“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss.”
--from the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling
When the Baltimore Orioles faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1966 World Series, the Dodgers boasted a formidable pitching rotation that included Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Coming into the playoffs, Koufax was 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA.
The Dodgers were heavy favorites to trounce the Orioles. Prior to the series opener, at least one newspaper reporter or broadcaster publicly predicted the Orioles to sweep the Dodgers.
The Orioles swept the Dodgers. And while I can't remember his name, the guy who made that correct prediction rode the crest of that wave for quite some time, perhaps the rest of his life. (A footnote: Koufax—in his prime but with a chronic sore elbow—retired following that World Series, a sad day for baseball.)
I thought long and hard about that pundit’s correct prediction prior to my predicting in print that Michael Spinks would steal Mike Tyson’s undisputed world heavyweight title from him in a June 27, 1988 bout in Atlantic City. At the time, Tyson was in his prime and a beast in the ring.
Follow me down bad memory lane as I recount the details. I was in my first job as a sports reporter, working for a small daily newspaper. I had my own column that I had named Bleacher Seat. Our newspaper came out in the afternoon, with no Sunday edition.
I handled layout of the sports pages on Saturday mornings, which is when I filed my fateful prediction column that Spinks…would…beat…Tyson.
My reasoning went like this: If I was correct and Spinks won, I’d have bragging rights and I’d have that column in my portfolio forever. I would be a soothsayer, a prophet, making the bold prediction in print that perhaps no one else was willing to make.
If my prediction was wrong, I’d get teased for a stretch but that would die down and be forgotten over time by the small segment of the population who would even read the column, anyway.
After filing that column on Saturday morning, I had the rest of the weekend to decide if I really wanted the column to run in Monday afternoon’s paper, with the fight set for that night. I wrestled with my decision much of the weekend.
That Monday morning when I arrived at work, I was filled with trepidation and strongly considered killing the column. But I let the column run.
That night I anxiously tuned in to the pay-per-view bouts. My wife and I watched the under card with no problem. But when the main event came on, our television’s picture was scrambled but the audio was intact.
The blurred, wavy lines on our television screen acted as my own hands quasi-covering my eyes with my fingers spread wide, as though I was secretly watching something I wasn't supposed to see. What I was peeking at was my own sports writing career undressing before my eyes.
We had paid for the full boxing show and our television picture should not have been scrambled. I was caught between outrage and relief that lasted 91 seconds. That's how long it took Tyson to demolish Spinks, leaving his distorted (to my view) body flat on the canvas and slipping into darkness.
Postscript: I got teased about that wrong prediction and it was more embarrassing than I had imagined it would be. When James “Buster” Douglas knocked out Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990 in Tokyo to claim the heavyweight title, I was still at the same newspaper. In my column, I created the word “tysoned,” verb transitive, with the following definition: to be upset in a major sporting event when you’re the overwhelming favorite.
In usage, it would go something like this: “The New England Patriots were tysoned by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.”
My attempt to coin the word failed and it never became part of the lexicon.