One Sporting Event

Tom Bevan passed along on Twitter this column asking what one sporting event you’d go back in time to attend in person if you could, and making the case for the first Ali-Frazier fight.
It’s a tough question. I’d immediately discount any event I actually did watch live on TV, like Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, or the Giants’ three Super Bowl victories. My first reaction was to pick Game Seven of the 1960 World Series over some of the more impressive individual achievements like Don Larsen’s perfect game or Wilt’s 100-point game (of which film doesn’t survive), or classics like Bobby Thomson’s home run, but I think after kicking this around with some others on Twitter I’d probably settle with Game Seven of the 1912 World Series, which just had amazing team and individual drama and a chance to watch some of the greats of the pre-film era (Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood) in their primes.

26 thoughts on “One Sporting Event”

  1. Although I watched on TV — albeit curled in fetal position most of the game — I would have loved to have been at Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, the happiest day of my life that didn’t involve my wife or children.

  2. It got to the Miracle on Ice. ABC didn’t televise it live, it was tape-delayed. My father had listened to the live radio broadcast and then coaxed us into the family room to watch the broadcast. Jim McKay almost gave it away before the telecast.

  3. Probably the World Series, 1932 to see if the Babe did call his shot. I don’t think I saw The Thrilla in Manilla live. Willis Reed walking down the aisle in May 1970 (we heard it on radio with Marv–ABC showed it at 11 PM). Bob Beamon jumping. Ted’s last game at Fenway. Willie catching up with Wirtz and the angels (and will those morons comparing the Duke to Willie in the field please shut up-it’s insulting).
    So I guess, the Babe.

  4. Babe Ruth was a fat old man with little girl legs. And he wasn’t really a sultan either. I guess it would be great to see him hit 82 MPH fastballs and watch other sorta slow, mostly slower guys play baseball. I think I would go something a little more modern. Thrilla in Manilla, Ali-Foreman, Tyson-Douglas, the Fisk Game 6 homerun, Jack’s last win at Augusta and maybe the Bobby Thompson homer spring to mind. If I hadn’t seen, say, Villanova-Georgetown, Celtics-Lakers and tons of other things I would ave lots of other votes.

  5. I don’t know which contest I would like to visit but two I did see stand out in my memory: June 8, 1950 – Red Sox 29, Browns 4; and Cousy vs. Mikan in The Garden.

  6. For me it’s the Fred Merkle “error” which which allowed the Cubs to win the 1908 Pennant. What most people don’t realize is the exact same thing happened earlier in the season (In Pittsburgh, if memory serves) with the umpires ruling the exact opposite of the Merkle game. The repurcussions were so severe that National League President Harry Pullium commited suicide several months later. Perhaps the greatest game of the 1908 season, if not the history of baseball til that point. If I can’t get that wish, then just one game to watch Christy Mathewson throw his fadeaway.

  7. For me, the Miracle on Ice, even though I watched the replay when it was shown at the time. I can’t even think of anything that comes in a close second.

  8. Jim, I know you are trying to pull my chain. But that fat guy with the skinny legs used to work out daily with Dempsey’s trainer, and sometimes Dempsey himself. Who pitched two complete games, one in 1932 and one in 1936. Gave up 5 runs the first game, and eight the second. Won them both I think. And pitching in the 30s meant a live ball in bandboxes, facing guys like Foxx and Greenberg. Take a look at some of the pictures of him flexing his biceps.
    And can I add the Dempsey-Tunney fight, and Louis-Schmelling II while I’m at it. And, uh, any match by Alan Border, the great cricket player from Australia. And of course, the great Commemorative Match in Curling, held March 17,1896, to celebrate Scarborough’s Centennial Celebration. I bet they cleaned up (start groaning now please).

  9. I think you actually mean Game Eight of the 1912 World Series. Game Two ended in a tie due to darkness, which made Game Eight possible. And that’s the Mathewson-Wood matchup. Great choice, though.
    I’d choose the final game of the 1955 World Series. I can’t imagine the collective euphoria that erupted when the Dodgers finally won it all. I’m sure Amoros’s catch was a sight to see. And it would’ve been one hell of a train ride back to Brooklyn after the game.

