2010 Year in Review: Sports

Manute Bol Born into a family of Sudanese cattle farmers, Manute Bol didn't start playing basketball until he was 16. A U.S. college coach spotted him convinced him to come to America, and the rest is history. At 7-feet-7-inches, Bol became the tallest man to ever play in the NBA, and attendance soared when he played on the road. He endeared himself to fans (whom he called his "friends") and was often juxtaposed in posters next to fellow Washington Bullet Muggsy Bogues, the NBA's shortest player at 5-foot-3. More than a curiosity, during his 10-year career Bol was one of the best shot blockers in the league and even developed into a decent 3-point shooter. He remains the only player in the NBA to have more blocked shots than points scored. "I had a good time with the American people," Bol told Sports Illustrated after retiring from basketball. "I hope they remember me as a good guy who played hard. I wasn't Michael Jordan, but I was somebody called Manute Bol." Bol died June 19, 2010.

Dorothy Kamenshek (AP Photo)A pioneer of women's sports, Cincinnati native Dorothy "Dottie" Kamensheck played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for the Rockford Peaches. The left-hander played first base and was a 7-time All-Star during her 10-year career. In 1946 she was the league's top batter with an average of .316, and would be the top batter again in 1947 with a .306 average. She was recruited by a men's baseball team in Florida, but turned down the offer as she felt it was a publicity stunt. Kamenshek retired from the game in 1952 because of back problems. She was the inspiration for the Dottie Hinson character played by Geena Davis in the movie A League of Their Own. Kamenshek died May 17, 2010.
 

Don Meredith (AP Photo)Don Meredith played quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1968, leading them to three division titles and two championship games (both lost to the Green Bay Packers – including the legendary 'Ice Bowl' of 1967). He threw for nearly 17,199 yards and scored 111 touchdowns before abruptly retiring in 1969. Soon thereafter, he entered the broadcast booth, joining Keith Jackson (and later Frank Gifford) and the inimitable Howard Cosell for "Monday Night Football." Acting as a comic foil for the sometimes overly serious Cosell, his homespun humor, charm and ability to liven up dull games by singing renditions of the Willie Nelson song "Turn Out the Lights, the Party is Over" made him an audience favorite. Meredith died Dec. 5, 2010, at 72.
 

Merlin Olsen (AP Photo)Defensive tackle Merlin Olsen was an All-American at Utah State and was the Los Angeles Rams first-round draft pick in 1962, becoming one of the famed "Fearsome Foursome" defense that would set an NFL record for fewest yards allowed. Olsen’s career with the Rams spanned 15 years, during which he was named to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls, a record that still stands. He also remains the Rams all-time leading tackler, taking down opponents 915 times during his time on the gridiron. Named to both the college and pro football halls of fame, after retiring from the game in 1976, Olsen went on to enjoy a lengthy second career as a color commentator on NBC and as an actor, where he was best known for his roles in Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy. Olsen died Mar. 11, 2010. He was 69.

Ron Santo (AP Photo)Power hitting Cubs legend Ron Santo was a 9-time all-star during his 15 years with everybody's favorite loveable losers. Santo made his debut in 1960, and one year later set a Cubs record with 41 double plays at third base. From 1962 to 68, he led the league in assists. He also led the league in walks four times, in on-base percentage twice, and in triples once. After being sidelined for nearly two weeks in 1966 after an errant pitch hit him in the head, he also became the first major leaguer to wear a batting helmet with protective ear flaps. Late in his career, after declining a trade to the California Angels, he was dealt to the White Sox. After retiring at 34, he enjoyed a second career as a broadcaster for WGN radio. Dubbed "the biggest Cubs fan of all time" his very partisan commentary endeared him to fellow Cubs followers, as did his perennial failure to get inducted to the Hall of Fame (many in baseball consider him the best player never to be inducted). A longtime diabetes sufferer, Santo also helped raise awareness of the condition. He died Dec. 3, 2010, from complications related to diabetes and bladder cancer. He was 70.

