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What: "SportsCentury: Bill Shoemaker"
Where: ESPN Classic, Friday, 5 and 8 p.m.
As good as ESPN Classic's "SportsCentury" series is, there are two often-heard complaints. At times the producers sensationalize the subject rather than simply offer a thorough profile. And there is too much reliance on talking heads, particularly sportswriters.
ESPN Classic is guilty on both counts here. Viewers learn right at the start that Bill Shoemaker's accomplishments as probably the most famous jockey in history are going to get secondary treatment. The documentary leads off with the sports utility vehicle accident on April 8, 1991, that left Shoemaker paralyzed from the neck down.
Of course, the accident and the ensuing lawsuits are a major part of the Shoemaker story. But it happened too long ago--and Shoemaker accomplished too much on the race track--to start the program with it.
After a considerable amount of time is devoted to the accident, viewers are taken back to the beginning, when Shoemaker was born on Aug. 19, 1931, in Fabens, Texas. He weighed barely two pounds at birth and his mother put him in a shoe box in front of the stove to keep him alive. Shoemaker came to El Monte as a boy.
There are many accolades about Shoemaker as a jockey, but the producers seem to have gone out of their way to get negatives comments as well. Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post, who began covering racing in 1970, claims that Shoemaker, in the latter part of his career, was living off his reputation. Beyer also criticizes Shoemaker's 1990 farewell tour when he retired, calling it greedy.
The producers also try to pass off current race track shots as ones from the past. But overall the show is moving, and in the end Shoemaker's relationship with his daughter Amanda may bring a tear.