  10. I’m not pulling your chain. While Ruth certainly was at the pinnacle of his era I think it would be fabulously underwhelming to go back and view it up close and personal. The competition was less than amazing to vastly understate the case, he would appear by today’s standards to be far less than imposing and other than for the hisorical value of it I don’t think it would be either illuminating or all that interesting. Same goes for Cousy-Mikan. High school basketball these days is better than the pre-shot clock era of the NBA (the only time Mikan thrived).

  11. After the Miracle, I’d take England vs France, Agincourt, 1415. Facing the heavily favored French squad, England used a daring offense to take the field early. The English flankers’ long game forced the upreprared French to mount sucessive drives across the muddly field in disarray, posing no challenge for the stout English middle. And although the English flankers were soon spent, the Heralds called it for England in a major upset that established English dominance for the better part of a hundred years.

  12. 1966 Oshawa Generals vs. Niagara Falls Flyers. This was an exhibition game held in Boston, for the purpose of giving Bruins fans a sneak peek at Bobby Orr (whose rights were controlled by the Bruins, and about whom Bruins fans had been hearing for three or four years).
    Derek Sanderson played for the Flyers, and he decided to start a fight with Orr, simply to attract the attention of the Bruins’ scouts.
    Sanderson and Orr of course later combined for the famous overtime goal ending the 1970 Stanley Cup.
    My parents were at the game in 1966, and I’ve heard stories about it since I was a kid.

  13. How about the 1971 Washington Generals ending the Gloetrotters 2,499 game win streak against them? Man, the crowd must have gone crazy!

  14. Jim, I can’t and never will buy that argument. Because then nobody can ever be compared. I mean, how would Ted have done in 1908? No way to tell. You can only do what is given to you. And by calling the Babe a fat guy with thin legs means you don’t really know the player who competed from 1914 to about 1923, when he was this giant (for his day) with enormous arms and chest, incredibly well built.
    Or that Joe Lewis wouldn’t last today because heavyweights are, well, heavier. Or that Jim Thorpe would not have kicked your ass for telling him he wouldn’t be good today. Because if you give Ruth, or Thorpe, or Buster Crabbe for that matter, the techniques of today, and you might see that they would do as well as ever. No, Ruth could not dominate as he did then, unless he used PEDs, a la Bonds, but because there are so many more great athletes competing. Of course, it’s mainly because of people like the Babe that they are competing in the first place.

  15. Sigh. That’s one of the funniest lines ever from Seinfeld. Wish I could take credit foir making that up about Ruth but I didn’t.
    The argument isn’t whether if you gave Babe modern day training techniques, told him to lay off the booze, get a decent night’s sleep every so often, fed him a modern diet, etc. would he be an acceptable athlete/ballplayer by today’s standards. The question is what event would you want to see played out from the past in its original form. My argument is that seeing the Babe and his era would be interesting in the context of their historical value but not so much for the artistic/physical display.
    Let’s say rather than knowing who you were seeing, somehow you ave no idea who Ruth, etc. are and you are watching a 1920s era baseball game (but you don’t know its a 1920s bunch of guys)with guys wearing dark blue sweats on one team and light blue on the other. Given what you know about modern era athletes/baseball would you be 100 percent sure you were watching professionals play? Would they look like the best players in the world to you? Would you wonder why they were smaller, slower, etc. than what you were accustom to? I think it would be pretty obvious. If you saw Jim Thorpe run today, I mean plop him right down against Bolt, wouldn’t you wonder what the slow guy was doing on the track? That’s what this is. Getting to see something as it was. Sure, I would love to see stuff like for the living museum effect but if we are talking one event to see live that I didn’t see live or on tv when it happened I don’t think I would go so far back as to pick an era when things were smaller, slower, less well done, whiter, etc. That’s my thing though. Don’t know who Ali-Frazier are? What does it matter, if you like boxing that’s still one hell of a fight.
    Not denigrating the past per se, just saying that I don’t think watching 1950s basketball would do much for me so I’m not picking it as my thing to see one event of. If I hadn’t seen the ’80 Olympic hockey team that would be it for me for sure, but I did.

