Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Top 10 Athletes From New Hampshire

June 21, 1788: New Hampshire becomes the 9th State to ratify the Constitution of the United States. This means that three-quarters of the States then in the Union have done so. This means that the Constitution goes into effect, and a 1st President and a 1st Congress can now be elected.

It was preceded by (in order) Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maryland and South Carolina. Virginia will make it 10, New York 11, North Carolina 12 and Rhode Island 13, to complete the circuit.

Top 10 Athletes from New Hampshire

10. Penny Pitou of Gilford. A skier, she won 2 Silver Medals at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. Hillary Clinton says Pitou taught her how to ski, and Pitou campaigned for her in the 2008 and 2016 New Hampshire Primaries.

9. Matt Bonner of Concord. An All-Conference forward and an Academic All-American at the University of Florida, he won the 2007 and 2014 NBA Championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

8. Bob Tewksbury of Penacook. In a trade so stupid, Brian Cashman could have made it, on July 13, 1987, the Yankees traded Bob and 2 others to the Chicago Cubs for Steve Trout. Trout was a disaster for the Yankees, while Bob won 110 games as a major league pitcher, mostly for the St. Louis Cardinals. (The Cubs let him get away through free agency.)

He made the National League All-Star Team in 1992, and reached the postseason with the 1996 San Diego Padres. In 1997, running out the string with the Minnesota Twins, he twice got Mark McGwire out on a blooper pitch. He is now the team psychologist for the Red Sox, works with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and is an accomplished artist.

But he's not the greatest baseball player on this list. He's not even the greatest Yankee from Penacook. The man at Number 2 is.

7. Greg Landry of Nashua. The Granite State hasn't produced many good football players, certainly not a Heisman Trophy winner or a Pro Football Hall-of-Famer. In fact, many of its high school football stars turned out to be better in other sports.

Landry nearly became an exception. He quarterbacked the Detroit Lions to the 1970 NFC Central Division Championship, was named to the Pro Bowl in 1971, and was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1976. He later played in the USFL, and became a quarterbacking coach in the NFL.

6. Jenny Thompson of Dover. A swimmer, she won 2 Gold Medals and a Silver Medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

5. Katie King of Salem. She won an Olympic Gold Medal in women's hockey at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and an International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship in 2005. Under her married name of Katie King-Crowley, she now coaches the women's hockey team at Boston College.

4. George "Birdie" Tebbetts of Nashua. As a child, he was said to have a voice like a chirping bird. But he excelled in high school as a catcher and a quarterback. He was a 4-time All-Star, twice with the Detroit Tigers, twice with the Boston Red Sox, but never got closer to the World Series than the ill-fated Red Sox of 1948 and '49.

Until, that is, he came to New York. Along with Yogi Berra, who coached for both teams, he may have been the only man to win World Series rings with both the 1969 Mets and the 1977-78 Yankees. He was a scout for both teams, and Reggie Jackson has said that Birdie's scouting reports enabled him to hit those 3 home runs in Game 6 of the '77 World Series. He was first involved in Major League Baseball in 1936 with the Tigers, and last in 1992 with the Baltimore Orioles. Not a Hall-of-Famer, but a great baseball life.

3. Mike Flanagan of Manchester. A winner of State Championships in high school baseball and basketball, he stuck with baseball, and won 167 games as a pitcher. He was a 1978 All-Star, and in 1979 won the American League Cy Young Award, leading the Baltimore Orioles to a Pennant. In 1983, he helped them win the World Series. He seemed to specialize in driving the Yankees crazy, one of the guys who set in stone the myth that "The Yankees can't hit lefthanded pitchers."

He became an Oriole broadcaster, but struggled with depression, and committed suicide in 2011. The Orioles have not retired his Number 46 -- they only officially retire numbers for Hall-of-Famers -- but have kept it out of circulation.

2. Robert "Red" Rolfe of Penacook. Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen called him the greatest 3rd baseman he ever saw. That's a bit of a stretch, but he was a 4-time All-Star in the pre-Gold Glove era, and helped the Yankees win Pennants in 1936, '37, '38, '39, '41 and '42, winning the World Series in all but the last.

He also coached the Toronto Huskies in the 1st season of the NBA, 1946-47 -- meaning he lost to the Knicks in the 1st game in NBA history. He later returned to New Hampshire as athletic director at Dartmouth College, whose baseball field is named for him.

1. Carlton Fisk of Charlestown. He was actually born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, just across the Connecticut River, but he says that's because it had the closest hospital to his New Hampshire hometown. He won a basketball scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, and Boston Celtics (and Bruins, and Garden) owner Walter Brown noticed him at a high school game. But Brown died soon thereafter, and in 1967, the Boston Red Sox drafted Fisk, who said, "I could never be a 6-foot-2 power forward and play for the Celtics."

But he could be an 11-time All-Star, a winner of both a Gold Glove and the American League's Rookie of the Year award in 1972, and one of the many heroes of the 1975 World Series (albeit, in his case, his walkoff home run in Game 6, with his accompanying wave, because a losing cause in Game 7). He hit more home runs and played more games at the position of catcher than anyone before him. He hit more home runs after age 40 than anyone before him. Although all of these records have been surpassed, he still holds the records for most hits and runs scored by a catcher.
The Boston Red Sox retired his Number 27. When a clerical mixup (or so they say) caused the Red Sox to lose him to free agency after the 1980 season, he signed with the Chicago White Sox, whose 27 was already worn by Ken Kravec, so Fisk flipped his number to 72. In spite of Kravec soon being traded, Fisk kept the number, and the White Sox retired it. The Red Sox elected him to their team Hall of Fame, and the White Sox dedicated a statue of him at Guaranteed Rate Field.

It is hard to believe, but true, that he played longer in Chicago than he did in Boston. But when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, his plaque showed him wearing a Red Sox cap. He is remembered as the ultimate New England sports warrior -- even if, with David Ortiz, Tom Brady, Bill Russell, Bobby Orr and a few others ahead of him, not New England's greatest sports hero.

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