George Steinbrenner (AP Photo) George Steinbrenner - Here are two facts almost everybody knows about longtime New York Yankees owner Steinbrenner, so let's dispense with them right away – 1) he was famously parodied as George Costanza's boss in Seinfeld and 2) he hired and fired manager Billy Martin five times. But there are a few interesting facts about this son of a shipping magnate who built the Yankees into a billion dollar sports franchise (the third most valuable in the world) en route to winning seven World Series titles that you might not know. In no particular order… Steinbrenner was an assistant football coach at both Northwestern and Purdue universities in the 1950s. Before becoming involved with the Yankees, he owned basketball's Cleveland Pipers (and hired the first black professional basketball coach in the U.S.) until the ABL went belly up in 1963. Steinbrenner also invested in a few Broadway productions, most of which flopped. He moved to buy the Yankees only after his attempt to purchase the Cleveland Indians the previous year failed. He paid roughly $10 million dollars for the Yankees, and would see his investment pay off one hundred fold. At the time he assumed ownership, he promised to take a "hands-off" approach to running the team. In 1974 Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to conspiring to give President Richard Nixon illegal campaign contributions, but was later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. Only three Yankees employees worked for the organization for the entirety of Steinbrenner's 37-year tenure. Oh yes, and Billy Martin wasn't one of them. Steinbrenner died July 13, 2010, of a heart attack.

John Wooden (Wikimedia Commons)John Wooden won an unprecedented 10 NCAA Championships during his 12-year tenure at UCLA, including seven in a row from 1967 through 1973. The first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, 'The Wizard of Westwood' was named in 2009 "The Best Coach of All-Time" by The Sporting News and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. Wooden's interests ranged beyond the hardwood though, and he became just as revered for his philosophical outlook and inspirational words of wisdom as he ever was for bringing championships to Los Angeles. He won games by winning hearts and minds, was less interested in complicated defensive schemes than shaping young men's lives. As one former player put it, "he might have been more like a Methodist minister than a basketball coach." Wooden died June 4, 2010.

Other notable sports figures who died in 2010:

Sparky Anderson – MLB Hall of Fame manager for the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers

Enzo Bearzot – Coach of the 1982 World Cup winning Italian national team

Erica Blasberg – LPGA golfer and star at the University of Arizona

Pat Burns – Former police officer turned NHL Stanley Cup winning hockey coach

Fran Crippen – Medal winning open water swimmer

Don Coryell – Former head coach of the San Diego Chargers credited with modernizing the passing game

Quintin Dailey – Former All-American who played 10 years in the NBA

Willie Davis – Outfielder whose career spanned 18 years

Bob Feller – MLB Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians

Laurent Fignon – Two-time Tour De France champion

Clint Hartung – MLB pitcher nicknamed “the Hondo Hurricane” was on third base when Bobby Thomson hit his famous homerun

Ernie Harwell – Longtime broadcaster with the Detroit Tigers

Ralph Houk – Manager who led the New York Yankees to two World Series titles in the 1960s

Jim Hunter – Longtime influential NASCAR executive

Ken Iman – NFL lineman who played 15 seasons, first with the Green Bay Packers and then the LA Rams before becoming a coach and executive

Andy Irons – Three-time world championship surfer

Moss Keane – Irish rugby legend

Nodar Kumaritashvili – Olympic luger who died in a training run at the start of the Vancouver Games

Marion Ladewig – Dominated women's bowling for nearly two decades

Jose Lima – Veteran pitcher who spent 13 years in the major leagues

Maurice Lucas – Power forward who played 12 years in NBA and helped Portland Trailblazers to their 1977 title

Danny McDevitt – MLB pitcher who as a rookie left his mark on baseball history by pitching the last game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field

Gil McDougald – All-star infielder who helped the New York Yankees win five World Series championships

Keli McGregor – Colorado Rockies president

Kenny McKinley – Denver Broncos wide receiver

Dave Niehaus – Broadcaster who covered the Seattle Mariners for three decades

Raymond Parks – Owner of NASCAR's first championship winning car

Sylvia Pressler – Judge whose 1973 ruling opened Little League baseball to girls

Bob Probert – Hockey enforcer with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks

Robin Roberts – Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher and part of famed 'Whiz Kids'

Juan Antonio Samaranch – President of the International Olympic Committee for 21 years

Wes Santee – Track star at one point had three of the four fastest mile times in history

Bob Sheppard – Voice of the New York Yankees for more than half a century

Jack Tatum – All-Pro safety for the Oakland Raiders

Mosi Tatupu – Fan favorite running back with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams

Bobby Thomson – All-star New York Giant who hit famous "shot heard around the world" home run in 1951

Lorenzen Wright – Played 13 years in the NBA