If Hoyt Wilhelm and Lou Brock, the two newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, didn't necessarily pioneer the knuckleball and pop-up slide, they at least helped to popularize these special skills. Wilhelm perhaps demonstrated the career-extending value of the knuckleball better than any other user of this elusive pitch. A relief specialist, he retired at the age of 49 after pitching in major league record 1,070 games for nine teams.
Brock, a virtual automatic selection for the hall by virtue of his 3,000-plus hits, is actually better known for turning base stealing into a science. The career leader with 938 thefts, his best season occurred at age 35 when he set a major league record (since broken by Rickey Henderson) with 118 steals.
He developed the pop-up slide as a means of getting to third base after an overthrow. The classic hook slide didn't facilitate taking the extra base.
``The hook slide starts about 15 feet from the base, whereas with the pop-up you start five feet away at top speed,'' he once explained to this writer. ``Whoever's in your way on the pop-up better get out of there, because you come in like a runaway freight train. That's another reason why it's so effective. The fielders tend to give ground. It commands respect.''
Brock and Wilhelm were basically light years apart as ballplayers, yet interestingly, they share one accomplishment. Each player hit a home run in New York's old Polo Grounds. In Wilhelm's case, it came over one of the stadium's short fences in his very first major league at-bat (it was his only career homer). In Brock's case, the homer was only one of 149, but it was special nonetheless -- a tape-measure job over the ballpark's inordinately deep center field fence, and in his rookie year.
The late Nellie Fox came within two votes of the necessary 297 required for election to hall this year. It was his last year of eligibility in the regular phase of voting by baseball writers. Upon learning that Fox had been named on 74.6 percent of the ballots, the writers' organization appealed to the hall to round off the figure to 75, but Cooperstown officials insisted that it had to be a ``pure'' 75 percent.
Two dunks, one acclaimed and the other controversial, have suddenly thrust West Virginia University basketball into a national limelight last enjoyed during the 1950s and the Jerry West era. The initial shot heard 'round the basketball world was produced by 6 ft. 7 in. Georgeann Wells, whose jam against Charleston Dec. 21 was the first dunk by a woman in an official game. Wells had appeared to break the ice last year, but a dunk against Massachusetts was disallowed due to a foul charged to another player.
The mystery is why the dunk barrier wasn't broken sooner, since several US Olympic players indicated last summer that they could dunk the ball. The key to the breakthrough may be the new, slightly smaller basketball the women are using this college season. It is easier to grip on the way up for the shot.
The other West Virginia dunk, the controversial one, occurred in a 51-50 men's victory over St. Joseph's (Pa.) Saturday. With both teams in the locker room, the win was overturned by officials who learned that Lester Rowe's dunk of an offensive rebound shouldn't have been considered an extenstion of the game's last shot.
The Atlantic 10 Conference, however, later restored the victory to West Virginia, indicating that the referees' jurisdiction had ended when they signaled the game's conclusion.
What's it going to take to beat Georgetown University's awesome basketball team? No one has come up with the answer yet, but Boston College came a lot closer to discovering it than anyone else when the two teams met at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. last Saturday. The Eagles didn't resort to slowdown tactics, either, actually fast-breaking at every opportunity, forcing the game to overtime before finally succumbing 82-80. The top-ranked Hoyas, one of the country's biggest teams, owned a huge height advantage, but B.C.often pushed the ball up the floor before seven-footer Patrick Ewing and his Georgetown teammates could set up. ``They're a hard team to play because they're so small,'' explained Ewing.
B.C.'s catalyst was little Michael Adams, who is probably shorter than his 5 ft. 10 in. program height. He is sort of Doug Flutie's basketball counterpart. And speaking of Flutie, football's Heisman Trophy would have played varsity basketball this winter if not for a busy schedule of post-season football commitments.
Boston College, by the way, experienced only its second setback of the season in losing to seventh-ranked Syracuse 64-58 Tuesday night. Having learned its lesson, however, Georgetown spent the evening dismantling under-sized Seton Hall 90-70 for the Hoyas' 25th straight victory over two seasons.
The most touching moment in last Friday's salute to Red Auerbach occurred when Bill Russell swept his former Boston Celtics coach off the floor with an emotional bear hug that left Red airborne for several joyous seconds. Russell, now a pro basketball commentator on the WTBS network in Atlanta, has never enjoyed such adulatory ceremonies and even stayed away when the Celtics hoisted his number to the Boston Garden rafters. For Auerbach's sake, however, he agreed to join with many other of the the team's past greats to pay tribute to the franchise's legend emeritus. Now that Wilt Chamberlain is playing horse polo, should he be called the Big Chukker instead of the Big Dipper? (A chukker is a period of play in polo parlance)