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Monday, August 4, 2003
Updated: August 6, 10:07 AM ET
Hidden treasures: All-underrated list

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

With multiple 24-hour sports channels, with 24/7 sports radio stations in every city as large as Mayberry, with the Internet and chat rooms and cable TV, it's next to impossible for anything to be underrated anymore. Or for very long.

But Page 2 has never been one to shy away from a challenge. We spent an entire week earlier this summer listing everything we thought was overrated -- from current athletes to all-time legends to folks in music and movies. Now, we're ready to provide the same treatment during our "Underrated Week." Over the next five days, we'll look at active athletes, all-time athletes, teams and movies that don't quite get the love they deserve.

To kick things off, here's one man's list of a few things that somehow slipped under most radar screens.

Underrated statistic: The run

Rickey Henderson
Rickey is simply pointing out that he's scored more runs than any player in history.

Forget home runs, ERA, saves or OPS. At the end of the game, there is only one statistic that matters in baseball. The run. If you score more of them than your opponent, you win. If you don't, you lose. So why does the run get so little respect? Why is it considered less important than the RBI? Why do box scores give the season totals for home runs, RBIs, double, triples, stolen bases, caught stealing, errors, wins, loss, saves, batting average and ERA but not runs? Why is the triple crown based on the league leader in home runs, batting average and RBIs instead of average, home runs and runs? Why do we all know the record for RBIs in a season (Hack Wilson's 191) yet don't have a clue who holds the record for runs scored (Babe Ruth, 177)?

I wish I knew the answer.

Underrated government service: U.S. Postal Service

Let's see. They come to our doors every day, bringing welcome family letters, magazines and Victoria's Secret catalogues. They pick up whatever mail we leave for them. They drive it to the post office. They sort it. They drive it to the airport. They put it on a plane. They fly it across the country. They take it off the plane. They put it on a truck. They drive it to the address regardless of where he or she may live and deliver it to the door. Within three days. For 37 cents.

And we bitch about the cost and efficiency of mail delivery? We shouldn't be complaining, we should be asking how the hell they can do it.

(Runnerup: The library system. You can check out the latest bestseller or a book that's been out of print for 50 years. You check out a video or a CD. You can use their computers to surf the web and exchange email. And it's all free.)

Tatiana Grigorieva
Tatiana won a silver medal for Australia at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Underrated sports babe: Olympic pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva

She makes Anna look like Marge Schott.

Underrated foreign country: Canada

Great cities, spectacular scenery, friendly people, sensible medical coverage, superb hockey, unbeatable exchange rate.

Runnerup: Belgium.

Underrated seat location: The bleachers

Let the overpaid CEOs sip wine in their luxury suites while pondering layoff numbers. Give me the cheap seats in the outfield, where I can catch a home run and enjoy a beer with fans who aren't afraid to show their passion.

Underrated meal: Airline food

OK, so it's not the best meal you've ever had. But it's not the worst, either. It passes time, it fills you up and some of the sandwiches are rather tasty. Besides, what the hell do you expect? You're on a plane with 250 other passengers and flight attendants are doing the cooking with an easy bake oven. Complaining about the quality of food at 37,000 feet is like eating at Outback Steakhouse and then complaining that you haven't been transported to Sydney by the end of the meal.

Wrigley bleachers
Give us the bleachers any day -- especially those at Wrigley Field.

Underrated manager: Jack McKeon

He's four years older than Wilford Brimley but he still has what it takes.

Three underrated sports movies:

"Heaven Can Wait" -- It's funny, it's romantic and it's somehow overlooked again and again on lists of best sports films.

"The Freshman" -- Harold Lloyd's comedy about college football is nearly 80 years old, in black and white, silent and yet it still rings true.

"Lagaan'' -- a Bollywood extravaganza, this 2001 Oscar-nominated epic is the finest three-hour musical you'll ever see about cricket.

Oops! We forgot a few!
We tried to give out all the credit, but we still missed a few things worthy of your praise. You spoke up and set the record straight.
Check out your additions!
Underrated Lottery pick: Carmelo Anthony

You'll see. He should have been the No. 1 pick.

Underrated vehicle: Small cars

You can have your gas-guzzling, ozone-depleting, global-warming SUVs that are ready to handle the off-road driving experience you'll never, ever experience. I'll save time and money by sticking to the small car that handles better on actual roads, zips in and out of rush-hour traffic, slips into the slimmest of street parking slots and only needs refueling once a month.

Underrated anthem: "America the Beautiful"

If we have to listen to someone perform a patriotic hymn before ballgames, can't we at least hear a hauntingly beautiful song that salutes the country's grandeur instead of asking a question about a war?

Underrated halftime entertainment: Marching bands

Who needs Britney, Bono or pyrotechnics when you've got more than a 100 musicians playing the school fight song?

Underrated Disney character: Donald Duck

Donald Duck
Don't underrate Donald just because he doesn't wear pants.
Great range of emotions, uncanny comic timing, unbeatable work ethic. And not only does he play second fiddle to Mickey, they won't even give him pants.

Five underrated sports books:

"The Miracle of Castel di Sangro" by Joe McGinnis. McGinnis spent a season in an Italian village of 5,000 after its soccer team made the improbable leap to the second tier of professional soccer and he rewards us with an amazing tale of Mafiosos, drugs, love, scandal, death and the glory of sport.

"Playing the Moldovans at Tennis" by Tony Hawks. Alternately hilarious and touching account of Hawks' bizarre bet that he could play tennis against -- and beat -- every member of the Moldovan national soccer team.

"The Courting of Marcus Dupree" by Willie Morris. It's about high school football, college football, race, Mississippi, the South and America. Beautiful.

"Last Days of Summer" by Steve Kluger. An absolutely delightful -- and very funny -- novel about the friendship between a teenager and a major leaguer during World War II.

"The Unforgettable Season" by G.H. Fleming. A gripping account of the 1908 National League pennant race told through the actual contemporary newspaper accounts.

Underrated dessert: Rice Krispy treats

Better than tiramisu. Cheaper than soufflé.

Underrated Hall of Famer: Stan Musial

His career average was .331. He hit 475 home runs. He drove in 1,951 runs and scored 1,949. And because he played his entire career in St. Louis instead of New York or Boston, it's as if he never played at all.

Stan Musial
Stan the Man won three MVP Awards and finished second in the voting four times.
Underrated national park: Olympic National Park, Washington state

From various locations in the park you can see the Pacific Ocean, a rainforest, volcanoes, two snowcapped mountain ranges, old growth forest, the San Juan islands, Canada and depending on your sanity, Bigfoot.

Underrated sport: LPGA

Just as interesting as the PGA. No Tiger but there is Paula Marti in shorts.

Underrated actor: John Cusack

Is there a more likable actor working today? At least a dozen terrific performances, no Oscar nominations.

Underrated actress: Parker Posey

Never makes a bad movie.

Underrated sports wife: Mrs. Kobe Bryant

What was Kobe thinking, anyway?

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.