February 26, 2001
3:37 AM   Subscribe

The Don is dead. I'm just in shock. While most Americans probably don't know he is, he can only be described as the greatest living Australian and best cricketer of all time.
posted by jay (22 comments total)
Bradman was a fine man and was of course, with Grace, one of the two greatest cricketers ever, but I don't think the article you cite calls him the "greatest living Australian," which probably wasn't true even when he was alive.

posted by pracowity at 4:16 AM on February 26, 2001

To add perspective, he would be the equivalent of Babe Ruth. May he rest in peace. He had a VERY LONG life.
posted by tamim at 4:38 AM on February 26, 2001

Oh man, that's really sad... I still remember religiously watching Bodyline on Indian T.V. It was the story of Don Bradman and the whole bodyline bowling incident. I always wondered how good would Don be against current bowlers like Srinath.
posted by riffola at 7:46 AM on February 26, 2001

While most Americans probably don't know he is, he can only be described as the greatest living Australian and best cricketer of all time.

Though the second of these is debatable, I would assume the first title of GLA is definitely out the window now.
posted by blastboy at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2001

Though the second of these is debatable...

I guess so. Anything is debatable. But I wouldn't fancy your chances of winning a debate by arguing that he wasn't.

Bradman's average Test score was 99.94 runs. For those who don't know the game, a century (100 runs) is a big deal indeed, and when it happens it's the highlight of a game. And Bradman averaged a century over his test career. The best batsmen today average about half that.

I'm not even much of a cricket fan, but damn, that's impressive.
posted by rory at 1:17 PM on February 26, 2001

"I always wondered how good would Don be against current bowlers like Srinath."

A couple of years ago a Journalist asked The Don, "So, how do you think you'd go against cricketers today?"
The Don replied, "I'd probably average about 50".
"Have cricketers improved that much?"
"Well," said Bradman, "You have to remember I am in my eighties..."
posted by Neale at 1:45 PM on February 26, 2001 [1 favorite]

To add perspective, he would be the equivalent of Babe Ruth.

Except with the ability came class and grace.

As rory says, Bradman's lifetime Test average is about double that of the nearest challenger. He was that good. And on the one hand it's frustrating that his career belongs to the era of Pathe News rather than ball-by-ball satellite coverage; but on the other, it's good that for memories, we rely upon a hearsay that more accurately captures the character of the game.

His death closes a chapter on the world of pre-war cricket, where players had to sail for six weeks to play in an Ashes series, and where every Test mattered.

(I'm really glad, in a way, to have arrived back in the UK today, to catch the obits and the front pages. Otherwise I'd most likely not have found out until it reached MeFi.)
posted by holgate at 2:50 PM on February 26, 2001

That anecdote about Bradman reminds me of what Ty Cobb said in reply to a similar question, except his response was more like "Because I'm eighty fucking years old, you moron." Now that's class.
posted by kindall at 3:44 PM on February 26, 2001

Greatest living Australian? For f*cks's sake. The guy knew how to smack a ball around the MCG, no doubt about that, but so what? He didn't risk his life or liberty for that of others, so he's no hero in my book, and certainly not the 'greatest living Australian' (and who the hell wrote that anyway? How can you be the greatest living Australian after you're f*cking dead?!)

'Don's a hero' they cry - yeah, major sacrifice, touring the world, playing a game you love. It's like Stuart Diver. 'He's a hero!' 'Why?' 'Well, you know, a mountain fell on him, and stuff...'. Or Maj-Gen Peter Cosgrove - AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR! Why? Well, he gave orders in Timor, and stuff. Isn't that his f*cking job?

What is it with Australians and their mindless drive to attach hero status to anybody who's even remotely good at what they do?

posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:08 PM on February 26, 2001

Sir Don was a hero not because of what he did, but because of what he didn't do.

He was humble and self-effacing, even in old age. He shunned the spotlight and hype, repeatedly refusing to cash in on his fame and popularity. He was in love with the same woman for over sixty years and heartbroken when she died.

He made records that will most likely never be broken, and when asked whether he thought he was better than the other players of the day, said, "I don't think I was better than them, no. I just got out less."

Most of all, he was an inspiration to Australians in a time when we had very little to hold on to. The Great Depression, a nation founded only thirty years before, a huge inferiority complex in regard to the Motherland and the rest of the world. Sir Don showed Australians they were capable of mixing it with the best of them and emerging victorious, and that's why he'll always, always be loved.

The cricket fan in me admired his skill, but that's not why I mourn his passing.
posted by Georgina at 4:57 PM on February 26, 2001

What is it with Australians and their mindless drive to attach hero status to anybody who's even remotely good at what they do?

