Bowling is the number-one participatory sport in America. The Little League fields of my youth--there was no doubt I was going to replace Willie Mays as the San Francisco Giants' next center fielder--are now overran by kids' soccer games. More people tune into auto racing on TV than watch baseball or hockey. Big deal. It takes more than that to crack the Top 10.
ESPN--the 24-hour all-sports network--launches in 1979. This is supposed to be a celebratory piece, so let's get rid of the big negative right up front. ESPN, with its slick, hip, ultra-cool, wise-cracking sportscasters who force-feed strained one-liners at the expense of the facts--as well as its nightly highlights that glorify mindless violence and the me-first, in-your-face, trash-talking, endorsement-plastered modern athlete--almost single-handedly has destroyed the world of athletics. The trickle-down effect has devastated the American sports landscape beyond repair.
The 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Besides making a savior and legend out of Babe Ruth and producing the most fascinating and intriguing baseball book ever written (Eliot Asinof's Eight Men Out; it also was a first-rate movie), the consequences of this infamous gambling shocker, in which members of the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, still reverberate today. Shoeless Joe Jackson, long since dead, remains barred from the Hall of Fame despite fervent campaigning by old-timers and younger fans alike. The baseball hierarchy will forgive a player for drunkenness, drug abuse, wife-beating, rape, and assault--just don't bet on baseball games. (See Pete Rose.)
The Boston Celtics win eight straight National Basketball Association championships (1959-66). Major sports' other mighty dynasties--hockey's Montreal Canadiens, baseball's New York Yankees, pro football's Green Bay Packers, and college football's University of Notre Dame--can't even approach this burst of domination.
Ralph Kiner wins seven straight National League home run titles, 1946-52. They say records are made to be broken, but this one, even more so than Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, is untouchable. Adding to the luster of Kiner's mark is that he did it in his first seven years in the big leagues; he did it while playing half his games at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, an unforgiving park with dimensions so distant that no one but Kiner ever won a home run crown while playing there; and he did it with no protection in...