tom jones' two cents
This Saturday, I'll Have Another will try to win horse racing's Triple Crown. It is one of the most impressive accomplishments in sports. So, in honor of the spunky horse, we take a look at the most impressive individual accomplishments in the sports world. • Let's not count things such as an unassisted triple play or hitting for the cycle. That's more about luck and opportunity than skill. Same with 99-yard touchdowns and holes-in-one or other one-day, one-game or one-play performances. A perfect game in baseball, too, also doesn't make our list. While it takes skill, no doubt, there is also a lightning-in-a-bottle aspect to it. After all, pitchers such as Don Larsen, Len Barker and Dallas Braden have thrown perfect games. • Finally, there are some incredible sports records that will never be broken simply because times have changed, records such as Cy Young's 511 pitching victories or Wayne Gretzky's 92 goals in a season. And it seems as if hitting .400, which hasn't been done since Ted Williams in 1941, will never happen again. • What we're writing about today is those moments and accomplishments over a long haul, such as a season or career, that truly impress us. You might have your favorites. These are the ones that impress us:
Triple Crown in baseball
Winning a Triple Crown in horse racing has become extremely difficult. Winning one in baseball has become nearly impossible. It has been 44 years and counting since anyone has led his league in batting average, homers and RBIs. From 1878 to 1967, a Triple Crown was won 16 times. Two players — Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby — did it twice. The last was Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Yaz batted .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBIs. For years, Albert Pujols seemed a candidate to do it. The Reds' Joey Votto looked to have the makeup to make a run. And, today, Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton seems to have the best shot at the elusive Triple Crown.
Winning a Grand Slam in golf
This might be unrealistic. After all, only five golfers have won all four of golf's modern majors — the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship — in their careers. That would be Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. The great Bobby Jones is the only one to pull off a true Grand Slam, which is winning all four majors in the same calender year. That was in 1930, before the Masters when the open and amateur championships in the United States and the United Kingdom made up the Grand Slam. Woods actually held all four titles at the same time, although not in the same calender year. He won the U.S. Open, the British and the PGA in 2000, then kicked off 2001 by winning the Masters. That became known as the Tiger Slam. Meantime, LPGA's Grand Slam tournaments have changed over the years, but six women — Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Annika Sorenstam, Louise Suggs, Karrie Webb and Mickey Wright — are considered to have won career Grand Slams. No woman has won a one-season Grand Slam.
Winning a batting title in baseball
Yeah, you heard us, we're impressed by batting titles. True, two men win a battling title every season — one in the American League and one in the National League. Still, think of how hard it is to do. You have to have a higher batting average than something like 250 other players. It's mind-boggling, really, to think that Ty Cobb won 11 batting titles and that Tony Gwynn won eight in today's game.
Winning Olympic gold medal
Not everyone participates in the same sports. For example, to win a gold medal in the luge or curling or something like that means you are the best among a small group of people. That's not meant to diminish it, just to point out there aren't a lot of lugers in the world. But let's think of this in just plain sheer numbers. Say you're an American swimmer. In order to even qualify for the Olympics, you have to be a better swimmer than pretty much 312,800,000 people. That, you see, is the approximate population in the United States right now. That just qualifies you for the Olympics. Now, to win a gold medal, you have to be the best swimmer on a planet that currently has something like 7 billion people. Okay, so we're kind of taking this whole population thing out of context, but I tell you, if I ever won a gold medal, that is how I would look at it.
Averaging 30 points a game over an NBA season
To get 30 points in just one game is good enough to get your name in a newspaper headline or up near the top of SportsCenter. Now try averaging 30 points a game for an entire season. It's not that uncommon. Six of the past eight NBA scoring leaders averaged 30 or more for the season. Consider how good, how dominant the Thunder's Kevin Durant is. He has won the NBA's past three scoring titles. Yet, only once in those three seasons did he manage to average more than 30 a game. The current greats such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade find it challenging. That means we find it impressive.
Winning a Grand Slam in tennis
Officially, five singles players have won the tennis Grand Slam (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open): Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962, 1969) on the men's side, and Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988) on the women's side. That might suggest that it really can't be done. We disagree. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have come so close in recent years. Novak Djokovic has won the past three majors and certainly is capable of serving up a Grand Slam in 2012.
Scoring 60 goals in an NHL season
Heck, these days, it's impressive if an NHL player scores 50 goals in a season. That's still the magic number in hockey, and it has become increasingly harder to do. For example, in the 1992-93 season alone, there were 14 50-goal scorers. Compare that to 12 50-goal scorers over the past six seasons combined. That's why what the Lightning's Steven Stamkos did this past season was so impressive. He scored 60 goals, joining Washington's Alex Ovechkin (65 in 2007-08) as the only 60-goal scorers of the past 15 seasons. Stamkos joined the exclusive 60-goal club, which has only 19 members. We would bet that he will reach that number again in his career.
Triple Crown in horse racing
Today's list was inspired by I'll Have Another's bid for horse racing's first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. What's interesting, however, is Affirmed was the third horse in a six-year span to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, joining Seattle Slew (1977) and the legendary Secretariat (1973). But Affirmed, the 11th Triple Crown winner, was the last. Since 1978 and Affirmed, 11 horses, including greats such as Smarty Jones, Funny Cide and Alysheba, have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to come up short in the Belmont. I'll Have Another will try to end the 33-year drought.