On this day in sport: Shearer makes his mark, one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott debuts

By Sports Desk April 08, 2020

Few players have had an impact on Premier League football like Alan Shearer, the greatest goalscorer the competition has seen.

The former England striker started out at Southampton in the old First Division, before going on to enjoy goal-laden spells with Blackburn Rovers and the club he supported as a boy, Newcastle United.

His impact was significant at all three, but his legacy is arguably felt the most at St. James' Park, where he spent the final 10 seasons of his career.

His goalscoring feats began on this day in 1988, but April 8 has also proven momentous in baseball, as we examine below.

1974 - Hank Aaron overtakes Babe Ruth

For many years after Babe Ruth's retirement in 1935, his record of 714 home runs looked unbeatable until 'Hammerin' Hank' Aarons became the first to surpass Ruth on April 8 ,1974. He might have done so earlier were it not for racially motivated death threats so prolific that his team – the Atlanta Braves – had to hire him a secretary to sift through it. The US Postal Service believe he received more than 930,000 pieces – positive and negative – in 1973. He broke Ruth's record against the Los Angeles Dodgers and later retired on 755, a record which stood for 33 years until Barry Bonds went beyond it in August 2007.

1988 - Alan Shearer makes his mark

Over 400 goals in professional football at international and club level,  it all started for Shearer on April 8, 1988. Then at Southampton, a 17-year-old Shearer had already made some substitute appearances, but with Arsenal visiting The Dell, he was afforded a first league start. In a 4-2 win, Shearer scored a hat-trick, becoming the youngest player to do so in top-flight history at 17 years and 240 days old. He went on to make a habit of setting new records over the following 18 years.

1989 - One-handed pitcher Jim Abbott debuts

There aren't many sports where manual dexterity is more crucial than in baseball. That said, Jim Abbott enjoyed a successful career in MLB despite only being born with his left hand. He pitched for the California Angels, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, starting out for the former, where he made his debut 31 years ago.

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  • Former MLB home run leader Aaron dies at 86 Former MLB home run leader Aaron dies at 86

    Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Aaron, one of baseball’s most iconic sluggers who held Major League Baseball’s cherished career home runs record for 33 years, died on Friday at his Georgia home at the age of 86. 

    The Atlanta Braves, the team where Aaron spent all but two of his 23 major league seasons, confirmed the franchise icon's passing in a statement.  

    "We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank," said Braves chairman Terry McGuirk. "He was a beacon for our organisation first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature."

    Aaron was named to a record 21 All-Star teams and won two National League batting titles and the league's Most Valuable Player award in 1957, but his most notable accomplishment came near the end of his distinguished career. On April 8, 1974, the then 40-year-old homered off the Los Angeles Dodgers' Al Downing at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium to surpass Babe Ruth's MLB record of 714 home runs – a mark that had stood since 1935. 

    The achievement was met with both fanfare and vitriol in some cases, with Aaron often subjected to overt racism in the form of hate mail and even death threats from those who objected to his pursuit of Ruth's record. 

    Following a two-year stint with the Milwaukee Brewers, Aaron retired in 1976 with 755 homers. Though Barry Bonds would later exceed that number in 2007, "Hammerin' Hank" still ranks as MLB's all-time leader with 2,297 RBIs, 6,856 total bases and 1,477 extra-base hits.  

    "Hank Aaron is near the top of everyone's list of all-time great players. His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. 

    "Hank symbolised the very best of our game, and his all-around excellence provided Americans and fans across the world with an example to which to aspire.  

    "His career demonstrates that a person who goes to work with humility every day can hammer his way into history -- and find a way to shine like no other."

    Born in Mobile, Alabama. In 1934, Aaron broke into professional baseball at age 17 as a shortstop with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1952 and had his contract purchased by the then-Boston Braves shortly afterward. He reached the majors in 1954 with the Braves then having moved to Milwaukee, and won his first NL batting crown two years later after hitting .328 in 153 games. 

    Aaron followed up with a sensational 1957 campaign in which he led the majors with 44 homers and 132 RBIs while batting .322 to claim his only NL MVP. The Brewers capped that season by defeating the New York Yankees in seven games for the franchise's lone World Series title in Milwaukee.  

