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Rory's Gamble and the Great Stan Musial

Jan 24, 2013 -- 7:40am

 

I have a difficult time imagining anyone saying no to $200 million -- or whatever financial commitment NIKE threw at the world’s No. 1 golfer to start using only items with a “swoosh” on them.

Still, Rory McIlroy is playing with fire.

Obviously McIlroy doesn’t need the money. And just as obvious, his old equipment was working fine. You don’t rise to No. 1 in the world with a pair of major championships in your pocket by age 23 playing with junk.

At McIlroy’s level of performance the margin of error is small. No doubt NIKE and McIlroy spent hours finding clubs that felt right and worked well on the driving range. But that’s not the same as actually playing with clubs he knows for sure produce victories and megabucks.

The change is a gamble. It’s about the same as top golfers reworking their swings in search of one more birdie. To the non-golfer this probably sounds ridiculous, but history tells us otherwise. Two examples: An equipment change for money turned Nick Price from a top-5 player into just another PGA Tour player and rising star Camilo Villegas has been heard from since he did a money-grab in 2011 to make a switch.

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The amount of news coverage about the passing of baseball great Stan Musial mirrors the kind of respect he received during his Hall of Fame career. Everyone agrees Musial – known as Stan the Man to his adoring fans in St. Louis and throughout Middle America – was a great player, but few think of his name ahead of those of his peers in the 1940s and ‘50s: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

Nice stories were written and broadcast about Musial, but there were no TV specials and sidebars. That’s a shame because Musial was every bit the player his peers were. He excelled at everything on the baseball diamond and, by all accounts, was an even better person and role model during his 92-plus years on earth.

I vaguely remember Musial. I recall seeing him play in the Saturday Game of the Week on TV. I can still see his face on my baseball cards.

In short, Musial is the most underrated of baseball’s great players. Notice I didn’t say most underrated of the best players. His legacy is shared by a small handful of other great athletes: Billy Casper in golf; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in basketball; and Otto Graham in football come to mind.

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