Completely disagree: if anything, Australia has taken the British "tall poppy syndrome" and refined it to an artform. Not that I'm complaining about that: it suggests the right attitude towards insidious hero-worship.
posted by holgate at 6:14 PM on February 26, 2001

To paraphrase, then: "Mother Theresa, greatest recently-deceased humanitarian? For f*cks's sake. The woman knew how to hand around the poppadums, no doubt about that, but so what? She didn't risk her life or liberty for that of others, so she's no hero in my book, and certainly not the 'greatest humanitarian'"


I see your point, obiwanwasabi, but you seem to be suggesting that Bradman was 'just' a regular ol' sportsman. He clearly wasn't 'just' that - like any athlete in any field who reaches the lofty heights of being the very best in their game, he was something more than just that. That he reached those heights during the Depression was, as others have pointed out, an enormous boost to the national psyche.

You seem to object to the idea that athletes can be heroes per se - which is fair enough if your definition is limited to people who perform heroic acts, but 'hero' has taken on a looser meaning in today's world. We have musical heroes, acting heroes, writing heroes, by which we simply mean 'people who inspire us by their extraordinary achievements in their field of endeavour'.

Every kid has heroes, and Bradman was hero to a generation of Australian kids. Just because he wasn't to our generation but to our parents' or even grandparents' generation doesn't mean we should blow raspberries at him (and by implication them).

Having said that, I'd agree that calling him the 'greatest living (-until-two-days-ago) Australian' is hyperbole now, but for a few years back in his prime it wouldn't have been. After all, his closest rival for the title at the time was a kiwi. :)
posted by rory at 7:29 PM on February 26, 2001

Bradman was not only the best cricketer there has ever lived. There's good reason to believe that he was freakishly good: he was probably the best exponent of any sport to have graced the pages of history, according to some interesting statistical research.

If you buy the statistical analysis you get comparisons like these: if Bradman had produced an equivalent performance in tennis he would have won 15 to 20 grand slam tournaments -- well ahead Pete Sampras' record of 13; in golf he would have won over 25 major tournaments, more than the 20 won by Nicklaus; in basketball, averaged 43 points per game compared with Jordan's 32.2; and in soccer, scored a goal every time he took the field compared with Pele's 0.84 goals per game.

That's reason enough to think that he was an utterly amazing performer. When you understand that it was combined with humility, charm and good grace, you can see why he is held in high regard.

posted by grestall at 8:40 PM on February 26, 2001

To paraphrase, then: "Mother Theresa, greatest recently-deceased humanitarian?

No comparison. Mother Theresa sacrificed everything she had for the greater good of others. Don Bradman sacrificed six week spells on cruise liners to England, where he pranced about the countryside marvelling about what a wonderful place England was, and wasn't England just great, and didn't England have the prettiest countryside in the world, why yes, I will have another martini, thanks, and oh that Jardine's a rotter, wot, and if I had a spare six months tomorrow, why, I'd jet off to England.

For someone who 'shunned the spotlight', he did an awful lot of frigging about in front of cameras, a lot of bat waving to stadium crowds, and a lot of interviews. He didn't do this to attract followers to a cause that would better his fellow man.

I can see why he's held in high regard. Yes, he was an amazing sportsman. Yes, he loved his wife (so do I). But hero? No - he sacrificed nothing, and gained everything. Greatest Australian? Why? Because he inspired the Shange Warnes and John Howards of the world?

I think the simplest measure of a hero or national icon is this - how much worse off would we be if he had never been? Bugger all. How much would our national identity have suffered? None.

Say the same for the poor bastards at Gallipoli or Kokoda or France and see if you get the same answer. Raising sports heroes who are just doing what comes naturally to the level of these great men and women who gave their lives performing extraordinary feats under extraordinary circumstances belittles us all. If Don's a hero and the greatest Australian ever, what were these people? We'll have to come up with a new word - 'hero' has been wasted one too many times.

posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:52 PM on February 26, 2001

I'm with obiwanwasabi: Bradman, like Grace and Ruth and Gretzky and so on, was a great fish in a very small pond.

I'm a tiny bit of a hockey fan and I admire 'The Great Gretzky' as a great hockey player and nice guy and so on. But that's hockey, which, like cricket, is a small and inessential part of life, a game often played on a small (frozen) pond. Unless Gretzky spends the rest of his life truly devoted to reducing suffering or doing something comparable (if there is such a thing), Gretzky would not be great in the way a great humanitarian is great.

posted by pracowity at 1:18 AM on February 27, 2001

I think you underestimate the effect Sir Don had on the forming of our national psyche (see my post above), but I can understand your assertion that he is not a hero.

