Sunday, March 4, 2018

Top 10 Athletes From Vermont

March 4, 1791: Vermont is admitted to the Union as the 14th State, the 1st after the original 13.

Top 10 Athletes From Vermont

Of the 38 men born in Vermont who have gone on to play Major League Baseball, the 2 best actually grew up in neighboring New Hampshire: Carlton Fisk of Charlestown, and George "Birdie" Tebbetts of Nashua. Fisk was born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, across the Connecticut River, because that was the closest hospital to Charlestown.

Of the 10 men born in Vermont who have gone on to play in the National Football League, only 3 grew up, and thus were trained to play the sport, in the Green Mountain State: Phil Branon of Fairbanks, who played 1 game at tackle for the Cleveland Bulldogs in 1925; Peter Bove of Rutland, who played 3 games at guard for the Newark Tornadoes in 1930; and Bob Yates of the State capital of Montpelier, an offensive lineman who played for the Boston Patriots in their AFL days, 1961-65.

Vermont is the only State that has never produced a National Basketball Association player. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, partly because basketball is an indoor sport, so the State's long Winter won't make a difference in training; and partly because Southern Vermont is not far from Springfield, Massachusetts, where the sport was invented.

The best basketball player from the State is Keith Cieplicki of South Burlington, who starred at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985 -- when they might have been the best NBA team ever, and he didn't make the team. Like his father, who was his high school coach, he went into coaching.

Only 2 National Hockey League players have been born in Vermont. One, you'll see in the Top 10. The other is Graham Mink of Stowe, a right wing who played 7 games for the Washington Capitals between 2003 and 2009, and was otherwise a career minor-leaguer.

So, here's the Top 10:

Honorable Mention to Ernie Johnson of Brattleboro. He only went 40-23 in a 10-year big-league career, but that included winning the 1957 World Series with the Milwaukee Braves. He is better remembered as a broadcaster for the Atlanta version of the team, and even more so for being the father of broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr.

Honorable Mention to Suzy and Rick Chaffee of Rutland. Suzy washed out at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, but, in the 1st Olympics ever broadcast on American TV in color, she caught people's attention with her bright skintight skisuit. She then became an advocate for the legislation that became Title IX, but is probably best remembered for her lip balm commercials: "Call me Suzy Chapstick." Her brother Rick also competed at Grenoble in 1968, and at Sapporo in 1972.

10. Bill Koch of Guilford. He won the Silver Medal in the 30-kilometer cross country ski race at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. (Those Games were supposed to be held in Denver, but local voters rejected funding for them in an election, and Innsbruck, who had hosted in 1964, had the facilities, so they got it.)

9. Billy Kidd of Stowe. He won the Silver Medal in the slalom at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

8. Ray Fisher of Middlebury. He went 100-94 as a major league pitcher, pitching for the Yankees from 1910 to 1917. He missed 1918 serving in World War I, then won the World Series with the Cincinnati Reds.

He went on to become the head coach at the University of Michigan from 1921 to 1958, desegregating the team in 1923. He won 15 Big Ten titles and the 1953 National Championship. The school's baseball stadium is now named Ray Fisher Field.

In 1982, he was invited to Old-Timers' Day as the oldest living Yankee, age 95. He was wheeled onto the field and got a nice hand -- after broadcaster Frank Messer told the crowd, truthfully, that it was Fisher's 1st visit to Yankee Stadium. He had pitched for the team at Hilltop Park and the Polo Grounds, but retired before the big ballyard in The Bronx opened. He died 3 months later.

7. Ray Collins of Colchester. He went 84-62 as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, including 20 wins in 1914. He helped them win the 1912 and 1915 World Series. He later served as head coach at the University of Vermont, and in the State legislature.

6. Barbara Cochran of Richmond. She won a Gold Medal in the slalom at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. She is 1 of 4 siblings to have won National Championships in skiing, along with sisters Marilyn and Lindy and brother Robert. Her son Ryan Cochran-Siegle just competed in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

5. Clarence DeMar of South Hero. In 1910, he ran his 1st marathon, the Boston Marathon, then by far the most prestigious in the Western Hemisphere. He finished 2nd. Then doctors detected a heart murmur, and told him not to run anymore. He didn't listen, and in 1911 won the race with a course record.

The heart murmur didn't keep him out of Harvard University, from which he graduated, or the U.S. Army in World War I. He won the Boston Marathon again in 1922, 1923, 1924, 1927 and 1930. In other words, he won 6 Boston Marathons after being told his heart could kill him if he tried.

"Clarence DeMarathon" ran 3 Olympic marathons, finishing poorly in Stockholm in 1912 and in Amsterdam in 1928, but winning a Bronze Medal in Paris in 1924. He was still running the Boston Marathon at age 65, and still running competitively at 69. When he died at 70, it wasn't the heart problem that killed him, it was cancer.

4. Albert Gutterson of Springfield. He won the Gold Medal in the long jump at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, jumping 24 feet, 11 1/8th inches. He is the only Vermont native to win a Gold Medal in the Summer Olympics. The University of Vermont named its arena the Albert Gutterson Field House.

3. Larry Gardner of Enosburg Falls. The 3rd baseman for the Boston Red Sox, a teammate of the aforementioned Ray Collins, hit his team's only home run in the 1912 World Series, and his sacrifice fly in the 10th inning of the deciding Game 8 (Game 2 was called for darkness with a tie score) drove in the winning run. He also helped them win the 1915 and 1916 World Series, homering in consecutive games in 1916.

His former Boston teammates Tris Speaker and Smoky Joe Wood brought him to the Cleveland Indians, and he helped them win the World Series in 1920, leading the team with 118 RBIs. He topped out the next year with 120 RBIs and a .319 average.

He finished with a .289 lifetime batting average, and his 1,931 hits lead all Vermont-trained players. He's also the all-time home run leader -- with 27. His RBI total is also the all-time leader: 934. It was the Dead Ball Era. (Fisk would be an easy leader in either category, but, as I said, he grew up in New Hampshire.) The Red Sox elected him to their team Hall of Fame.

2. Andrea Mead Lawrence of Rutland. In 1952 in Oslo, she became the 1st American skier of either gender to win 2 Winter Olympic Gold Medals, taking the slalom and the giant slalom. Her husband David Lawrence was also on the U.S. team at those Olympics.

1. John LeClair of St. Albans. A 5-time All-Star, the left wing was one of the overtime heroes that led the Montreal Canadiens to the 1993 Stanley Cup. He was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, and became the 1st American-born, and the 1st American-trained, player to score at least 50 goals in 3 straight seasons.
He, Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg formed the "Legion of Doom Line" that won the 1997 NHL Eastern Conference Championship, and lost the Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Devils in 1995 and 2000, and to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

He was also a member of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, and a Silver Medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He finished his career with 406 goals. He is not yet in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he should be.

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