Entertaining new book goes to the heart of sports and numbers

Do you like to debate who are the best of the sports legends? Do you like knowing their best numbers?

Mike Greenberg and Paul “Hembo” Hembek have just the book for you – “Got Your Number – The Greatest Sports Legends and the Numbers they Own.” It is just out and published by Hyperion Avenue.

They go from 0 to 100, and many of the numbers are uniform numbers. Like Derek Jeter at 2, Babe Ruth at 3 and Joe DiMaggio at 5.

Of course, some athletes don’t have numbers so Arnold Palmer is 62 for his number of tour wins. And then there is Secretariat who is 31 for the number of lengths he won the Belmont by in his Triple crown year. And 88 is for John Wooden’s longest winning streak at UCLA.

Each number gets two or three pages and tends to be crammed with interesting anecdotes and numbers.

For example, they note that Willie Mays, number 24, led the league in homers and steals four times each. No player has ever done that and probably never will again. He also won 12 Golden Gloves in a row and recorded 7,112 putouts, a record they say will never be broken. And then, of course, there was the catch of Vic Wertz drive in the World Series.

And the authors expect debate about their selections. Greenberg says he will defend every word he wrote but will listen to other sides.

OK, I will start with fact he left out both Lou Gehrig and Sandy Koufax. I was so surprised at their omissions that I went back through the book to make sure I hadn’t overlooked them. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan got 3 numbers – 23, 63 and 93. Isn’t one enough? It’s not like he was Bill Russell. And Dennis Rodman was included. Huh?

And he includes Dan Marino, who was routed in his only Super Bowl appearances and omits Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Bobby Layne, Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw, who all won multiple titles.

And he also left out some good anecdotes.

Of Walter Payton, he said he was an Ironman who simply did not miss games. Well, he missed one against the Pittsburgh Steelers in his rookie year in 1975 when he had a minor injury and the coaches figured there was no point in letting the Steel Curtain batter him. After that game, Don Pierson, the esteemed football writer who covered the Bears and the NFL for decades, said to Payton, “Jim Brown never did that.” Payton said, “Did what?” Pierson told him Brown never missed a game. Payton never missed another one even when he was hurt. I covered a game in 1983 in Baltimore when Payton was hurt and carried only three times for four yards. But he didn’t sit out. That was Payton.

And any discussion of Joe DiMaggio should include the iconic piece by Gay Talese in 1966 that was called the Silent Season of a Hero.

Talese talks about how Marilyn Monroe came back from a USO tour in Korea and said, “Joe, Joe, you never heard such cheering.” Joe’s memorable answer was “Yes I have.” That was the essence of DiMaggio. Didn’t need four words if three were enough. And an example of the cheering he heard during his celebrated career.

And he gave props to the Steeler dynasty of the 1970s, using 58 and 59 for the two HOF linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. Joe Greene got his own number later. He noted it was the only dynasty defined by its defense. He points out they played 18 playoff games between1972 and 1979 and didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher. And they stopped HOFers Larry Csonka, Tony Dorsett, O.J. Simpson and Earl Campbell twice. They also didn’t allow a 300-yard passer although there weren’t many 300 passing games in those days. Still, the authors didn’t mention that after the NFL banned the bump and run after five yards in 1978, a rule aimed at Mel Blount and the rest of the defense, they won their last two Super Bowls on offense, scoring over 30 points to beat the Cowboys and Rams.  The defense was so good they changed the rules to neutralize and then the offense took over.

Well, I could go on and on, but this book is definitely a good read. You can form your own opinions if you read it.

The debates help to make sports so interesting and this book will spark a lot of debate.

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