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ESSAY

As Momentous Occasions Go, This Is Right Up There

September 09, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark McGwire's 62nd homer is the accomplishment of a season, a career, a lifetime.

But it will be remembered mostly as a moment.

One line drive, one emotional jog around the bases, 15 seconds, tops.

Isn't that how all the best of modern sports appears to us, in moments?

We marvel at Cal Ripken Jr.'s 16-year playing streak.

But we remember Kirk Gibson's three-second bomb.

When we think of Super Bowls, we think of 13 consecutive years of NFC domination.

But we remember Jim O'Brien's kick. And Scott Norwood's miss.

So it will be with McGwire, whose wondrous summer eventually will be remembered not for six months of power hitting under incredible pressure, but simply for the moment he hits No. 62.

It is a moment that will instantly take its place among the other great ones in sports.

Where? That's for history, and you, to decide.

What follows is one man's opinion of the 61 others.

I am defining a memorable sports moment as something that brings you out of your chair in one minute or less.

I am restricting them to anything that happened after Bobby Thomson set the memorable-moment bar with his 1951 home run.

I have undoubtedly left out at least 61 worthy items, but, heck, I guess the top requirement for a memorable moment is that you first have to remember them.

1. THE SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD by Thomson, a three-run homer in the ninth inning for the New York Giants that defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in a playoff for the 1951 National League championship. Every memorable moment since has been judged in comparison to this one.

2. THE LIMPING HOME RUN by Kirk Gibson that beat the Oakland Athletics in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Watch the video closely and you can see an even more compelling moment--as the ball soars into the right-field pavilion, brake lights are being illuminated in the parking lot.

3. THE FIVE LATERALS on a kick return that led to a last-second California touchdown through the bewildered Stanford band, giving Cal a 25-20 victory in the 1982 Big Game.

4. THE SINGLE THAT CHANGED HISTORY by Francisco Cabrera, a two-run hit with two out in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1992 National League playoffs that gave the Atlanta Braves a comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. One pitch from the end of their season, the Braves suddenly found themselves in the World Series. The Pirates, on the other hand, have never been the same. It remains the only time that a playoff series ended with a hit that turned a series loss into a series win.

5. OUR MOST HATED HOME RUN, a two out, two-run shot by Boston's Dave Henderson in the ninth inning against the Angels' Donnie Moore in Game 5 of the 1986 American League playoffs. At the time, the Angels were one strike from advancing to the World Series. The homer led to an extra-inning win by the Red Sox, who then swept the devastated Angels in Boston to advance.

6. THE IMMACULATE RECEPTION by Franco Harris of Terry Bradshaw's fourth-down pass in a 1972 playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. The ball ricocheted off either Pittsburgh running back John Fuqua or Oakland safety Jack Tatum and landed in the hands of Harris, who ran 42 yards for the winning touchdown.

7. THE TURNAROUND JUMP SHOT by Duke's Christian Laettner at the buzzer that beat Kentucky in overtime in the 1992 NCAA East Regional championship game in what is considered the best college game ever. Rick Pitino, then-Kentucky coach, is still answering questions as to why he didn't guard Grant Hill, whose 75-foot inbounds pass to Laettner set up the shot. Thus inspired, Duke won the national championship.

8. THE BOOTED GROUNDER by Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. At the time, the Red Sox were tied with the New York Mets and only one victory from the championship. But Mookie Wilson's grounder rolled between Buckner's legs, a run scored, the Mets won, then won Game 7 for the title. Few remember that the Red Sox actually led by a run and were only one out from victory, but Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch to score a run before Buckner's mistake. But Buckner will always be known as the goat.

9. THE WIDE-RIGHT MISS of a 47-yard field goal kick by Buffalo's Scott Norwood in the final seconds of the Super Bowl XXV in 1991, costing the Bills a championship that the New York Giants won, 20-19.

10. THE SHOT HEARD 'ROUND PITTSBURGH by Bill Mazeroski, a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series that gave the Pirates the 1960 championship over the New York Yankees.

11. THE SHOT HEARD 'ROUND CANADA by Joe Carter, a two-run homer in the ninth inning of the sixth game that gave the Toronto Blue Jays the World Series championship over the Philadelphia Phillies. We can still see Carter dancing around the bases.

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