May is the underrated month in sport. Everybody is involved, though in a more orderly way than almost any other time of year. Other months offer higher highs and lower lows; all the emotions are on display in May.
Batting second behind the more glamorous April, May pokes baseball ahead better than we often notice. Pro basketball essentially begins in May. Pro hockey ends in May.
Pro football starts its long-awaited war of words in a few days: the USFL's lawsuit against the NFL. Out of court, NFL teams set themselves up during minicamp for the six-month grind that opens in July.
NFL teams rarely change their composition significantly after May. If the standings are not finally settled until January, players pretty much know where they stand in May.
Sam Snead shot 59 on May 16, 1959, in the Greenbrier Open. He then skyed to a 63 the next day. With the Kentucky Derby and Indy 500, we celebrate speed in May. But the longest croquet match in history (100 hours) also was in May.
The greatest binge ever in track and field was May 25, 1935, when Jesse Owens set three world records and tied another in 45 minutes. Oh, yes. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in May.
Jack Dempsey frequently fought in May; Joe Louis hardly ever did, though one of his May bouts was here, against Buddy Baer, in 1941.
Astonishingly, Wilt Chamberlain played fewer than a dozen games in May. That is because the seemingly interminable NBA season did not include May until 1968. June also was missing from the NBA calendar until 1976.
Willie Mays was born in May. So were Jerry West, John Unitas, Gale Sayers, Olga Korbut, Billy Martin, Brooks Robinson, Al Unser, Pancho Gonzalez and a fine exacta: Angel Cordero and Steve Cauthen.
The most famous bullfighter, El Cordobes, arrived in May. So did a couple of the sweetest Sugar Rays, Robinson and Leonard. And Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.
Also in May, we honor the mothers who brought them to us.
(In case you wonder if athletics might have a hammerlock on the month, Walt Whitman, Catherine the Great, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud were born in May. Lindbergh ended his transatlantic flight in May; the Johnstown flood started in May.)
You might think that the pitchers still would be ahead of the hitters in May. Supporting evidence includes: Walter Johnson throwing 18 shutout innings May 15, 1918, and Charles T. Pick of the Boston Braves going zero for 11 in 26 innings, May 1, 1920.
Don Drysdale pitched five shutouts in May 1968; five pitchers struck out four batters in an inning during May. Harvey Haddix retired the first 36 batters he faced May 26, 1959, then lost his perfect game -- and the decision -- in the 13th inning.
In truth, May has been a slugger's month. Ty Cobb mustered the most total bases in consecutive games (25) in May. Dale Long homered in eight straight games in May. Stan Musial had five homers in a doubleheader in May.
May is memorable in Washington for the Senators' Frank Howard homering 10 times in a six-game stretch during May 1968.
Imagine how limp Leon J. Cadore's arm must have been the evening of May 1, 1920. He faced 97 batters for the Dodgers in a 26-inning game that afternoon.
Harold Kelleher's manager was none too charitable May 5, 1938. Or he had absolutely no one in the bullpen he could trust. In the eighth inning for the Phillies that day, Kelleher struggled through 16 batters. The Tigers' Aloysius Travers gave up 24 runs May 18, 1912.
Since last year, May has given us a particularly goofy event: the NBA lottery. It involves the seven teams unable to crack the playoffs and was devised, in part, to keep anyone from tanking the final games of the season to get the choicest picks.
Last year, Golden State seemed to earn at least a coin flip for the top choice by tying the Indiana Pacers for being the lousiest team the longest. Fittingly, the Warriors even finished last in the lottery.
Years in advance, Dick Motta planned for last May to be among the merriest of his coaching life. Gambling that Patrick Ewing would stay to graduate at Georgetown, he got the 1985 first-round choice of the always-awful Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then the lottery came into being. That meant Motta's Mavericks would have a one-in-seven chance of landing Ewing instead of the usual one-in-two. The topper was the Cavaliers actually being competent, making the playoffs and denying Motta even a lottery spot.
Although it wasn't official until the June draft, Ewing became a Knick last May 12. The already-loaded Celtics will be even more potent come Sunday, for they were bright enough to trade Gerald Henderson to Seattle for what has become a lottery fling.
What grand possibilities. The favorite to win the NBA title also has a chance for the top choice in the draft.
For baseball teams in May, hope remains but reality intrudes. Cleveland and Houston still dream; Baltimore starts to worry.
Undergraduate college basketball players, or at least the ones with eligibility left, must choose between books and bucks in May. The football guys finally have time for a bit of leisure, spring practice being over.
May has a nice sense of pace. There is too much overlap in September and October; there is not enough in February.
Somebody hops to the pinnacle in hockey during May. Somebody crashes at Indy. The Capitals still haven't played a game in May. Olden Polynice, who is 6-11, may be starting to grow up this May.
Jack Nicklaus won the Masters in April, but the event that puts him in best perspective -- his Memorial Tournament -- comes in May.
Roger Clemens set the single-game strikeout record a few days before May. Still, Dwight Gooden is in peak form. And the month is young.