Dan, see response to your questions in blue
1. When the mast fell, did it do any damage to the ball, and/or the pin and all of that assembly that connects the mast to the boat? Since you need to rotate the mast when stepping or lowering it, it seems to me there would be an excellent chance of catastrophic damage when the thing just goes down like that. There was no other damage to the boat except for the bottom batten spliting due to over flexing (it was repairable with fiberglass resin). I remove the stepping pin when sailing. The mast didn't fall with the initial furler yoke failure (the furler mechanism hung up within the split yoke) so I had time to loosen the main sheet and point the boat a bit so when the mast did fall it naturally rotated and fell behind the leeward wing. As it turns out the mast tip hits the water first, so the rear cross beam also was not impacted. The bottom batten split while I was unhooking the upper mainsheet block from the boomlet.
2. Someone said "replace all standing rigging yearly", and all "standing hardware" every five years,what does that mean? Would you really do that if, say, you lived in the Northeast, sailed freshwater, maybe 30 times a season? No, I replace mine about every 5 years. Also I use the heaver 5/32" hydraulic swaged shrouds.
my boat is a '92 17 Sport, which I bought heavily used 5 years ago. I was planning on replacing shrouds, trap wires, fore-stays. Any strong recommendations for other parts I should replace this winter? I'm leaning heavily towards a new jib furler. Bridal wires, both upper and lower (solid SS dogbone wire that connects the spreader bar to the boat). Check the bolts that hold the upper and lower bridal wires to the endcaps of the spreader bar (I found one of mine about ready to shed its nut). Also check all the clevis pins and retainer rings, replace as needed. If you are concerned about the furler, you don't have to replace the whole thing (~$250.00). Instead just replace the yoke (part# 61980000 @ ~ $20.00) and get a rebuild kit (part# 61900900 @ ~ $42.00).