Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now


American Horse Racing Through the Years

Posted on August 18, 2014 by Eva Thompson
The horse racing industry in the United States brings in over $26 billion each year.

The horse racing industry in the United States brings in over $26 billion each year.

Horse racing provides a full spectrum of entertainment unlike any other sport. Whether your horse wins or loses, spending a day at the races makes for a great afternoon or evening outdoors watching beautiful animals compete.

The Tradition of Horse Racing
Horse racing has been a long standing tradition among many cultures. The sport dates back all the way to 4500 BC among nomadic tribesmen in Central Asia, who first domesticated horses. Archeological records reveal that the Ancient Greeks, Syrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians also participated in horse racing to entertain the masses and honor outstanding horsemanship required for battles. Later horse racing became popular among British royalty and aristocracy where it received the nickname “Sport of Kings”.

These days, horse racing represents one of the only legal forms of gambling around the world, including Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, the United States, South America, the Middle East, and Australia. Read the rest of this entry →

Will Officials Really Increase Defensive Holding Calls During the Regular Season?

Posted on August 17, 2014 by Dean Hybl
New emphasis should reduce the ability of Richard Sherman to hold defenders downfield.

New emphasis should reduce the ability of Richard Sherman to hold receivers downfield.

After watching Richard Sherman and other “top” defensive backs manhandle receivers during the 2013 season while rarely being penalized, the NFL has made a point of emphasis for 2014 to crack down on defenders using their hands to keep receivers from getting into their routes.

So far in the preseason officials have been throwing flags like confetti during a parade, but it is not yet clear whether NFL Week 1 odds should be adjusted to account for the change.

There is no question that in recent years some of the top defensive players in the league have been able to skirt the rules originally created in the late 1970s to keep defensive backs like Hall of Famer Mel Blount from completely dominating the game.

The 1978 rules to limit the ability of defenders to put hands on receivers were the first of a multitude of rules that have been created over the last 36 years that have helped increase offense within the game.

The impact in 1978 was immediate.

In 1977, only one quarterback, Joe Ferguson of the Buffalo Bills at 200.2 yards per game, averaged 200 yards passing per game and only Bob Griese (22) and Ken Stabler (20) had 20 or more touchdown passes.

The 1978 season did also see the addition of two more games, but regardless, the increase in passing offense was quite obvious. Fran Tarkenton led the league averaging 216 passing yards per game and six quarterbacks averaged 200 or more yards per game. In addition, Terry Bradshaw tossed 28 touchdown passes and four others eclipsed 20 touchdown passes.

Of course, that was just the start of the offensive explosion in the NFL. In 1979 Dan Fouts passed for 4,082 yards (255 per game) and 10 eclipsed 200 yards passing per contest.

In 1981 Fouts became the first quarterback in NFL history to average 300 yards per game and half of the teams in the NFL (14 of 28) had a starting quarterback who averaged more than 200 yards per game. Fouts and Steve Bartkowski of the Atlanta Falcons passed for at least 30 touchdowns and 11 quarterbacks had 20 or more touchdown passes.

Those numbers seem a bit pedestrian compared to the current game when 26 of 32 teams had a starting quarterback passing for more than 200 yards per game in 2013, but were important in the evolution of the game.

Surprisingly, even with such prolific offense, some defenses have still been able to have an impact. That was certainly the case in 2013 when the Seattle Seahawks allowed opponents only 14.4 points per contest.

They were especially dominant in the playoffs when they held both the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers nearly 10 points below their season averages to reach the Super Bowl. Read the rest of this entry →

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Serious Dedication: An Ode to Infamous Sports Fans

Posted on August 17, 2014 by Brooke Chaplan
For years Rollen Stewart and his rainbow wig were fixtures at major sporting events.

For years Rollen Stewart and his rainbow wig were fixtures at major sporting events.

You know a sports fan is dedicated to the team when they are more famous than the actual athletes they support. Here are 8 famous fans from history, and the events that placed them in the unofficial fan hall of fame.

