|The List: Most painful heartbreakers|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
Let's face it. We give it up. We give it all up for our favorite teams and players. We put so much into it. Most of the time, we get something back. A victory over a hated rival. A Hall of Fame induction.
Sometimes we even get a championship, all gift-wrapped and everything, and it goes down better than Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
But just like every other love, so much of the time, we're left heartbroken. So just to bring you down from that chocolate high, we recall the most heartbreaking moments in sports history. We've left out most of the tragic deaths (all but two). Heartbreaking just isn't word enough for those.
So we'll quote J. Geils, then get on with it:
You just can't win,
1. Black Sox throw 1919 World Series
"Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is," Jackson replied.
"Well, I'd never have thought it."
2. So close, and yet so far away
After the 1986 Series, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote about the real heartbreak, that which had nothing to do with Buckner, really ...
"The lesson is the same for every generation of Boston fans. Because the Red Sox try so hard and come so close and always fail at the very last, because they truly suffer for their sins and would never forget them even if they were given that privilege, only one response to the team is allowed.
"You must ignore the cold fall mist on your hair. You must concentrate very hard. You must think of nothing. You must forget. Then, come spring, you must forgive them again. And, although it does not seem possible, love them -- as you would blood kin -- just a little more."
3. Dodgers and Giants leave New York
They sang a ditty to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell."
We hate to see you go,
Dodgers fans didn't get a chance to say goodbye. Though their move was expected, there was still some hope when they played their final home game of 1957 at Ebbets Field on Sept. 24. Only 6,702 fans saw Brooklyn beat Pittsburgh 2-0, as Gil Hodges drove in the final run at the ballpark. It wasn't until after the season -- Oct. 8, 1957 -- that Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley announced the team would move to Los Angeles.
Just two years after Next Year finally came to Brooklyn, them Bums was gone, and gone for good.
And soon their great ballpark was history, too. "When they tore down Ebbets Field, they tore down a little piece of me," said Dodgers great Duke Snider.
4. Lou Gehrig says goodbye
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
"I have been in ballparks for 17 years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? ...
"So I close in saying that I might have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for."
A scene pumped up by Hollywood's melodrama machine? No.
"I saw strong men weep this afternoon, expressionless umpires swallow hard, and emotion pump the hearts and glaze the eyes of 61,000 baseball fans in Yankee Stadium," wrote Shirley Povich of the Washington Post. "Yes, and hard-boiled news photographers clicked their shutters with fingers that trembled a bit ... the first 100 years of baseball saw nothing quite like it."
5. Slip out the back, Jack
"I'm glad to see him go," said Unitas, giving angry voice to the broken hearts of the spurned, "but I hate to see us lose the franchise. But we really lost it 12 years ago, when he bought the Colts. He's flown all over the country trying to sell the team. It's been a slap in the face to the governor, the mayor and the people of Baltimore."
6. Gretzky traded from Edmonton
Upon hearing of the trade on Aug. 10, 1988, Parliament member Nelson Riis said the Canadian government should intervene: "Wayne Gretzky is a national symbol, like the beaver," he said.
"[Some] great warriors stayed 'home' until the end," wrote George Vecsey in the New York Times. "Stan Musial. Ted Williams. Joe DiMaggio. Brooks Robinson. Walter Payton. Maurice Richard. Bill Russell. And none of them -- none -- ever meant quite as much to one sport, to one town, as Wayne Gretzky meant to Edmonton."
7. She only knew one way -- her way
Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure broke fast, going through a quarter in 22 and 3/5. Then, shortly after, with Ruffian leading by about a half length, came the sickening sound -- "like a dry stick snapping," said Foolish Pleasure's jockey, Braulio Baeza. In front of 50,754 at Belmont and another 18 million watching on TV, she'd shattered two bones in her right foreleg.
A team of vets operated for hours on the filly, trying in vain to save her. When Ruffian awoke from the difficult operation with a cast on her leg, she thrashed uncontrollably and had to be euthanized. She was buried on the Belmont infield.
"Hard-hearted Manhattan went to sleep with tears trickling down her pillow," said the next day's Chicago Tribune. "And when she awakened, her nightmare had become reality. Ruffian, thoroughbred racing's black beauty, was part of the past."
Ruffian had pushed her natural speed to the literal breaking point. "I haven't been around a horse before or since with that sense of purpose," said Dr. Jim Prendergast, one of the vets who had operated on her. "She only knew one way -- her way -- and that was her undoing. There's the old cliché, 'speed kills.' Speed killed Ruffian."
8. Feelin' the Brooklyn Blues
Tails you lose. Red Smith told it: "Ralph Branca turned and started for the clubhouse. The number on his uniform looked huge. Thirteen."
9. Art Modell betrays Cleveland
Deep down, for sure. Six weeks earlier, the move to Baltimore was almost, but not quite, a done deal. May as well have been: "This is more like a funeral than a football game," said one fan early in November. "I sat in my office with a 12-pack of beer last night and cried. I really did. I cried."
10. Barry Sanders' quiet, unexplained departure
That's what happened when Barry Sanders broke up with the Lions and their fans on July 28, 1999. Sanders, only 31, about to break Walter Payton's career rushing record, able, if willing, to leave it so far in the dust that nobody would ever catch up.
"Never in my life have I felt so betrayed as by the announcement that Barry Sanders would retire," wrote one fan in a letter to the Detroit Free Press. "Through good years and bad, I watched and cheered him on. I've been there for him; now why won't he be there for me?"
Also receiving tears: