Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Admiring the 'tough-guy' athletes

I know this will come as a surprise to my Boston-sports-oriented blogging comrades and readers here on Big Papelbon, but I'm writing about cricket for my inaugural post.

Yes, cricket -- that sport where the guys dress all in white (well, in some forms of the game) and take breaks for "tea" in the middle of the action.

You see, when living in Brisbane, Australia for two years from mid-2001 - mid-2003, I became a crazy cricket fan, and a particularly strong supporter of the Australian national squad. (That's me in the photo below, in November 2002, just after watching a day's worth of cricket in the city of Adelaide.)

Bryan Person in Adelaide, Australia

Cricket has many similarities to my beloved game of baseball -- namely, the strategy, deliberate pace (games can last five days, at 6 hours a day), and romance with players of yesteryear.

And did you know that cricket was being played in the US before baseball was, and that the two sports were competing for our national attention until baseball won out around the time of World War I.

But before abandoning this post in a fit of hilarious laughter, just work with me here. There is a Boston sports tie-in here.

Playing with a broken hand

Some drama unfolded at the conclusion of today's Test match (a "Test" is one of those games that can last up to five days) between Australia and South Africa that I simply couldn't not write about.

South African captain Graeme Smith, who had been ruled out of the remainder of the match after breaking his hand a couple of days earlier, came to bat in the final hour of play to try and deny Australia a victory.

In the end, Smith was unsuccessful -- he was bowled out by Mitchell Johnson a mere 10 balls away from securing a hard-fought draw with the Aussies -- but he's already being hailed as the "bravest man in world cricket." The Australians congratulated Smith for his efforts, and the home-town Australian fans even stood in applause.

Much like a baseball hitter, a cricket batsman needs his hands to play the game. And Smith had a broken hand, yet still survived for 17 deliveries!

Which American athlete would do the same?

I have vague recollections of Kevin McHale playing in the NBA Finals on a broken foot in the 1980s, and Bruce Armstrong doing the same for the Patriots some 10 years ago. And Schilling and the bloody sock in 2004. (And yeah, I knew offensive linemen sometimes play with broken hands, too, but they're kind of loose cannons anyway, right?)

But who else from the Boston sports teams today can we imagine displaying the kind of integrity that Graeme Smith did?

Would Paul Pierce or KG play with a broken hand in a regular-season game in April against Cleveland, just to help secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs?

Would Randy Moss play through a stress fracture in October?

Would J.D. Drew ... OK, let's not use that comparison. Would Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis stay in a game with a broken foot in the middle of May ?

We've seen former Red Sox superstars like Manny and Nomar beg out of games -- even critical games -- in the past with seemingly minor injuries (or non-existent ones, in Manny's case)?

We typically admire the tough-guy athletes, the ones who play through intense pain on the big -- and small -- stage, and potentially risk their careers in the process.

That's what Smith did for South Africa today. Wonder if one of "our guys" will ultimately do the same the next time that circumstance comes along?

Bryan Person blogs regularly at


KFFBOS said...

I have not direct experience with watching Cricket and certainly not playing it, however we have an engineer in our QA department who showed up at our company softball league never having played baseball nor softball. Within two minutes of warming up he was smacking the ball around...why? Because he played Cricket and slow-pitch softball was about as easy as you could get compared to what he was used to.

Tim Walker said...

More info on Kevin McHale's broken foot -- and how he played right through it -- is here.

If memory serves, Ron Lott (yeah, okay, no Boston connection) had part of an injured finger removed so he could play in an important game.

adamcohen said...

Does Pierce get credit for playing through the fall in the LA series last year, or was he never really hurt? When he was carried off I recall that I for one had a heart attack. But I watched on...

How about Bruschi coming back from a stroke? Not quite the same, but there's something there...

Buckner playing through battered knees - no wait a minute...

Let's turn this around - would A-rod play through a hangnail?

Another non-Boston connection that has to be mentioned is MJ playing in the NBA finals through the flu, right?

Aaron Strout said...

Bryan - first, let me officially welcome you to the ranks of Big Papelbon. You've been a loyal fan -- commenting and reading for over a year now. It's nice to finally read your prose.

Great topic for a virgin *post* (I forgot the *post* part in my tweet that I did sending people over here - oops). Along those lines, one might mention Big Papi's name as he played through a partially dislocated wrist tendon this past summer. I also think Beckett was hurt for the whole 2nd 1/2 of 2008 yet he pitched on. Schilling did the same in 2005 when he closed (that was '05, right)?

A-Rod? Don't even get me started on that guy...

Bryan Person said...

@Adam: I was actually thinking about Buckner's battered knees and all the pain he apparently played through at the end of his career, including '86 (surfaced at the worst possible moment).

Pierce not really the same thing, because he wasn't really injured (at least not seriously).

Bruschi? You might be onto something there, though I'm not really clear on the risk rate.

@Aaron: Thanks for the well wishes.

@Kyle: Great story! As much of a cricket fan as I am, I've never really played it. But I wonder if I'd be a similar natural at the game based on my years playing baseball?

Tim: Great link to McHale.

Guys, some more stuff on Smith. He actually didn't come to the cricket grounds with his uniform, because he wasn't planning to play. Apparently had to borrow a shirt and sweather (with a stain on it!) from teammates, and someone else had to put his shoes on for him. It's legendary stuff.

Tim Walker said...

Forgot to mention earlier: after Game 3 of the NBA Finals last year, when some Laker partisans tried to say that Pierce was faking his knee injury, Bill Simmons talked about Pierce's injury history here, (see the second question) with special reference to (a) Pierce continuing to play a game in which Amare Stoudamire broke his two front teeth, and (b) Pierce playing in an exhibition game (!) two weeks (!!) after being stabbed 11 times (!!!).

Jim said...

Hmm... great post. I wish I knew how to follow a cricket match. I worked with someone who promised to teach me, but he was gone before we had the chance. Bryan - let me know if you know of a book that might help me appreciate the sport more than I do today.

As far as injured Boston athletes...

Larry Bird... in his later years he played through some pretty bad back problems in relatively meaningless scenarios.

What about baseball umpires that take a heater on the forearm and stay in the game? That's gotta hurt.

I've always had the opinion that hockey players are pound for pound the toughest athletes out there, but i can't think of any examples of Bruins playing injured.

What about racehorses? Do they count? Because every once in a while one finishes a Triple Crown race with a stress fracture in their leg. That's pretty gutsy.

Sorry for the lack of specifics. Great topic.