I Bet You Didn't Know

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April 27, 2013

It’s extremely rare for a baseball player to go straight to the major leagues without ever playing a single game in the minors. And get this – only twice in the last 50 years has a player not only gone directly to the big leagues, but then played so superbly at that level that he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Any guesses? Here’s a hint: one was a pitcher and one was a position player. The pitcher was Jim “Catfish” Hunter, and the position player was Dave Winfield.


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One of the quiet success stories in 21st Century sports has been the NBA Development League. More than 25 percent of players on 2012 NBA rosters spent time playing in the 16-team D-League. All 30 NBA teams have some relationship with the league, and every D-League game is streamed live and free on YouTube. But here’s the real measure of success: A D-League franchise could be had for about $400,000 when the league was formed in 2001. A decade later – about $4 million.


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The world’s oldest marathoner has run his final race, or so he says. Granted, it was “only” a 10-kilometer affair (6.25 miles), but he ran it at a pace of less than 15 minutes per mile, which is actually running, not walking. His name – Fauja Singh, and his age – well, take a guess. The event was part of the Hong Kong Marathon in December of 2013, and Singh ran it wearing a saffron turban with his white beard flowing at the astonishing age of 101, after which he announced his “retirement.”


April 20, 2013

Not to say that major league baseball players aren’t tough. Of course they are. Still… Take the case of Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. Granted, it was only a spring training game, but Andrus had to miss it because of “sensitivity in his left arm.” What did that mean? Apparently Andrus had gotten a tattoo two days before, and it was still sore. Tattoos can be tender, but could you imagine the NFL’s Ray Lewis or Tom Brady, the NHL’s Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, or the NBA’s LeBron James or Kobe Bryant missing a game – even a preseason game – because of a new tattoo?


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Once upon a time, if you were a NASCAR driver, you grew up in the South. No longer. Fact is, only two of the top 20 or so stock car racers are southerners – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse. All the others grew up in the far West (such as Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Bush, Jeff Gordon), the Midwest (Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards), even New England (Joey Logano) and in foreign countries (Juan Pablo Montoya).


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The debate over the greatest big man in NBA history will never be settled – Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Wilt Chamberlain, Akeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal – but the fact is that no center had a greater impact on the game than Wilt. By the time he graduated from the University of Kansas and before he even started a game in the NBA, three rules had already been changed because of Wilt’s play. No longer allowed were offensive goaltending, lobbing baseline inbounds passes over the backboard, and taking off from the foul line to dunk free throws.

April 13, 2013

Have you heard about Guan Tianlang at the 2013 Masters golf tournament? Sports fans know that once in a rare while, a teenager will be so beyond his years athletically that he can play with the pros. We’ve seen it happen in the team sports of basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer, as well as the individual sports of tennis and golf with both men and women. But Guan takes the cake. By winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, he became the youngest qualifier ever at the Masters, teeing off at Augusta at age 14. 


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The Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates both entered the 2013 Major League Baseball season with bad memories. By losing 20 of their final 27 games in 2011, the Red Sox became the first team in big league history to fail to qualify for the playoffs after holding a nine-game lead in September. And in 2012, the Pirates endured what some believe was the worst collapse in baseball history, from 63-47 in early August to a 79-83 final record, extending Pittsburgh’s all-time mark to 20 straight losing seasons.


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California’s Mike Trout, Washington’s Bryce Harper and Texas pitcher Yu Darvish began the 2013 baseball season hoping to avoid the infamous “sophomore slump.” Recent evidence of the affliction: Among the 48 position players and 32 pitchers who received Rookie of the Year votes from 2007-’11, 59 posted weaker numbers in their sophomore seasons. That’s 74% of them. But can you identify the three players in history who turned Rookie of the Year honors into MVP awards one year later? They were Baltimore’s Cal Ripken, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and Boston’s Dustin Pedroia. 


April 6, 2013

What are the chances that some college basketball fan picked every game right in the NCAA tournament known as March Madness? Well, consider this: There are more than nine quintillion possible routes from 64 teams down to one winner. The actual number is 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. By the way, the most watched college basketball game of all time is still the 1979 NCAA championship won by Magic Johnson and Michigan State over Larry Bird and Indiana State – a whopping Nielsen rating of 24.1.


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More March Madness moments and memories: Can you name the only man voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player three times? How about the only player to start in four Final Fours? He also holds the mark for most tournament points (407) and games played (23). The three-time MOP was UCLA’s Lew Alcindor in1967, ’68 and ’69, who then changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The four-time Final Four starter – Duke’s Christian Laettner, from 1989-92. Remember, freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity back in the ’60s.


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Entering the 2013 Major League Baseball season, at long last the New York Yankees no longer sported the game’s biggest player payroll. That dubious distinction belonged to the Los Angeles Dodgers at approximately $213 million. And get this: 10 Dodgers on the opening day roster boasted eight-figure salaries. For those of us who can’t even count that high, we’re talking about at least $10 million a piece.


March 30, 2013

Even the most ardent supporters would agree that these days, the amount of money involved in college sports is through the roof. In fact, in a poll of more than 1,000 college presidents in the United States in 2012, more than 75 percent of them said that universities spend “way too much” on intercollegiate athletics. But get this – only 15 percent of those same presidents said that their own schools spent too much money on sports. It’s always the other guys.


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Want to set a world record? Get out your golf clubs…and tape them all together. At the end of 2012, a golf pro from Arlington, Texas named Michael Furrh made the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest usable golf club at –get this – 14 feet, two and a half inches. Furrh’s tee shot traveled 146 yards. He broke the record set in 2009 by Denmark’s Karsten Maas, whose club measured 13 feet, 5 inches long. Just for comparison, the longest pole vault pole is about 15 feet.


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Minor league baseball teams are famous for wildly wacky and creative promotional giveaways, but the Florida Freedom of the Frontier League just might have raised the bar to a new level. This spring, the team will try to capitalize on the fake girlfriend story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o by offering a free bobblehead to all in attendance on May 23rd – but the box will be empty. In addition, a section of the stands will be roped off just for people who want to bring imaginary friends to the game.

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