Sidelines: Whiffle Ball perfect game is best of the best for any non-athlete

The official Whiffle Ball. - Courtesy photo
The official Whiffle Ball.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

What is the greatest athletic achievement in the history?

It’s a debate that’s been around since the beginning of sports, which, in my mind, happens to be Sept. 7, 1979. That’s the date ESPN broadcast its first-ever SportsCenter and transformed the way all sports were viewed around the world.

During ESPN’s 33-year history, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” has broadcast things like cup stacking, Scrabble games, competitive cheerleading, NASCAR, bass fishing, poker tournaments, darts, a classic car auction and the National Spelling Bee, among other things.

And since these things are aired on ESPN, they have to be legitimate sports, right? That’s just common sense.

So, with that in mind, I thought about some of the best athletic achievements in history. But not things like the 56-game hitting streak by Joe Dimaggio, four world records by Jesse Owens in 1935 or Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. They have gotten plenty of notoriety and none of their games were on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN3.

I thought about guys like Takeru Kabayashi, Larry Nixon and my buddy, Marty, and the greatest athletic achievement in history by a “non-athlete.”  That’s just how my mind works.

Everybody remembers Kobayashi for eating hot dog after hot dog. But what people don’t realize is the “Japanese Tsunami” overcame a debilitating jaw injury to down 63 hotdogs in 10 minutes at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest back in 2007.

Just seven days before the July 4 event, Kabayashi announced on his blog that he could only open his jaw “about the width of a fingertip,” far too small to insert a hot dog and bun. Miraculously, after hours and hours of physical therapy on his mandible, he not only won, but set a world record.

Next is Larry Nixon, a professional bass fisherman. While fishing, Nixon tore a tendon in his elbow, which required surgery, then developed carpal tunnel, which resulted in another surgery. His shoulder is now torn up, but he’s resisting surgery. Nixon can no longer “chunk and wind” (a fishing term, I guess), but has still won 14 pro titles and has earned $1.6 million during his career (for fishing?).

Both Kobayashi and Nixon can be very proud of their non-athletic accomplishments. Both have the heart of a champion. But, for my money, Marty’s non-athletic act of valor is stuff dreams are made of. I can’t believe Hollywood hasn’t come calling. You couldn’t script this stuff.

I have been friends with this guy for 25-plus years, so I’m a little biased to what Marty accomplished on a makeshift Whiffle Ball field on a small farm between Auburn and Enumclaw back in 1991. It was nothing short of miraculous.

People always describe the bodies of such athletes as LeBron James or Adrian Peterson as “being chiseled out of stone.” On the other hand, I would describe Marty’s body as “being chiseled out of a Taco Bell chalupa.”

Needless to say, he was/is the definition of a non-athlete. His lack of muscle, or a lack of drinking milk as a youngster, shackled Marty with an amazing six broken legs before he turned 20 years old. He literally stepped in a pothole and his shin popped.

But it was the fifth of those broken limbs that made for the Whiffle Ball miracle of 1991.

Just two weeks after the all-too-familiar cast was sawed off his right leg, Marty took the mound in the championship game in the Auburn High School Summer Whiffle Ball League. You knew he wasn’t 100 percent when you saw him limp to his position on the mound to his personal theme song, “The Power,” by Snap, was blared on the ghetto blaster.

But as soon as he threw his first pitch, you knew you were witnessing something special. Marty’s sidearm, grass-hugging delivery with the Whiffle Ball was literally unhittable that faithful summer day. “The Lawnmower Man,” as he was so aptly nicknamed, won the championship with a perfect game.

People were swinging at pitches that rose from the ground to over their heads. That’s how nasty he was that day.

I recently contacted Marty to ask him about his one-legged perfect game back in 1991 and wondered where the “Lawnmower Man” pitch came from?

“It developed from skipping rocks at the ocean while on vacation with my parents as a young child,” he mused. “Throwing sidearm, almost underhand, like Dan Quisenberry or Kent Tekulve did back in the 1980s. I found that putting the holes (on the Whiffle Ball) facing down and coming in sidearm/underhand, I could move the ball more, with better control.”

Wow, it was like hearing Muhammad Ali talk about how he came up with his “Rope a Dope” that beat George Foreman or the origin of Michael Jordan’s turnaround jumper. Goose-bump material.

The greatest athletic accomplishment by a non-athlete? For me, it’s an easy choice.

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