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    The Four Saddest Words - Contest Entry

    What could have been. John Greenleaf Whittier coined this phrase back in 1856. Little did he know how much these words would end up meaning in the world of sports. The poem is about a maid who meets a judge. They fall in love but end up marrying other people, while wondering their whole lives, "what might have been?" Similarly, in every day sports you find these guys. Not all of them are so well known. Everyone knows Drazen Petrovic, Len Bias, Armando Galragga's perfect game. But there are so many of these players, these teams, these moments. So many things happen in sports that will always be left to be wondered, but that's what makes sports great. Let's look at some of these.

    What if J.R. Richard hadn't had a stroke?
    He won 18 games 3 out of 4 years from 1976-1979. He struck out 313 batters in a season. He won 107 games by his thirtieth birthday. After 1979, Nolan Ryan joined him in the rotation, bringing on the possibility of an Astros pitching powerhouse. A rotation that featured Richard and Ryan! It could have been one of the best 1-2 punches ever. On July 14, 1980, after striking out the side in the fourth inning, he felt his arm "go dead". 9 days later, he checked into the hospital to attempt and fix his arm problems, they said he was good as new. On July 30th, while warming up, he suffered a stroke on the field. He would never pitch again. After only 9 seasons, he already held the Astros all-time career strikeout record, and had 1400 strikeouts in his career. He is 62 and lives in solitude.

    What if MJ hadn't retired the first time?
    After dominating the NBA for a decade and collecting three championships, Jordan decided to hang it up. He said it was a lack of passion, but many thought that the murder of his father as the real cause of it all. Jordan decided to play baseball and spent a horrendous season with the White Sox' Double-A affiliate in Birmingham. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets were building a dynasty of their own, built around Hakeem Olajuwon. Once Mike was back for good, his Bulls three-peated again. Could Chicago have collected a very Celtic-like eight, nine or 10 consecutive championships? Donít bet against Jordan.

    What if Roy Campanella hadn't left work early? On a cold winter day in January of 1958, Campanella started to drive home to Long Island from the liquor store he operated in Harlem, on his way, he hit a patch of ice, and skidded off the road and into a telephone pole. It ended his career after 10 years, and put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

    What if Joe Namath hadn't won Super Bowl III? What would have happened is that he would've amounted to nothing. His record was below .500 and he threw more interceptions than TDs over his career. Yet he is in the Hall of Fame, only because of his victory over Unitas' Colts in 1969. His win secured his legacy, and showed that the AFL was a competitive league. Without his win? Who knows where Joe Namath would be. And maybe the AFL and NFL wouldn't even have merged.

    What if the baseball strike of 1994 hadn't happened? Matt Williams had 43 and 96 RBI when the season was abruptly cancelled. He lost a third of his season, and he had a chance to break Ruth's record before Sosa and McGwire came along. Inexplicably, he actually lost the MVP award that year to Jeff Bagwell. Tony Gwynn was batting .394 on August 11, 1994. On August 12, he needed to go 4 for 4 to get his average above the .400 mark, the latest that would have been accomplished since the days of Ted Williams. There was one problem though. There was no August 12 game. There would be no games for the rest of 1994. To this day, he says he would've guaranteed that he would have done it.

    What if Mickey Mantle hadn't stepped on that drain in 1951? What drain you say? Let me set the stage. It's the 1951 World Series, Joe DiMaggio's last. As a courtesy, manager Casey Stengel puts DiMaggio in center field, and moves rookie Mickey Mantle to right. A pop fly is hit in between them, DiMaggio hovers over it easily, but Mantle cautiously runs over to back up the play. DiMaggio yells, "I got it!" and Mantle stops short, at just the wrong time. His spike gets caught on a drain pipe on the Yankee Stadium outfield, and he cries out in pain, falling onto the ground like he had been shot. He watched the rest of the series in the hospital, and never ran the same way. Stengel said he had more speed than any slugger he ever saw, and Mantle ran the fastest clocked time around the bases than anyone in 1951. What could have been.

    These are just a few what if moments, and there will surely be more.
    "The Mets have shown me more ways to lose than I even know existed" -Casey Stengel
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    Autographs of Larry Walker, Yadier Molina, Jason Simontacchi, and So Taguchi Wanted!
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