chipped in with 18 assists and 84 hits, good for top 25 in the league for defensemen.

Jonathan Quick is top 5 in the league in save percentage and goals against average, 3 of the 4 ahead of him in those categories have been named as All-Stars, the other is Tuukka Rask. I suppose he lost out to Carey Price because we can't have 0 Habs in the All-Star game, no matter how rank they've been this season.

All is not lost however as I took the list of players who did make the game and produced another fantasy draft with my friend, the highlight of which is a line of the Sedin sisters and Corey Perry up against Datsyuk, Toews and Seguin. We can only hope the real All-Stars can come up with something similar, or at least leave Kessel til last again this year.


Racing Hall Of Fame

Racing Hall of Fame

When you begin to collate possible inductees for any hall of fame, you must begin at the start. What would a baseball hall of fame look like without Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth?
So when compiling a list for a racing hall of fame, we go back to the beginning of most of today’s thoroughbred’s bloodlines to find three great stallions: Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian and Byerley Turk. From these three greats we have bred, trained and raced thousands if not millions of others including those others would first think of when recalling the greatest ever.

If we look at the origins of our current Classic races we also find names to stir the blood of any punter. The inaugural winner of the Derby, the great Diomed, named after ancient hero Diomedes who coincidentally attacked Troy from inside a great wooden horse. He won 10 races in succession and after a successful stud career he went Stateside and when he finally passed away at the age of 31, he had forever influenced the US bloodstock to a point where it could compete with English and French horses. He now has a G3 race named in his honour on Derby day at Epsom. 

Nearly 70 years later we were blessed with 2 of the greatest middle distance horses Flying Dutchman and Voltigeur . In a time where the greatest contests between horses were often match races, these two treated Yorkshire to two of the finest match races. The first, at Doncaster took place 2 days after the St Leger, and Voltigeur defeated Flying Dutchman while receiving 19 pounds. The rematch the following May at York drew an estimated 100,000 spectators. Flying Dutchman again conceded 11 and a half pounds to Voltigeur, and this time managed to defeat his rival by a length.

While the Brits were staging these great match races and thrilling the general public, plans were afoot in France to stage a race worthy of rivalling the Derby stakes at Epsom. 1863 at Longchamp saw the first running of the Grand Prix de Paris and while the inaugural running was snatched by British raider The Ranger, two years later the French would get their own back by sending Gladiateur across the channel. The gigantic bay colt became the second horse to win the English triple crown and would go on to land the Grand Prix de Paris, Grand Prix du Prince Imperial (which later became the Prix Royal Oak) and the following year the Ascot Gold Cup by 40 lengths no less. Not many others have won G1 races at 1 mile, 1 mile 4, 1 mile 6, and 2 mile 4.

The most underrated horse of this list is Sceptre. Her sire, Persimmon captured the Derby, St Leger and Ascot Gold Cup and her dam, Ornament was a full sister to the undefeated Ormonde. She started her 3 year old season in what is now the Lincoln at Doncaster, and after being defeated by a head she headed to Newmarket. She won the 2000 guineas in a new record time, and only 2 days later defeated her own sex in the 1000 guineas. After an unfortunate 4th in the Derby, where she was left at the start and was carrying a bruised foot, she returned to Epsom 2 days later to take the Oaks. She ran twice at Royal Ascot winning the St James’s Palace stakes and twice at Glorious Goodwood winning the Nassau stakes. The crowning glory of her 3 year old season came at the same venue that her season began, Doncaster. She became the only horse to win 4 classics outright when triumphing in the St Leger again defeating the colts and cementing her place on this list.

The final entry I pose to you is the most recent and our only American entry, Man O’War. In a glittering career, he won 20 of his 21 races and took home nearly a quarter of a million dollars in prize money in the pre-depression States. After winning 9 of 10 in his 2 year old season and being crowned US champion 2 year old, he missed the Kentucky Derby as his owner  Sam Riddle was reticent to send him racing over a mile and a quarter at such an early point in his career. Nevertheless he appeared at Pimlico in the Preakness and demolished the opposition, easing up in the final furlong saving some stamina for his next big challenge, the Belmont Stakes. Those doubts were unfounded however when he ran in a then record time over 1 mile 2½ furlongs and crushed his rivals by 20 lengths,  only surpassed by the almighty Secretariat. Despite his racing heroics, Man o’War’s greatest legacy is his stud career.  He sired amongst others, American Flag and Crusader who both won the Belmont, War Admiral who won the Triple Crown in 1937, Battleship the 1938 Grand National winner and Hard Tack who himself only won 3 races but in turn sired another of the most storied horses in US history, Seabiscuit. The enduring success of his bloodlines cements Man o’War’s place in any list of greatest racehorses or sires.

In summation, there are definitely some notable omissions from this list as I have only selected flat horses, I don’t wish to upset the National Hunt fraternity but they are more than welcome to post their responses and any lists of their own.  I have also concentrated on the earlier years of racing as Man o’War retired from racing in 1921, had I chosen more recent horses I would no doubt have included the likes of Secretariat, Brigadier Gerard and Sea The Stars. In the end it is a subject which should inspire debate between racing patrons, as that is what all good sports do, they allow us to chat with friends, argue sometimes and at the end of it all there is no definitive answer,  but we can all have fun searching.

Please leave comments here or you can contact me on twitter: