Crucial innovations in the history of sports

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

With Daisuke Matsuzaka set to debut in Major League Baseball, rumours run rampant concerning the gyroball, Matsuzaka’s fabled signature pitch which would mark the first new pitch in over 30 years. Here are some of the top innovations in sports history:

The split-finger fastball
While recovering from arm surgery in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system, Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter was spotted favouring his elbow by pitching instructor Fred Martin. Martin reportedly taught Sutter to split his index and middle fingers widely around the ball to reduce stress on the arm, maintaining the same arm speed of a regular fastball but decreasing the ball speed and causing a dropping flight toward the tail end of the pitch. In 1976, Sutter popularized the pitch in the big leagues.

The gyroball
If it actually exists, Matsuzaka’s gyroball " baseball’s “Loch Ness Monster” " will mark the first new pitch since Sutter’s splitter. Characterized by a bullet-line spin, the axis of which points directly towards the plate, the pitch is thrown like a fastball and takes a sharp, sweeping turn. Then again, some believe the gyroball, if it even exists, is nothing more than a glorified slider.

The Fosbury Flop
Dick Fosbury provided perhaps the century’s most drastic sporting technique change at the 1968 Summer Olympics when he approached the high jump from a wide angle, propelling himself backwards over the bar rather than hurdling or diving head-first, as was common at the time.

By transferring his weight one part at a time rather than all at once, Fosbury could better utilize the energy from his jump " in fact, at no point in a high jumper’s motion does their centre of mass clear the bar. Fosbury’s gold at the Olympics all but abolished other techniques.

The slap shot
While it’s doubtful he actually invented it, Montreal Canadiens winger Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion is largely credited with popularizing the slap shot in NHL hockey. Geoffrion’s nickname was a homage to the shot from Montreal sportswriter Charlie Boire in the late 1940s.

After being booed at the Forum for passing Maurice Richard in scoring, Geoffrion was once quoted as saying “I couldn’t deliberately not score; that isn’t the point of hockey, Montreal.” That’s a good thing for Boom Boom considering the rate he scored with that slap shot.

Curved hockey sticks
Most people have experienced the frustration of attempting a decent shot with a goalie stick, so we can imagine what a pain in the ass it was trying to shoot with a straight blade as a skater. Thank Stan Mikita, who " legend has it " put his stick over a flame one day while he was screwing around in the locker room. He couldn’t miss the top shelf once he took it to the ice, and teammate Bobby Hull quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

The slam dunk
While it’s tough to say exactly where the dunk originated, it came into full force in the 1960s with the entry of big men like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain onto the hard court. It was banned in the NCAA from 1967-1976, and it was during that period that Julius Erving and company really developed the modern dunk in the American Basketball Association. We’ll let you decide if it caught on.

The butterfly goalie style
While Glenn Hall is supposedly one of the first to drop to his knees on every shot he faced between the pipes, legendary netminder Patrick Roy is best known for popularizing it in North America, thanks to fabled Quebec goalie coach Francois Allaire. Then again, it would have been unreasonable to expect goalies in prior years to put their faces in front of the puck 30 times a night without a mask.

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