    Aaron would lead the NL in both homers and RBIs three more times during his career and won another batting title in 1959. He also won three straight Gold Gloves from 1958-60 and completed his career with 3,771 hits, third in MLB history behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. 

    One of only four players in MLB history with 600 homers and 3,000 hits (Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez), Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1982. He was named on nearly 98 percent of ballots.  

    "Henry Louis Aaron wasn't just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world," McGuirk added.

    Aaron returned to the Braves as an executive following his playing career and was further honoured by MLB in 1999 with the establishment of the Hank Aaron Award, given to the top offensive performer in both the American and National Leagues.  

    A strong advocate of civil rights, Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2002.  

    Aaron joins a list of several Hall of Fame members who have passed away in the past calendar year, a group that includes Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton.

    Niekro and Sutton also had extensive ties to the Braves, as Niekro pitched 20 seasons for the franchise and Sutton spent several years with the team as a television and radio analyst. 

  • Atletico champions, Sevilla join big three in top four – Stats Perform AI completes LaLiga season Atletico champions, Sevilla join big three in top four – Stats Perform AI completes LaLiga season

    Even in these extraordinary times, Barcelona letting Luis Suarez go to Atletico Madrid is starting to look like the oddest decision of the season.

    Suarez's double over Eibar on Thursday secured a 2-1 victory for the league leaders, who are seven points clear at the top with a game in hand over champions Real Madrid in second.

    The Uruguay star, who has netted six in his past six league games for Atleti, is joint-top of the division's scoring charts alongside former team-mate Lionel Messi.

    It seems increasingly likely that Suarez, and certainly Atletico, will be at the top of the tree come the end of 2020-21.

    With the majority of sides having now played half of their matches, the Stats Perform AI team have run the numbers to simulate how the rest of the LaLiga campaign will play out – and it's good news for Diego Simeone.


    The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

    Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

    The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

    All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

    The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.



    Atletico have been given a 75.1 per cent chance of winning LaLiga, according to the model.

    Simeone's men are predicted to finish on 86 points, nine clear of the rest of the field. They are given just a 17.8 per cent chance of coming second and dropping outside the top four is considered practically impossible.

    Barcelona and reigning champions Real Madrid are predicted to end with 77 points apiece, with just a 12.4 per cent chance each of pipping Atleti to the title. Madrid have a 41 per cent chance of finishing second, slightly above Barca's 39.4, having beaten Ronald Koeman's side 3-1 in the first Clasico of the season at Camp Nou last October.

    Those two are, at least, very likely to end up in a Champions League place. They are expected to be joined there by Sevilla, who have a 47.8 per cent chance of finishing fourth on 65 points, just three above Villarreal and six clear of Real Sociedad. The remaining European spot is predicted to be a close battle between Granada, Getafe and Real Betis, with Diego Martinez's men odds on to snatch it.

    Valencia fans might be enduring a difficult time (again), and our sim has Los Che missing out on European football once more, if only by four points. That said, they still have a 3.6 per cent chance of a Europa League spot, which is better odds than those given to Supercopa de Espana winners Athletic Bilbao.



    At the other end of a relatively tight table, in which just 11 points will separate seventh from 16th, it looks like Huesca are in for a tough run-in. They are given a 59.7 per cent chance of finishing bottom of the pile and just a 5.1 per cent shot at avoiding relegation, having won only once so far this term.

    Osasuna are predicted to end up just four points above them, with the bottom three likely to be completed by Deportivo Alaves, although Elche will also be right in the mix. In fact, with those two tipped to finish level on 39 points, survival could come down to their head-to-head record, making their showdown on May 11 potentially decisive. Elche have the advantage there, having won the reverse game 2-0 away from home.

    Real Valladolid are expected to have just enough to stay out of trouble, although they have scant room for manoeuvre, with our predictor giving them an equal 15.1 per cent chance of finishing 17th and 18th.

    Eibar and Cadiz are looking likely to stay safe; indeed, Jose Luis Mendilibar's men, along with Celta Vigo and Athletic, are given a 0.1 per cent chance of gatecrashing the top four. They might well have boosted those odds this week were it not for that pesky Suarez.

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