  16. Jim, we can start with Isaac Newton’s quote, “If I have seen further it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is from memory, but it’s close. Anyway, if you watch a basketball game from the 70’s it would look slow. Does that make Wilt or West less great?
    What is more likely is that great players of any era would be the great players of any era within the context of their greatness. Ty Cobb (well, wrong example because he would have intervention, medication and probably not play), would lead the league with a .340 average, not .420. And so on. Stephen Jay Gould explained it far better than I ever could. Ruth though, well, he really does defy description, greatness or anything else. Not just because he was a great pitcher, which he was. Or a great hitter, which we for damn sure know he was. But I think it’s for 1918, when he pitched and hit, both pretty well. Even then, everyone said it couldn’t be done, injuries would set it, blah blah blah. He still did it. THey did win the World Series, he did play well (and BTW check it out, a good chance the Cubs threw the Series, which is why the lack Sox might have figured why not?)
    And Magrooder, I will stil respect you in the morning.

  17. I think you’re fooling yourself. Do you think Red Grange would still be a dominating back in the NFL dropped down into the 21st century? Would the great Harvard football teams of the early 20the century still be great? NBA stuff from the 40s and 50s? High school teams would boat race them now. Sure, certain few (very few) individual would have modern time transferability (although if you think Ruth could wield that 40 oz bat these days and do anything but strike out you are fooling yourself). Again, though this is about seeing one event. By definition the talent pool 80 years ago was smaller, poorer, shallower, weaker and less athletic. Any competition involving 20 guys would have incredibly weak links. I wouldn’t want to see the Chamberlin 100 point game because a) the game was basically a fraud b) Wilt was being covered by guys who wouldn’t start on 1-AA college teams now. The overall talent pool was still piss poor back then. The topic is seeing 1 event from the past. I would be more interested in seeing something that either had modern applicability to it or involved only a couple of unique individuals (a Louis title fight for instance). 1920s baseball just wouldn’t do it for me because, by definition and necessity, it wasn’t nearly the level of what the game is now.

  18. Jim, it’s not that Ruth would wield a 40 oz. bat now because he wouldn’t. It’s that he would be the best, or at least, among the best in baseball today. And just because the Harvard football team would now be among the team owners instead of players in the NFL is no reason to put down what they did. By your argument, Alexander and Napoleon would be terrible generals today because they don’t have access to air power, or in Alexander’s case, not even a stirrup. Joseph Lister would be a poor doctor because he only had carbolic acid, and not vancomycin to fight infections. You see where I’m going? Or back to Newton. What a rube. Because he didn’t know that all his work on motion was meaningless because, well, it’s all relative .

  19. I don’t think comparing sports to war or physics is quite relevant. For the third or fourth time my argument is not about individual guys. I would disagree with you that Ruth would be the best ballpalyer or amongst the best but, again, that is not the point of this topic. The point is that I would have no interest in seeing, as the ONLY event I could see live from the past, early 20th century baseball since it is literally impossible that the breadth of talent on display would come up to anything near the type of talent in today’s game. As I have said before this does not exclude any one individual. Newton would have adapted, however many other physicists from his era would be hopelessly lost in today’s world of quantum physics and string theory. Napoleon may well have been a strategic genius given any set of weaponry yet others very well would have been exposed for lacking coordination of multiple fronts and types of attacks. My argument isn’t that one person isn’t transcendent but that, certainly, the breadth 100 or 500 years ago hopelessly pales in comparison to current standards. I don’t think Ruth would be a legendary figure in today’s era but that is unprovable as your stipulation that he would be. My thing on this topic is that 1910 football would look ridiculous to go back and see after watching the current top standard. Track athletes pale in comparison to today. Hockey is played at twice the speed and far more artistically today than in the 30s. Basketball? Not even close. Baseball has the same issues. I want to see an event that matches my current expectations, is a landmark event and is exciting even given that the outcome is known in advance. I don’t think any early 20th century sport is doing that for me.

  20. That all being said seeing Jeese Owens at the Berlin Olympics would have been something although the venue would have been a little less than inspiring and certainly not particularly comfortable.

  21. Fair enough Jim. There I can almost agree with you. I do think physics is a good example. Or say, going back to Penn and seeing Eniac work, and then pulling out a smartphone. Somehow though, I doubt the game would look that different. I think the speed would actually be close. Because the bases are still 90 feet apart, and a ground ball deep in the hole with a fast runner is still a very close play. I think the equipments (clean balls, level fields, bigger gloves) changed more than the athletes.
    And I do agree about Jesse Owens. That would have been something.

  22. Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was 10 innings of good baseball followed by the longest, yet most incredible inning I’ve ever seen. Game 6 of the playoffs that same year at Houston was the geatest game I remember being part of. The rush at Kevin Bass’ swing and miss was euphoric in the 16th.

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