Saturday, January 1, 2011

Top 5 sports stories of the year

By Rick Morris

HONORABLE MENTION: World Cup, Winter Olympics, Butler’s run to the 2010 NCAA hoops finals, Urban Meyer’s on-again, off-again retirement, the passings of so many legendary figures in sports during the year.

5 The evolution in the balance of power in baseball swings violently back toward the mound with “The Year of the Pitcher.” With six no-hitters (including a tally of two perfect games that should have been three), the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larson’s legendary 1956 effort and a World Series winner that can best be considered the poster child for the season’s trend, there was no mistaking the fact that dominant arms are the element front and center in the national pastime these days. Additionally, by any reasonable measure, the number of legitimate aces in the game has expanded from about 10 to about 25 in the past few years. Like the power-hitting boom that started in the mid-‘90s, this development will be long-lasting and consequential.

4 Tiger Woods no longer resembled “Tiga Tiga Woods, Y’All!” Can it be possible that the stress involved in living a reprehensible personal double life somehow helped Tiger Woods all these years? Finally freed of the burden of pretending that he was a good family man, Woods was still one of the top golfers in the world, but hardly dominant. With the circus that his personal life devolved into, it’s almost easy to forget that he has had major knee surgery and may be facing premature aging in his frame due to the physicality of his swing. 2011 will go a long way towards answering the question of whether this is just another down period like the one he endured early in the last decade – or the end of his reign over the links as we knew it.

3 Longtime sports droughts came to an end. The New Orleans Saints (41 years), Chicago Blackhawks (48 years) and San Francisco Giants (55 years, dating back to the 1954 World Series title in New York) combined for almost 1 ½ centuries of futility. In 2010, all three of them stood astride their respective sports as world champions. For good measure, the Texas Rangers won the American League pennant and came within three wins of seeing their mark of futility end at 48 unsuccessful years. There is an exception to every rule, however: the Los Angeles Lakers won their 16th NBA title and their second consecutive one as Phil Jackson got closer to an unthinkable fourth “three-peat.”

2 In a horrible economy, looming work stoppages grow to be possible in all four major sports. The NFL’s looming dance with destruction looms in March. The NBA got closer to going to war as escalating player costs became intertwined with widespread owner rage over what can only be termed a legalized conspiracy between Dwyane Wade and Lebron James prior to 2010 free agency. The NHL players deployed the “see you in hell” card by hiring Donald Fehr for their upcoming collective bargaining negotiations. If only by contrast, MLB appeared to be an oasis of stability, but as teams such as Boston and Philadelphia lurch towards the Yankees’ mega-mega-market island, the notion of a regulator on salaries that players will fiercely resist cannot be ruled out as a factor the next time the game’s system is ratified. Never before have all four major sports faced labor unrest so close to one another and it comes against the backdrop of an awful economy that is unlikely to be thriving anytime soon.

1 “The Decision” ensures that the NBA free agent summer of 2010 lived up to the hype. In our eBook DISSECTING THE DECADES: THE FDH LOUNGE LOOKS BACK AND AHEAD AT THE FIRST 20 YEARS OF THE NEW MILLENIUM which we released a year ago, we forecast (Page 10) the NBA Summer of 2010 to be the biggest story in hoops over the course of the next ten years. That’s looking like a solid pick thus far. Lebron’s unbelievable egofest and the massive backlash that ensued merely put the exclamation point on an unprecedented circus. In the end, few of the other biggest names changed places, probably fewer than anticipated, but these moves laid the groundwork for ones in the next year or two as Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and others look to form their own SuperFriends teams in some of the Association’s fortunate few cities.

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