Fans whiff choosing memorable moments

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

They're kidding, right?

The vote proclaiming Cal Ripken's ironman record as baseball's most memorable moment must be some kind of test to see if the rest of us are paying attention.

Fans examined the rich fabric of baseball history, everything from Mathewson to Mays, Ruth to Rose, and the moment that topped them all was Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game. It beat out Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record.

That must be it. They're just kidding.

''I was pleasantly surprised,'' Ripken said. ''I thought this was really a cool concept after the All-Century team created all the interest and excitement for baseball.''

So what would he vote for?

''The Aaron moment,'' he said. ''That was very memorable. I watched it on television and I remember getting a goosed-up, charged-up feeling. I wish I could tell you why baseball invokes those feelings. It puts you in the moment. I was in that moment. I could feel it inside.''

And what about his own moment?

''Mine was a heartfelt moment for many people,'' he said. ''I know that because they've told me. For me, it was a magical moment.''

Ripken's accomplishment is laudable, a career achievement built over years of playing day-in, day-out, season-in, season-out, ignoring bumps and bruises and celebrated in an emotional high-five victory lap around Camden Yards.

It was a nice, heartwarming interlude. But for it to top the Memorable Moments vote, well, that's hard to believe.

A moment is just that, a snapshot in time that sets it apart. The last out of Don Larsen's World Series perfect game in 1956 was a moment. So was Bobby Thomson's 1951 pennant-winning home run. The same for Willie Mays' running out from under his hat for the 1954 World Series catch against Vic Wertz.

None of those even made the Top 10, which were announced by sponsor MasterCard and major league baseball. Instead of a memorable moment, the fans gave us a memorable career at No. 1.

Consider this: In 577 World Series games before Wednesday night, there had been exactly one no-hitter. And it happened to be Larsen's perfect game, 27 batters up, 27 batters down, the ultimate pitcher's achievement in the ultimate baseball showcase.

Pretty memorable, huh?

Not in this election. It was nothing more than an also-ran.

Thomson's exclamation point home run ended one of the most remarkable comebacks in pennant-race history when the New York Giants wiped out a 13 1/2-game lead to overtake the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It was high drama, the stuff of fiction, the kind of fairy-tale finish that make the game and its seasons so compelling. They called it ''The Shot Heard 'Round the World.'' Nobody in this election must have been listening.

Again, an also-ran.

Mays' amazing back-to-plate catch and throw defined him as perhaps the most complete player of his time, a fearsome slugger who played his position flawlessly.

It hardly impressed the fans, who voted with ballots at ballparks and online at major league baseball's Web site.

Then there was Bill Mazeroski's winning home run in the 1960 World Series and Carlton Fisk's Game 6 homer in the 1975 World Series. Neither made the Top 10.

Ripken's achievement was a statement for coming to work every day. There's nothing wrong with that. But to single it out above all of the high drama baseball has provided for over a century of its history is shortsighted.

The result of the vote was disturbing, but no more so than the ballot, which ignored moments far more memorable than some of the candidates.

Look at the list and you would conclude that not much happened in baseball in the first half of the 20th century. Twenty-two of the 30 moments happened after 1950. None of Babe Ruth's 714 home runs rated a mention. Ty Cobb was an afterthought. Cy Young and his 511 victories were ignored.

Some significant modern players got short shrift as well. Ignored were Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens.

But they found room on the ballot for Ichiro Suzuki sweeping the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards last year.

Maybe the ballot and its gaps might be most memorable of all in this promotion.

Hal Bock has covered baseball and other sports for The Associated Press since 1963. He can be reached at hbock@ap.org.



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