You Gotta Want The Ball

Have you seen the 1996 golf movie Tin Cup, starring Kevin Costner? In one scene Costner’s character (Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy) says to his caddy (hilariously played by Cheech Marin), “When a defining moment comes along you define the moment… or the moment defines you”. 

I’ve been a professional (and college) sports fan since my dad, Chubby, took me to my first Cincinnati Reds game. Sports have played a significant role in my life, both as a player (in high school) and a fan, so this week I thought it would be fun to highlight my choices for the five most defining moments in American sports history. Enjoy!

Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” (1932)

In the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees, Babe Ruth pointed to the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field before hitting a home run to that exact spot. This moment has become legendary, symbolizing Ruth’s confidence and prowess. It’s no wonder it has been called the signature event of baseball’s “golden age”. (Side note: The golden age of baseball, sometimes referred to as the golden era, began in 1920 and ended in 1951, when the first baseball game was broadcast in color.) Babe Ruth’s “called shot” made a lasting impression on American sports culture. My favorite example is from the 1989 baseball movie Major League in which character Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) called his shot against the Yankees.

Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics (1936)

Jesse Owens was the African American athlete who achieved international fame at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by winning four gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4×100 meter relay. More importantly, his victories were a direct affront to Hitler’s propaganda of racial superiority. Despite the hostile environment and immense pressure, Owens was remarkable, breaking or tying nine Olympic records and setting three world records. His four gold medals were not only proof of his extraordinary athletic talent, but also became a powerful symbol of resistance against racial discrimination and oppression.

Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier (1947)

On April 15th, 1947, Jackie Robinson made history by becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era, breaking the sport’s longstanding color barrier. Playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson faced intense racial hostility from fans, opponents, and even some teammates. He demonstrated immense courage, knowing that his debut was a monumental step forward, symbolizing the beginning of the end of segregation in professional sports. His impact extended well beyond baseball, inspiring future generations of African American athletes and contributing to the broader Civil Rights Movement. Throughout his ten-year career, Robinson won numerous awards, including Rookie of the Year and National League MVP, and led the Dodgers to six pennants and one World Series title.

The Miracle on Ice (1980)

In one of the greatest upsets in sports history, the underdog U.S. men’s hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union during the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. On February 22nd, 1980, a team of young American amateurs and college players defeated the Soviet squad 4-3 in a rough, intense, emotion-filled game. The Soviet hockey team had been considered so superior that they were invincible (obviously not), but the game symbolized more than just an athletic achievement…it was a powerful morale booster during the Cold War era. The U.S. team’s victory became a symbol of hope and national pride, showcasing the power of determination and teamwork. When renowned American sportscaster Al Michaels exclaimed, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”, it famously encapsulated the emotional intensity of this defining moment.

Tiger Woods’ First Masters Win (1997)

Tiger Woods’ first Masters win in 1997 was a defining moment in golf history. At just 21 years old, Woods became the youngest player to win the prestigious tournament and did so in a record-breaking fashion. His final score of 18-under-par 270 set a new Masters record, and his 12-stroke margin of victory remains the largest in the tournament’s history. This triumph was significant not only for its sheer dominance but also for breaking the racial barrier in a sport historically dominated by white players. Woods’ victory also brought a new level of attention to golf, inspiring a younger and more diverse generation of players and fans. His remarkable skill, focus, and charisma made him an instant global icon. Woods’ 1997 Masters win marked the beginning of a legendary career, solidifying his status as one of the greatest golfers of all time.


Those five defining moments in sports were monumental, but there have been many others. The first one I remember is growing up in Cincinnati watching the Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman, Brooks Robinson, take the 1970 World Series away from my beloved Reds. He made plays in the field you wouldn’t have thought possible. I still recall sitting with my parents on the third baseline awestruck (and disappointed for the Reds) by Robinson’s miraculous plays. That series was a defining moment in Robinson’s career and in the Big Red Machine’s legacy. 

We all have defining moments in our lives. We also have the opportunity to make moments defining, or not. Perhaps the best perspective I’ve heard on defining moments is from my wife, Teresa. She received a basketball scholarship to college and has often told me that when games were tight and the end was near, she wanted the ball. To me, that says it all. If you want defining moments in your life, you gotta want the ball.