Seven is the most magical (sometimes lucky) number in sports

Thursday October 24th, 2013

The Cardinals' Matt Holiday hopes seven is a lucky number for St. Louis in the World Series.
Scot Kane /Icon SMI

Seven days of creation gave us seven continents, Seven Seas, Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and seven deadly sins -- seven being the world's luckiest number and (if you break a mirror) its unluckiest. Snow White had a mirror, but got seven dwarfs instead of seven years' misfortune. It's something to remember during the World Series: Seven is seldom predictable.

On Wednesday, the Fall Classic opened in Boston and the NBA Board of Governors met in New York. The Cardinals and Red Sox may yet go the full seven games, while the basketball owners changed the NBA Finals format from its current 2-3-2 back to its previous 2-2-1-1-1, though either way -- no matter how you slice it -- it comes up seven, the most elemental number in sports.

Seven was, for decades, the most Olympian feat in athletic competition: Mark Spitz won seven gold medals (and seven world records) in seven events in the '72 Summer Olympics. Three summers later, at Wrigley Field, Rennie Stennett of the Pirates went 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game. (It happened once before, in 1892, and never since.)

Seven is at the very limit of human achievement. Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs scored 7 goals in a game against Toronto in 1920, still the NHL record. Ted Drake scored 7 for Arsenal against Aston Villa in 1935, still tied for the record for the top European domestic leagues.

Seven is Mickey Mantle and David Beckham, a touchdown and an extra point, Seven was -- for purposes of this joke -- the number of fingers missing from Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown. (In truth, the Hall of Fame pitcher had more than 80 percent of his digits.) Without seven, there's no 7-10 split, no Seven Blocks of Granite, no 7-0 skunk in ping-pong. Nobody would love the sixth-inning stretch.

Seven is the number of Tour de France titles that Lance Armstrong won and -- consequently -- the number of Tour de France titles that Lance Armstrong lost. Seven giveth, and seven taketh away.

If this World Series goes seven games for the 37th time in history, Game 7 will be at Fenway Park, thanks to the 2002 All-Star Game that ended in a 7-7 tie. Ever since, home-field advantage in the Fall Classic has gone to the All-Star Game winner, meaning Matt Holliday of the Cardinals -- who wears 7 and plays the 7 position -- will have to win Game 7 on the road.

Reggie Smith wore 7 for both the Red Sox and Cardinals, including in the 1967 World Series, which his Boston team lost in seven oh-so-close games. In baseball, seven is often the number of near-legend. Vince and Dom DiMaggio both wore it at various times, as did Jeremy Giambi. If your brother was great you wore 7.

Baseball's best 7 by far was Johnny Neves, of the independent league Fargo-Moorhead Twins. He wore 7 on his back in the 1951 season, "seven" being "Neves" spelled backwards.

Randy Ready played 777 games in the big leagues, but Mantle remains baseball's best-known wearer of 7, inspiring George Costanza to announce on Seinfeld that he'd name his unborn son "Seven." Other stars wore 7 early (Barry Bonds on his way in) or late (Bucky Dent on his way out). David Beckham, who wore 7 for Manchester United and England, pulled a Costanza in 2011, naming his daughter Harper Seven. Did he know that Brian Harper appeared in one game for the California Angels in 1979 and wore that name -- Harper 7 -- on the back of his jersey?

Soccer -- from George Best to Cristiano Ronaldo, by way of Eric Cantona, Beckham, Luis Figo and Franck Ribery -- has had the most Magnificent Sevens. And yet we're reminded -- with the NFL's Week 7 just completed -- that seven remains the basic monetary unit of American football, the building block of a zillion Super Bowl squares pools. Picture Elway (and Theismann and Esiason and Roethlisberger) wearing 7 while hanging 7s on the board. (Or at least sixes. They're turned into sevens by guys like Morten Andersen, who wore 7 for most of his endless career.)

As a quarterback with the Ravens, Chris Redman had double the reason to wear number 7: He was born on 7/7/77. That summer day 36 years ago -- the most auspicious date of the 20th century -- the seventh horse in the seventh race at Monticello Raceway in New York won a lot of money for a lot of superstitious bettors. (The horse, Dash O'Brien, paid $3.80.)

That same day -- 7/7/77 -- Andy Green was born in Lexington, Ky. In his three partial seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Green never wore number 7. Given a second chance with the Mets, he again failed to wear 7, even though his middle name is Mulligan.

As Ray Bourque and Neal Broten and Rod Gilbert and Phil Esposito and Paul Coffey (with the Oilers) can attest, 7 resembles a hockey stick inverted. Turn it sideways and it's a Pistol (think of Pete Maravich with the Jazz).

Seven can be joyous (Robert Horry's seven NBA title rings are one more than Michael Jordan's) and seven can be terrifying (six was afraid of seven, because seven eight nine.)

What isn't seven? Shakespeare wrote, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."

Aristotle wrote: "All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire."

So if man lives for seven ages and his every act stems from seven possible causes -- per Shakespeare and Aristotle, no less -- we would do well to yield to the seductions of seven.

Seven is tall (Manute Bol was 7-foot-7) and seven is Tiny (Nate Archibal wore it). Seven is everything. The World Series may not go seven games. But if it wants to be perfect it will.

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