What makes a hero, in your mind? You make mention the soldiers of Gallipoli and Kokoda and France, but say Peter Cosgrove was just doing his job. I can't quite see the difference, myself, unless you figure peace-keeping is somehow less noble than war.

In general:
I'd love to hear suggestions as to who people consider to be Australian heros. I'll start with Fred Hollows and Lowitja O'Donoghue and let others take it from there.
posted by Georgina at 3:15 AM on February 27, 2001

Without Don Bradman, cricket would not have been the same. That man has inspired many many batsmen, sure these guys would've found someone else to idolise, but it wouldn't be the same.

He may not be the Greatest Australian Hero, but he sure was a legend, and above all he is one of the best if not the best cricketer ever.

A totally unrelated side note: The Aussie GP is this weekend, and I think Deep Purple is performing on "Hey Hey It's Saturday!"
posted by riffola at 8:43 AM on February 27, 2001

Peter Cosgrove was a paid public servant. His sacrifice was minimal; the danger to him non-existent. Like a certain Lt. Col. from 3RAR, he spent a goodly portion of his time dining on lobster fetched by locals. Having said that, Cosgrove has never called himself a hero, and was quick to point out that his AotY award should have gone to the guys and girls on the ground in Timor, not him. I heartily agree.

The lads and ladies who volunteered for service is the two world wars sacrificed everything. They didn't have to - nobody made them go. They had jobs, homes and families. Some never came home for years; a lot never came home at all. They put their lives on the line for the greater good - that's a hero.

Fred Hollows? Stomping about steaming jungles and barren deserts, living in conditions no better than those he served, forsaking a cushy private practice, inspiring others to help their fellow man through his sacrifice and work; a lasting humanitarian legacy through the Fred Hollows Foundation. None of that comes naturally, like, say, hitting a six :). Hero.

Lowitja O'Donoghue? Public servant and politician. Join DAA at 33 - not a remarkable achievement for an indigenous person, senior public servant 8 years later - not a remarkable promotion path. Everything to gain, nothing to lose. Still a politician. In the public light only because she's the 'default choice' for indigenous representation on various committees, and for playing remarkably stupid games with semantics. Not a hero.

Looking for indigenous heroes? Forget your career politicians. How about Pemulwuy? Koiki Mabo? Yagan?

I'd suggest that 'statue in the park' type heroes are few and far between in Australia - not surprising for such a young (well, post invasion, anyway) country. Our heroes - people who made great sacrifices for their country or their fellow man - probably ran the local fish and chip shop, or were school teachers, or panel beaters. When their work was done, they were dead, or they simply went back to doing what they did before - no monuments, no accolades, maybe a couple of medals to keep in your undies drawer and pass down to the grandkids to be trotted out on Anzac Day.

We're uncomfortable talking about sacrifice - it was nothing, now piss off, I've got chips to make. Perhaps that's why we seek to cut down tall poppies - so many before have done so much more than you, so why are you big-noting yourself? Maybe that's why our heroes are sports stars - no sacrifice, nobody got hurt (Bodyline aside :>), nobody's uncomfortable talking about it, everybody's a winner.

posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:30 PM on February 27, 2001

obiwanwasabi, I was going to ask what your definition of 'hero' was, but you've just supplied it: 'heroes - people who made great sacrifices for their country or their fellow man'. Leaving aside my earlier broader definition, which you don't seem to accept (but I'd still say is part of the word's and concept's popular usage today, and we'd better learn to deal with it), it's worth pondering the sacrifices that go with fame.

Bradman gave his life to cricket and in a sense to the public, because of the enormous public attention his cricketing skill brought him. Whether he sought that attention or not, whether he enjoyed playing the game or not, that level of fame was a double-edged sword: it brought a real cost to his privacy and his life. Could he have lived a 'normal' life as a fish and chip shop owner or panel-beater after that? Could he what. He could no more have done so than Prince William can chop a lump of wood in Chile without the world watching him. Having to do an interview in your late 80s with Ray Martin: now that's sacrifice.

Okay, so not a great sacrifice. But does great sacrifice necessarily a hero make? No. General Custer made a great sacrifice (of his life), but he's not my hero. He's a hero to some, I suppose; which only shows that heroism is relative.

This ties in a little with the Vietnam exhibition at the new Museum of Melbourne, which brought home how reviled the vets were on their return to Australia. They had sacrificed themselves as much as any WW2 veteran, but they weren't considered heroes by most Australians in the 1970s because public opinion about the worth of their cause had changed. (We're a bit more even-handed about it today.)

