Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Don Bradman and the USA

Around the turn of the century, almost every magazine or newspaper ran an obligatory 'Best of the 20th Century' feature. Some of these were entertaining and interesting ('Wisden Top Five Cricketers' for example) whilst some had all the attraction of root canal work without anaesthetic ('The 5 greatest Tory Home Secretaries'...)

As a devotee of American sports, one feature that caught my eye was a poll run by the US magazine 'The Sporting News' (TSN) listing the '100 best Sportsmen of the Century'. TSN has long been the leading weekly sports publication in the US - the equivalent over here would be if Wisden Monthly, Rugby World, and the Guardian Monday Sports Section merged.

Michael Jordan over Muhammad Ali for the No. 1 spot was a somewhat controversial call which got a lot of publicity in the States There are quite a few NBA enthusiasts over there who wouldn't even put Jordan number one in their sport alone, mainly those who remember Bill Russell playing for the Celtics.

Beyond that, it was the omissions that caught my eye - very few non-American sportsmen - Pele, and a couple of Olympians and a couple of Canadian hockey players (Gretsky above Orr - ouch!), and absolutely NO cricketers whatsoever.

No expecting any joy, but needing to vent, I dashed off a quick e-mail to the author of the accompanying article, Dave Kindred, pointing out this omission. Rather than provide a list of deserving causes I stuck with just one name - Don Bradman, with a brief statement to the effect that there would be little dispute in cricketing circles that he was the greatest batsman who ever lived.

To my surprise I received a reply back within 24 hours. 'Many thanks for the note, and I appreciate your comments. I've heard about Bradman but know very little - can you fill me in?'

I resisted the temptation to recommend one of the many biographies of the great man, and - remembering the American obsession with sporting statistics, offered a simple line. In Test cricket, where a batting average of 40 is considered acceptable, 50 good and above 60 extraordinary - how does 99.94 grab you?

Back came the reply - 'Wow! - Tell me more!'

So, during an e-mail correspondence that lastest around six months I expanded the story - the legend of the golf ball and the cricket stump, the 'bat for a hundred so he got three' story, the amazing run feats, how he was so dominant that efforts to contain him caused a diplomatic crisis between Australia and Great Britain, his historical significance for a nation, and finally, the second ball duck at the Oval in 1948 when 99.94 could have become a hundred.

At the same time, Kindred - who is one of the most respected sportswriters in the US, was doing his own research elsewhere. After a while, the e-mails stopped. Bradman died in 2001, and I sent a link to the Guardian obituary, but as there was no reply I assumed that the subject had died and a jounalist's intrigue had been satisfied.

Imagine my shock, therefore, when I opened the 23rd April 2001 edition of TSN and found this. (Link)

For completeness sake, here's a link to the letters TSN published the week after. The first (Lance from Champaign, Illinois) is sadly predictable, whilst the last (Joshua from Melbourne) is an absolute classic!

1 comment:

harrowdrive said...

What a great tale. It's good to see am American with a love of the challenge that sport brings, no matter what that sport is.