SI Vault
The First and Last Annual Alphabet Awards
Steve Rushin
May 24, 2004
Numbers don't lie, but letters sometimes stretch the truth. KFC now pretends, in commercials, to stand for Kitchen Fresh Chicken, and it can't be long before we see the similar re-branding of Fatburger (to Fitburger) and IHOP (as in, I'll Have Oatmeal, Please). Worse, San Francisco Giants rookie David Aardsma is now, alphabetically speaking, the first surname in baseball, supplanting Hank Aaron at the front of the game's alltime roll call, in the way that AAA Locksmith weasels its way to the front of the business listings, line-jumping worthier tradesmen like Aardvark Tamers and Abacus Salesmen.
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May 24, 2004

The First And Last Annual Alphabet Awards

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Our Q, strangely, has the lowest Q rating of any letter-winner. Yet here he is, Dan Quisenberry, who uttered the line: "I found a delivery in my flaw." If championships are the measure of the man, then the R rightfully belongs to he-ringed Bill Russell (11 titles), with Babe Ruth (seven) finishing third, behind Rocket Richard (eight). Among the S's, Secretariat would have been lightning-fast without a jockey, but Willie Shoemaker would not have been without a horse. Advantage, Secretariat.

Who would win a prison decathlon, atop the T's, between Iron Mike Tyson and Big Bill Tilden, men with little in common save athletic dominance and incarceration for sex crimes? Jim Thorpe, during visiting hours, that's who.

Bob Uecker was told by Birdie Tebbetts before his first major league baseball game, "Son, up here we wear the supporter on the inside of the uniform." It's with regret, then, that we give the U to Johnny Unitas.

Sports have seen more sweet vans (Brad Van Pelt, Andy Van Slyke, Johnny Vander Meer) than the members of Phish. But one—Norm Van Brocklin—stands out, victorious in the Vs by a nose over Dazzy Vance, who didn't win his first big-league game till he was 31 and still pitched himself into the Hall of Fame.

W is President, but the nation's highest-ranking W remains neither he nor Ted Williams nor Tiger Woods. It's John (the Wizard of Westwood) Wooden, a man who has more W's to his name than any other figure in sports.

X is not the domain of Olympic champion diver Ni Xiong. It belongs to the shoeless and illiterate Joe Jackson, who signed his confession in the Black Sox scandal with that very letter.

Cy Young will forever wear a Y on his chest, like a Yale letter winner, but only because we couldn't knit one big enough for the Y, in Springfield, Mass., where James Naismith invented basketball, the sport played by the memorably named...

... Wang Zhizhi, formerly of the Dallas Mavericks. But he isn't our Z, nor are any of those hockey Zhamnovs, Zholtoks or Zhitniks, nor the Zimmers, Zisks and Zernials of baseball. Emile Zatopek would beat our winner in a footrace, but still we honor Zippy Chippy, who deserves to finish here as he did in nearly 100 races: dead last.

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