In order to pull the American sports public through one of the more "boring" portions of the sports calendar, ESPN has come up with another gimmick to get viewers onto their website. This time it was an election to vote for the top four athletes from each state in order to create 52 (Puerto Rico and Washington DC included) individual Mt. Rushmores. The decision is much easier for smaller, less athletically inclined states, but Texas is far from either. I just saw that this was going on this morning, so I clicked the link to see who Texas would pay homage to.
Football is king, no doubt. I realized that. No surprise therefore that Earl Campbell and Tom Landry would be included. Landry coached the most well known professional sports franchise in America, and did so quite well and over the course of three decades. Earl Campbell was not only a Houston Oiler, but also a Texas Longhorn. Musn't forget about the sausage lovers vote as well. Nolan Ryan grew up in the Houston area, and played for both the Rangers and Astros. He was tough, spoke with a drawl, and threw hard. While in his prime, women could just look at this man and get pregnant. Have an untouchable strikeout record, and pitch seven no hitters to boot? Get up there, Nolan. Finally, Lance Armstrong. I suppose I had the biggest problem with him being up there. His battle with cancer and seven (and counting) Tour de France wins notwithstanding, he is a cyclist. Not exactly a sport where you can picture folks lining on front porches at sunset to talk about. At least that's what I thought before I looked down while typing and noticed a yellow bracelet on my left wrist. It was then that I decided I had no problem with Lance Armstrong being up there. If someone like me, who cares not very much about the Tour and less about cycling, can be convinced to buy a yellow bracelet bearing the slogan of it's most famous athlete, well then maybe Lance is deserving.
What is even more impressive is that the athletes who didn't make the top four for Texas could easily replace most states' first stringers. Names like Olajuwon, Clemens, Aikman, Foreman. There were MLB Hall of Famers (Rogers Hornsby), Gold Medal Winners (Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Sheryl Swoopes, Foreman), and the greatest female athlete of all time, Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
Did I miss any names....any Astro related names?? Nope. I didn't. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were thrown in at the end. Considering how they were "thrown in" with Clyde Drexler, "Mean" Joe Greene, and Vince "Crazy Pills" Young, I wouldn't feel all that bad if I were Jeff or Craig. We know how much they've accomplished in their careers, but there are three factors that kept them from being any higher on this list:
1. Neither are native Texans
2. Neither won a championship
3. Neither are big personalities
It seems like it was almost as important to have some distinguishing quality to make the top four as it was to be a great athlete. Lance's bracelets, Nolan's punching of Robin Ventura, Landry's hat and Campbell's legacy as a college and professional football star. All these men, while deserving based on their on field performance, can stand on their own legacy almost independent of statistics or championships won. Do Bagwell and Biggio have this ability? Craig has his 3,000 hits which will assuredly garner his enshrinement into Cooperstown. What about Bagwell? Can we think of a defining moment in his career? Does he have a legacy, beyond being the good guy with the awkward batting stance? We could debate all day long about who is the greatest Astro of all time based purely on statistics. While the top Texas athletes have carved out their own niche in sports, Bagwell has shared the mantle of great athletes with Biggio. While it is nice to think about these two in the same breath, I hope Texas sports fans don't just think about Bagwell as half of the duo that took the Astros to never before seen prominence in the state's sports-psyche.
There is little that can be done years after Bagwell has stopped playing, but what this list did for me was remind me that in a state full of great athletes, even Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio can be left behind. I feel more for Bagwell, however. Biggio will have his day to speak on a summer's afternoon in upstate New York. He'll be humble, and cliche and selfless, like he has always been. His plaque will be put up amongst the other greats and we can all go to see it, and we will remember what he did for us and our city. Somewhere in that crowd watching Biggio will be his partner from the right side of the Astros' infield. If he sheds a tear that afternoon, it will be for the love and respect he has for a good friend. By that time maybe Bagwell will already be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, and this will be a moot point. Most likely though, he will be sitting amongst other fans watching just like everyone else, wondering what it would be like to be a part of that historic club.