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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Author Says Zenyatta was Hickok Belt Worthy

My friend of 47 years and current Editor of Syracuse University Magazine, Jay Cox, turned me onto an USA Today article, while we were corresponding via email. The article written by former Buffalonian Erik Brady, featured a book authored by one of Jay's pals, Scott Pitoniak, a former Rochester Democrat & Chronicle sportswriter, called Jewel of the Sports World: The Story of the Hickok Belt Award ($24.95, RIT Press).

The Hickok belt was given away from 1950 to 1976, honoring the Professional Athlete of the Year. The list of winners during that time period is absolutely incredible. A number of my idols are on the list, Frank Robinson (1966), Brooks Robinson (1970), Arnold Palmer (1960) and Steve Carlton (1972). Boxing is well represented on the list with Rocky Marciano (1952), Carmen Basilio (1957) and Muhammed Ali (1974). Brooks Robinson called the award the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for sports."

Brady's article discusses the history of the Belt:

"The award was given by the Hickok Manufacturing Company of Rochester, N.Y., once a leading manufacturer of men's belts and accessories — thus the prize, an alligator-skin belt with a five-pound, solid gold buckle encrusted with diamonds, rubies and sapphires."

The Wikipedia site describes it as "an alligator-skin belt with a solid gold buckle, an encrusted 4 carat (800 mg) diamond, and 26 gem chips. It was valued at over $10,000 in the currency of the time."

Pitoniak when asked by Brady of who was worthy to win the award this year, he had an interesting answer that would make us in our little niche sport smile:

"Wow. Great question. I might go with Zenyatta. You laugh. But Secretariat finished in the top 10 in voting after his Triple Crown year in 1973. (Imagine how big the belt would have had to be to fit around Big Red's waist; probably would have needed to award a Hickok saddle instead"

I know I will be picking up a copy of Pitoniak's book, it should be an interesting read to find out what has happened to some of the belts over the years (i.e., Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson were both winners) and how the Rochester (NY) event evolved and eventually died in 1976.



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