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Wednesday, December 27, 2000
Updated: September 13, 6:16 PM ET

A hundred years of losers


By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Well, the bad news is HAL 9000, the spaceship computer from Arthur C. Clarke's and Stanley Kubrick's classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" didn't lose out after all. You're working on his next generation right now.

"Open the ESPN.com Page 2 column, Dave." Uh, Dave ain't here. "Then you open it, R-Dub." Right away, sir.

The good news is, Arthur C. Clarke is still around, if you call Sri Lanka being around. And according to the esteemed Mr. Clarke, the new millennium will begin next week, Jan. 1, 2001, and didn't begin last year at this time. So we still have time to get in our lists not only for the year, but for the century.

Here's one you might not see elsewhere (and be glad of it!).

The 20th century's greatest sports losers

1. Rube Foster -- The king of black baseball, he wanted to be one of the lords of big league baseball. In the '10s and '20s. Wrong paint job. Great arm, ball acumen, beat Rube Waddell 1-0, went 42-6 with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro League, hired by John McGraw to teach the screwball to Christy Mathewson, who then became, well, The Christy Mathewson.

Foster founded the Negro National League, operated its flagship, the Chicago American Giants of Cool Papa Bell, Willie Wells, Oscar Charleston and others; the American Giants were very likely the only competition out there for the '27 Yankees, though the teams never met. Foster had designs on American Giants absorbed by either the American League or the National League., but A.L. president Ban Johnson and Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who ruled baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, rebuffed him. When you think original black baseballer, you think Jackie Robinson. But you should think of Rube, who died in an Illinois insane asylum in the early '30s.

2. Philip K. Wrigley and the Chicago Cubs, featuring Ernie Banks -- Foster's first team, the Chicago Leland Giants, once had the Cubs beat in a postseason exhibition game, but ump called four straight walks and Cubbies won 1-0, saving face -- for perhaps the last time. Wrigley makes the list for having a stadium named after him that didn't get lights until the '80s. Ernie Banks speaks for himself: 512 dingers, "Let's play two!" and so what if we get swept.

3. Jim Thorpe -- Had Olympic decathlon and pentathlon medals stripped by Avery Brundage, who happened to have competed in the same Olympics in the same events. Can you say conflict of interest?

4. Josh Gibson -- Titanic slugger of the Negro Leagues was 38 years old and done by 1947. When Jackie Robinson made the Brooklyn Dodgers in '47, the old backstop Gibson couldn't even straighten out his legs, and had less than a year to live. Didn't even get to see August Wilson's play "Fences."

5. The Boston Red Sox -- Bambino? More like the Curse of Pumpsie Green and Bill Buckner.

6. Wilt Chamberlain -- Nobody cheers for Goliath, especially when a bunch of Smurfs from North Carolina beat him and Kansas in '57, and Russ ended up looking like Obi-Wan Kenobi against him.

7. The current PGA Tour, except Tiger Woods -- Ernie Els captains. And Ernie can play.

8. John Thompson -- Lost last nonprofessional Olympic basketball gold medal in 1988 with pliable Danny Manning and David Robinson against Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis. Also lost two of the best NCAA title games ever, to North Carolina in Michael Jordan's coming out party in 1982 before 60,000 plus, then in '85 to a Villanova team quarterbacked by a cokehead named Gary McLain. Won NCAA title in 1984 against Kentucky and Houston, but we can overlook that here.

9. Bobby Knight -- Bullied the entire world, which is OK, which works, but then choked an 18-year-old boy in his charge, then denied it, which more than makes up for three NCAA title wins.

10. Adolf Hitler -- Had filmmaker/photographer Leni Reifenstahl all ready to film his masterpiece, his prelude to world domination, the 1936 Berlin Olympics Games, which were to be the perfect coda to his Nazi master race theories and The Triumph of the Will. Enter Jesse Owens. Macht nichts, Adolf.

11. Marge Schott -- see Hitler.

12. Avery Brundage -- see Hitler, Schott.

13. John Heisman -- While coaching Georgia Tech, beat Cumberland College, 222-0. This was before the BCS rankings, and before college football's most prestigious award was named in his honor. Did we mention Cumberland was then a school for the blind?

14. Bill Romanowski -- Spit on harmless wide receivers (notice he didn't pick out any black offensive tackles to spit on).

15. Al Gore -- The new King of L.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."