1. He Wasn’t Supposed to Know!

In 1977, Bobby Murcer took to the plate in an attempt to hit a home run for a young, terminally ill fan—Scott Crull. Not only did Murcer bat an impressive 2 homers, but he dedicated them to young Scott on national television. Unfortunately, Crull hadn’t been told he was dying yet. Oops!

2. John 3:16

Some sports fans are there to support the team, others to support their…religion? Rollen Stewart, commonly called “Rainbow Man” thanks to the rainbow wig he liked to wear around, did just that. Along with his wig he wore a shirt with the words “Believe in Christ.”

He didn’t discriminate between sports, showing up at all major sporting events in the 70s and 80s including the Super Bowl, Olympics, World Series, and the World Cup. Unfortunately, he found himself in jail serving three life sentences for holding a maid hostage in 1992.

3. The Loyal Dictator

Apparently North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Il, had his own personal library of videos of every game Michael Jordan played. He was an avid Bull’s fan, and reportedly said he thought the youths and workers in his own country should be made to play more basketball. Read the rest of this entry →

Baseball Salaries Through the Years

Posted on August 15, 2014 by Felix Senett

 

Salaries in baseball, as in all sports, has exploded over the last 30 years.

Salaries in baseball, as in all sports, has exploded over the last 30 years.

Baseball as with other major sports in the US, has seen a huge rise in salaries over the last 100 years. This may come as no surprise to most, as you would expect salaries to rise with inflation, but sports stars’ salaries has risen far beyond this.

One man has conducted a study into these salaries over the years, with interesting conclusions. Professor Michael Haupert, who is the professor of economics at Wisconsin La Crosse, found some interesting patterns and trends, but the most surprising thing seems to be the lack of full data available to great a comprehensive report.

Despite financial information being more freely and readily available, there still seems to be a lack of recorded salaries on file for a lot of major league players. Hauperts study takes into account only 50% of players who have played at least one major league baseball game since 1874.

The study only takes into account actual salary details, excluding any bonuses. Even without taking any additional bonus earnings into account, it’s clear to see from Haupert’s study that earnings have increased exponentially since 1874.

The highest salary recorded for a player at time was $2,000. Of course this was still a large salary almost 150 years ago, but when compared with inflation, it works out as an annual salary of just over $41,000. This is a fairly modest earning for anyone, never mind top players today, like Alex Rodriguez who earned a whopping $29 million in 2013. Alex Rodriguez’ last annual salary would have been worth over $1 million in 1874 – a far cry from Fergus Malone’s salary at the time. In essence, Alex Rodriguez earned more per plate – $56,000 this year – than Malone did all year in 1874 (with calculated inflation).

Even Joe Dimaggio’s huge 1949 earnings of $100,000 is still worth under $1 million in today’s money. This means that even in the last 60 years, the salaries of major league baseball players has multiplied by over 300%. This is a huge rise not seen in any other profession outside of major league sports. Read the rest of this entry →

A Brief History of the Dover International Speedway

Posted on August 14, 2014 by Scott Huntington

Whether you’re a horseracing fan, a NASCAR fan, or a fan of both, there’s just something special about Dover Downs. Affectionately nicknamed, “The Monster Mile,” the Dover International Speedway has been home to at least two NASCAR races a year since 1969.

Dover Downs

This track isn’t one of those that began just as a horseracing course later retrofitted to accommodate auto racing. From the very beginning, Dover Downs was built for both horse and auto racing. Its NASCAR history began with a bang, as the first race – known as the Mason-Dixon 300 – was won by none other than Richard Petty.

