We now wind up a year of millennial list-making by looking at our favorite individual feats. Once more, you may find it impossible to guess what we were thinking (or smoking). Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters, but not Don Larsen's perfect game? Exasperating, isn't it? (Judging from our mail, it's been a little more than that for some of you.) Greg LeMond's comeback in the Tour de France, but not Lance Armstrong's? (Infuriating is more like it.) You've put up with a lot from us this past year, absorbing one list after another, barely able to shake off one bit of monumental nonsense before another is delivered: Hogan's 1953 U.S. Open win, but not Tiger's triumph in the '97 Masters? (You've about had it, right?)
So, at the risk of more angry letters, we feel compelled to state once again our guiding principle, and principal defense: that this business of sports is acutely personal. Surprisingly so, considering the extreme measures we have taken to give our games an aura of objectivity. We have stopwatches, tape measures, instant replays, yardage markers, punch-stats and an ever-swelling army of fanatics churning out statistics of such mathematical refinement as to render all argument futile. Yet, we still don't agree on much.
Apparently sports are far more complicated than we thought. In our minds, though, Roger Bannister's four-minute mile is the kind of achievement that deserves a millennial endorsement. And you, having been ringside at the Hearns-Hagler firestorm during which nobody remembered to breathe for eight full minutes, yawn at our refinement. Neither event can ever be replicated. Nor, as we've learned over the past year, universally appreciated.
But let's not argue. Let's agree that certain events—not merely athletic milestones, but also exultant displays of spirit and work and (yes) luck—have established the outer boundaries of human achievement. It doesn't get any better than this. It won't get any better than this. It can't.
Anyway, we've got a fresh new millennium coining up, and if we can just work together a little more closely this time (and keep in mind just how personal games are), we will surely find something we can agree upon. For example—and this might be a good starting point for our 3K list—is anybody ever going to hit safely in 57 straight games'? Not in a thousand years.
May 6, 1954
The serious-minded medical student dutifully made his morning hospital rounds in London, then took a train out to Oxford, stepped onto a cinder track and, in his first race of the year, ran the mile in 3:59.4—thereby surmounting the most glamorous athletic barrier of the century, the four-minute mile, which had eluded runners for decades.
May 29, 1953
At least 16 men had already died trying to reach the top of Mount Everest when Edmund Hillary, a lanky New Zealand beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay, a Buddhist Sherpa, awoke in their tent 2,000 feet below the summit and began their last laborious climb through the knee-deep snow. At 11:30 a.m. Hillary took that final step-his two feet were upon the peak, and the spirit of human endeavor soared higher than it ever had before.
May 15 to July 16, 1941
There have been middling assaults on Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hitting streak in the past 58 years, but like Sisyphus's boulder, an O-fer brings all the mortals tumbling back down the mountain. Joltin' Joe's streak will probably find its way into the Dec. 30,2999 edition of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF MEMORIES.
October 18, 1924
The Galloping Ghost scored the first four times he touched the ball against mighty Michigan: He ran back the opening kickoff 95 yards and then scored on runs of 67,56 and 44 yards. Before the day was over, Grange would score another touchdown, complete six passes, including one for a TD, and account for more than 400 yards in the mini's 39-14 victory. Oh, and he sat out the second quarter.
July 16, 1932
Of all the great Babes-from Ruth to Bardot—none ever had a bigger day than the one Mildred Didrikson had at the women's AAU nationals. Entering the meet as the sole member of the Employers Casualty squad, the 5'2", 105-pound, 18-year-old Texan won six gold medals (shot put, baseball throw, long jump, 80-meter hurdles, high jump and javelin) and broke four world records.