Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Thinking About 42

TigerBlog used to watch a lot of baseball on TV.

Most recently, he was a huge fan of the Atlanta Braves, largely because of the fact that MotherBlog had lived in Atlanta before she passed away and that he and she had gone to a few games there. It didn't hurt that it was also right at the beginning of the Braves' dominance of the 1990s, or at least dominance of the National League that, sadly, turned into only one World Series title.

As an aside, TigerBlog is still bothered by the 1996 World Series loss to the Yankees. The Braves were the way better team that year. 

Back then, Braves games were on TBS, at least every night except for Wednesday, when they were on SportsSouth, the local Atlanta sports network that wasn't available on TB's own cable system.

Once TBS went away from televising the Braves, TigerBlog got less and less into watching. He's never been a Yankees fan, and he did like the Mets for awhile before he got into the Braves. If he had to pick a favorite team now, it would be the Phillies, but mostly because of Tom McCarthy, the former Princeton football and basketball announcer who is now the TV voice of the Phils - and whose son Patrick is a radio voice of Princeton football and men's basketball, among other things.

The Major League Baseball postseason has arrived, coming after a long regular season of which TigerBlog watched very little. In fact, TB watched way, way, way more of the World Cup and the World Men's Lacrosse Championships than he did of Major League Baseball.

He didn't even realize that the Braves, and not the Nationals, won the National League East. He was all set to root for the Nats in the postseason when he realized he could root for the Braves instead. He's not a Dodgers fan, so he'll root for them to lose. Oh, and the Brewers. He's okay with them.

He'll be rooting for the A's over the Yankees, of course, in the AL Wild Card game today. He might have rooted for the Cubs, but they just won a World Series.

He likes the Indians because of its Princeton connection, with general manager Mike Chernoff a former Tiger, Class of 2003. The Indians open with the Astros, and TB will definitely be rooting for the winner of that series against either the Red Sox or the Yankees-A's winner.
Major League Baseball has something in common with Princeton, besides Princeton's long history of sending players to professional baseball. What is it?

The number 42.

That was the number worn by Jackie Robinson when he broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. It was 50 years later that Major League Baseball announced it was retiring the number 42 across all of its teams in Robinson's honor.

It's the only number to be so honored in the sport.

At Princeton, the number 42 is also retired across all sports, and it is in fact that only number as well to be so honored. In Princeton's case, it's to honor two of the three most legendary athletes the school has ever seen, football player Dick Kazmaier and basketball player Bill Bradley.

The third? That's Hobey Baker, who played before uniforms had numbers, which must have made stat-keeping really, really difficult.

Kazmaier won the 1951 Heisman Trophy while leading Princeton to a second-straight unbeaten season. Playing in the single wing formation, Kazmaier could run or throw, and he did both extraordinarily well, throwing for 2,404 and rushing for 1,950 in his three years on the varsity.

Kazmaier came from a small Ohio town called Maumee as an undersized back who was the fifth-string on the freshman team. He went from that beginning to winning the Heisman by a record margin while also being named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.

Who were second and third that year in the AP voting? Golfer Ben Hogan and baseball player Stan Musial.

As for Bradley, he destroyed the Princeton men's basketball record book, putting up numbers in three years - with no three-point shot - that nobody has approached in more than 50 years.

Bradley is Princeton's all-time leader with 2,503 career points. The next-best total is 1,625, which is 878 points away. That's amazing.

Bradley also has Princeton's top 11 single-game point totals. He's the only player in program history to have a 40-point game (he had 11 of them). His 58 points in the 1965 Final Four consolation game against Wichita State still stands as the most ever in a Final Four game and the most in a Princeton game.

Perhaps most extraordinarily, Bradley never scored fewer than 16 points in a varsity game. That's insane.

Both were highly accomplished away from athletics, as Kazmaier passed on the NFL to embark on a long career in business and public service before he passed away five years ago and Bradley, a two-time NBA champion with the Knicks, was a three-term U.S. Senator from New Jersey who would run for President.

Princeton had sort of unofficially retired 42 long ago in football and men's basketball, and it became official in all sports 10 years ago. The ceremony was hosted by John McPhee, who had been Kazmaier's roommate at Princeton and whose first book was about Bradley and the 1965 Tigers entitled "A Sense Of Where You Are."

The last Princeton athlete, by the way, to wear the No. 42 was men's lacrosse player Greg Seaman, who already was No. 42 and who graduated in 2009.

Why bring all this up now?

TigerBlog is a big believer in history. He wonders how much of it the current generation of Princeton athletes knows or cares to know.

There is so much history here, and one of his roles is to make sure it doesn't get lost as more and more time goes along. Part of that is why he's written this today.

There should be no forgetting No. 42. 

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