So I don't mind that half of Australia is calling Bradman a hero, even though he's not my personal hero. They think of him that way, particularly those who grew up under his spell.

A last point: why should it matter whether or not someone enjoys doing whatever it is that makes them a hero? I'm sure saving someone from drowning would bring an enormous sense of satisfaction. Similarly, for every WW2 veteran who hated being a soldier there's probably one who loved it, and both camps would have produced their share of heroes.

That said, you've made some good points in those later posts. I just thought you made them a little bluntly - asterisks notwithstanding - which is why I made the Mother Theresa comment. (Which, of course, I don't believe myself for an instant.)
posted by rory at 3:55 PM on February 27, 2001

'Blunt' would be an accurate description :). Forgive me - writing govt policy all day requires me to delicately sidestep sensitive issues, use the third person to avoid placing blame etc. When I get online, I like to get to the point. :)

Back to the Don - 'enormous cost to his personal privacy?'. Come on. The Don never attended a do he didn't want to (as evidenced by his sending his son to give a statement when he decided he wanted to avoid the public eye). He ran a normal business, with normal customers, and turned a normal profit, with which he supported his normal family in their normal home. No screaming hordes, no paparazzi, no crashes in London tunnels, no tabloid scandals (unlike certain other cricketers :>).

I don't deny that a hero might derive satisfaction for their actions. But they certainly don't enjoy the actions themselves, which are often life-threatening. 'Ah - haven't had a dip in a raging torrent weighed down by a man near death since I were a lad! Refreshing!' 'But it's MY turn to charge that machine-gun covered cliff face!' They choose to weigh another's good against their own with enormous risks. The Don never, ever did that. He never bettered his fellow man (I don't think cricket coaching rates with giving somebody their sight back) - and if you call giving inspiration or getting people stirred up emotionally 'heroic', Pauline Hanson is the new Greatest Australian Hero :)

I've got no problem with some old digger wiping a tear from his eye and mumbling 'Aye, the Don were my hero when I were a nipper'. That's spur of the moment stuff, and we all know what he means. But when the media, having ample time to consider their words, start spewing out guff like 'Greatest Australian Ever' and 'Greatest Australian Hero', trying to link the force of their headline sentiment to sales (would you buy a paper that proclaimed 'Old Guy Who Could Fairly Smack a Ball Around Seventy Years Ago Dies'?) it turns my stomach. Let's keep it all in perspective, folks.

Aussie icon? Sure. Legend? Most certainly. Hero? Nope.

Incidentally, my Indian mate says he hates Mother Theresa - by alleiviating the suffering of the poorest castes, she prevented them from earning a better life next incarnation :)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:58 PM on February 27, 2001

'enormous cost to his personal privacy?'. Come on

Ah, but that's not what I said: I said that the 'enormous public attention' paid to Bradman brought a 'real cost to his privacy'. The enormous attention is obvious (prominent TV coverage into his 80s and 90s, for crying out loud), and it's a little disingenuous to imply that there was hardly any cost to his privacy. Sure, he controlled his exposure to the public eye (quite adeptly), but he was no more 'normal' just because his neighbours treated him with respect than Paul McCartney in his Scottish village.

if you call giving inspiration or getting people stirred up emotionally 'heroic'

I don't. I said that people these days apply the word 'hero' more widely than to those who perform 'heroic' acts. I'd say that the meaning of the noun 'hero' has changed and is changing at a different pace to the adjective 'heroic'. 'Ferris Beuller, you're my hero', 'Did you ever know that you're my hero, you are the wind beneath my wings', and all that.

Yes, the media abuse the term. But nobody here called Bradman a hero until after you used the word!

Forgive me - writing govt policy all day requires me to delicately sidestep sensitive issues, use the third person to avoid placing blame etc. When I get online, I like to get to the point. :)

Now that's entirely understandable. :)
posted by rory at 9:51 PM on February 27, 2001

Fred Hollows did some excellent work. Worked tirelessly to improve the lot of people who had no one else to help them. Unfortunately he also said some incredibly provocative and hurtful things. "Quarantine" Aids sufferers from the rest of society? Not a humane idea.

Donald Bradman. Grumpy, disliked Catholics and let that dislike influence his choice of team-mates. Was an excellent cricketer. Didn’t get too caught up in the ego trip that affects so many sportspeople.

Stuart Diver? Went through a hell that few of us can imagine, got thrown into a media maelstrom, somehow got on with his life without blowing his brains out.

All people, who through circumstance or chance or a bit of both became famous. Heros? Heros belong in comic books.
posted by lucien at 1:45 AM on February 28, 2001

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