Boston’s contributions to sports history are hard to ignore. Names like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, David Ortiz, Bobby Orr, Tom Brady and Ted Williams have set records and made contributions to their respective games that will endure forever; in doing so they have made Boston sports fans some of the most loyal in the world.
The superstars of Boston sports have set the bar for other local competitors incredibly high; yet that does not mean they are undeserving of recognition.
A Major Baseball Footnote
Danny Heep’s career was basically average yet he earned one of those places in history that commentators like to use during exceptionally slow games. As the designated hitter for the Mets in the 1986 World Series, he was the first player to ever appear in the series as a designated hitter with the initials “D.H.”
An Iconic Heel and a Twelve-Time World Champion
Calling pro wrestling a “sport” is a bit of a stretch, but calling it “The Blue Collar Cirque du Soleil” is just cumbersome. Boston has been the home of a seemingly disproportionate number of professional wrestlers including one of the biggest heels and a champion face.
Walter “Killer” Kowalski
Although he was born in Ontario, much of Killer Kowalski’s career was spent in Boston. Kowalski was one of the early professional wrestling bad guys, known as “heels.” His image as a ruthless competitor started after he (accidentally) ripped off part of an opponent’s ear, but was solidified in a match in Boston in 1959 when he (again accidentally) kicked boxing great Jack Dempsey in the diaphragm hard enough to require hospitalization. After retiring from the ring, Kowalski opened a training academy in Malden where he trained some of the most popular professional wrestlers including Triple H, Chyna, Eddie Edwards, Kofi Kingston, Damien Sandow, and Fandango.
In the modern era of pro wrestling none have achieved the star power of John Cena who has played the “babyface” role most of his career. Cena entered pro wrestling shortly after graduating from Springfield College, where he was an All-American center on the football team, with a degree in exercise physiology. Cena has held the WWE Championship a dozen times and is one of the highest paid wrestlers in the business.
Other than the superstars of the big four teams, few have achieved the monetary success or helped to inspire others to become professional poker and blackjack players as those from Boston.
Dan Harrington, who won the 1995 World Series of Poker Main event, is one of the first to achieve national fame. The ironically nicknamed “Action Dan” because of his fairly conservative play is one of the few players to make back to back WSOP Main Event final tables. He is also the author of a series of well-respected poker instructional books and is easily spotted at the poker table as he usually wears his trademark green Red Sox hat.
On the other end of the age scale is Daniel Colman a 23 year-old who won over $15 million in the WSOP Big One for One Drop tournament in 2014, the second largest single tournament win ever.
Other Bostonians have had success in the casinos as a hobby. Paul Pierce is an avid player and frequently competes in WSOP event. Ben Affleck is not only a champion poker player but has proven to be a formidable blackjack player as well.
Andy Bloch, while not a Boston native, has two degrees from MIT and a law degree from Harvard. His poker earnings are over $5 million. He was also a member of the famed MIT Blackjack team which consisted of a group of students who applied the math and the knowledge of the game to develop a strategy for beating the house. Bloch says that he has won more than $100,000 in a single night of blackjack. The areas universities are also influential stars of the game. In addition to being the home of the MIT blackjack team, the school has offered credit courses in poker. Harvard professor Charles Nesson is the founder of the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society and includes poker as part of his business curriculum.
Little Guys Also Have a Big Impact
Not all of the Boston superstars are heavyweight athletes. Chris McCarron stands a couple of inches over 5 feet and during his career weighed less than 115 pounds. Before his retirement, McCarron had won an amazing 7,141 races including nine Breeders Cup races. The horses McCarron rode reads like a who’s who of the sport. Just having McCarron in the saddle was frequently reason enough for bettors to wager on his mounts. In his twenty-eight years of racing he had an all-time purse record of $264 million in winnings. McCarron was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Since his retirement, he has severed as a technical advisor on such films as Seabiscuit and started a jockey training academy.