NASCAR Niche

It quickly became clear NASCAR was the biggest auto racing draw to the track, so beginning in 1971, the Dover International Speedway did away with all auto races that were not NASCAR sanctioned. This meant all the attention at Dover was now on the two 500-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

And though Richard Petty had the first win on the track, Jimmie Johnson is the one who really seems to own the place. He has had 9 wins there. Mark Martin could also make a viable claim of supremacy at the Monster Mile as well, as he has had the most top-five finishes with 23, and the most top-ten finishes as well, with 31. Read the rest of this entry →

20 Years Ago: Baseball’s Darkest Chapter

Posted on August 12, 2014 by Dean Hybl
The 1994 baseball strike brought out the worst in sports greed.

The 1994 baseball strike brought out the worst in sports greed.

It is hard to believe that 20 years have now passed since money and greed in sports reached a startling climax with what ultimately became the cancellation of the final two months and postseason of the 1994 Major League Baseball season.

In the coming months retiring baseball commissioner Bud Selig will receive many accolades for all he has done to support the resurgence of the game of baseball, but as acting commissioner in 1994 he oversaw the destruction of the game and while it may have recovered financially and in overall popularity, in certain pockets, things have never been the same.

On August 12, 1994 the team with the best record in baseball was the Montreal Expos with a mark of 74-40. Now if you are under the age of 25, you may not even remember that there was ever a baseball team in Montreal and for that you can thank Selig and the others who failed to save the 1994 campaign.

The Expos, who had entered the league in 1969 and went an entire decade before posting a winning season, had developed into a solid franchise having posted .500 or better records 12 times since 1979. However, ironically, their only previous postseason appearance had come during the strike shortened 1981 campaign when they lost the National League Championship Series in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It was very clear that after all the close calls in previous seasons, 1994 was going to be the year for the Expos.  Despite losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 on August 11th to end a six game winning streak, the Expos were six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves and clearly looked positioned to capture their first-ever division crown and potentially reach the World Series for the first time.

With a young nucleus that included future stars Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Marquis Grissom, Rondell White and Moises Alou along with several other solid major leaguers, the Expos were clearly poised for success.

It was also clear that the city of Montreal was excited and supportive of their 1994 team. Some historians will say that Montreal never really supported the Expos and that a move was inevitable. Others will tell you that the fan base in Montreal during that time was quite solid and had they been able to experience World Series joy, as had happened in Toronto in the previous two seasons, the Expos would have eventually received a new stadium and would still be there today.

It is hard to predict “what might have been”, but one thing is clear, in the weeks prior to the baseball shutdown fans in Montreal were becoming extremely excited about the prospects for their team.

Though the Expos ranked 11th of 14 teams in the National League in overall attendance at the time of the strike, that total was a little deceiving as the Expos had played only 52 home games (compared to 62 on the road) and had been averaging an extremely respectable crowd of more than 24,000 fans per game. In fact, they had drawn more than 30,000 fans (including more than 39,000 for the final game) per night for a four game mid-week (Monday-Thursday) series against the St. Louis Cardinals from August 1-4.

With 30 home games remaining as they drove toward a possible pennant, it is likely that the Expos would have continued to draw large crowds through the remainder of the 1994 season.

Of course, we will never know, as both the baseball players and owners dug in and ultimately the two sides would not settle their differences until the remainder of the 1994 season was gone and the start of the 1995 season was delayed. The end result was a 232 day work stoppage and the cancellation of more than 900 games, including the playoffs and World Series for the first time since 1904.

While it is very easy to vilify Selig and the owners for their role in the strike and some of the aftermath, you also have to give much of the “credit” to Donald Fehr and the players. Read the rest of this entry →

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    • Rod Carew: Hitting Machine
      July 5, 2014 | 3:42 pm
      Rod Carew

      Rod Carew

      With the Major League All-Star Game being played this year in Minnesota, we recognize as the July Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month one of the best hitters of the last half a century who was named to 18 straight All-Star teams, including in each of his 12 seasons with the Twins.

      Few have been as good at the craft of hitting a baseball as Rod Carew. During 19 major league seasons, Carew won seven batting titles and hit .330 or better ten times.

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