Monday, January 28, 2013

Legends of All 4 Sports

With the recent death of Stan Musial, St. Louis has to come up with a new answer to the question: Who is the greatest living athlete to play for one of our teams?

Is it a Cardinal -- Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Albert Pujols? It sure isn't Mark McGwire.  Is it the only quarterback ever to lead a St. Louis team to a Super Bowl win, Kurt Warner of the 1999 Rams? Is it the only player ever to lead a St. Louis team to an NBA title, Bob Pettit of the 1958 Hawks? (Sure, it's been 55 years, and the Hawks left for Atlanta in 1968, but he's still alive.)

There are a few cities that have had major league teams, or a team in something resembling a major league, in all 4 sports.  I'd like to rank them.

I could have ranked Carolina, including Raleigh, home of the Carolina Hurricanes, with Charlotte; and Tennessee, including Memphis, home of the Grizzlies, with Nashville; but neither has ever had a Major League Baseball team.  Milwaukee has never had a National Hockey League or World Hockey Association team, so even if I counted Green Bay, home of the Packers, with them, it wouldn't work.  Montreal could be counted if it had a National Basketball Association or American Basketball Association team.

HOF: Elected to his sport's Hall of Fame.  100/50: Named to The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Players in his sport in 1999, the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players in 1997, or The Hockey News' 50th Anniversary 100 Greatest Players in 1998.  AC: Named to the MLB All-Century Team in 1999 or the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994.

26. Indianapolis: Baseball, Benny Kauff, who won the Federal League batting title in 1914 with the Pennant-winning Indianapolis Hoosiers; he began his career with the Highlanders/Yankees in 1912, and while he won a World Series with the New York Giants in 1917 and served in World War I, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned him from baseball for auto theft in 1921, even though he was acquitted in his trial.  Football, Peyton Manning, future HOF, easily top 100 and maybe top 20 if they made a new list.  Basketball, Reggie Miller, newly inducted into HOF, would be in top 50 if they made a new list.  Hockey, Wayne Gretzky, even though he played a grand total of 8 games for the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA in 1978, at age 17, before being sold to the Edmonton Oilers.

25. Miami: Baseball, Gary Sheffield, but probably won't make HOF.  Football, Bob Griese, HOF.  Basketball, Dwayne Wade, future HOF, would be in the top 50 if they did a new list.  Hockey, Pavel Bure, newly inducted into the HOF.

24. Tampa-Orlando, which I'm combining since the NBA's Orlando Magic are closer to Tampa than Green Bay is to Milwaukee, and that gives them all 4: Baseball, Evan Longoria, may be a future HOFer, certainly has contributed more to the Rays franchise than any other player.  Football, Warren Sapp, now eligible for the HOF and probably about to get in, so I'm going to count him as if he already is.  Basketball, Shaquille O'Neal, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Dave Andreychuk, not yet in HOF but should be.

23. Phoenix: Baseball, Randy Johnson, future HOF, would be in top 100 if they did a new list.  Football, Larry Fitzgerald, possible future HOF.  Basketball, Charles Barkley, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Teppo Numminen, future HOF.

22. Toronto: Baseball, Roberto Alomar, HOF.  Football, Michael "Pinball" Clemons, HOF, despite being just 5-foot-6 holds the Canadian Football League record for most combined yards, 25,438, and helped the Toronto Argonauts win 4 Grey Cups.  Basketball, Vince Carter, possible future HOF.  Hockey, Frank Mahovlich, HOF, 100.

21. Atlanta: Baseball, Hank Aaron, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Deion Sanders, HOF, 100.  Basketball, Dominique Wilkins, HOF.  Hockey, Ilya Kovalchuk, All-Star and possible future HOF.  (It's easy to forget that Atlanta has had 2 NHL teams, both of which failed, the Flames moving to Calgary in 1980, the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg in 2011.)

20. Denver: Baseball, Larry Walker, probably should make it to the HOF but it doesn't look likely.  Football, John Elway, HOF, 100.  Basketball, Dan Issel, HOF.  Hockey, Joe Sakic, newly inducted into the HOF, 100.

19. Buffalo: Dan Brouthers, HOF, played for the Buffalo Bisons of the National League in the 1880s; aside from the 1914-15 Federal League, the NL's 1885 Bisons remain the last major league baseball team from Western New York.  Football, Bruce Smith, HOF, 100 -- but not AC, which would raise Buffalo on this list, but I don't think you want to include the only Bill on the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, O.J. Simpson, as the list was compiled right before the crime for which he was accused.  Basketball: Bob McAdoo, from the 1970s Buffalo Braves, HOF, and considering his later performances for the Lakers, he may have gotten gypped for the top 50.  Hockey, Gilbert Perreault, HOF, 100.

18. Kansas City: Baseball, George Brett, HOF, 100.  Football, Willie Lanier, HOF, 100.  Basketball, Nate "Tiny" Archibald, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Guy Charron, the best of the players on the Kansas City Scouts in their 2 seasons in the NHL, 1974-76, however, he holds the dubious record of playing in the most regular season NHL games without appearing in any Playoff games: 734.

17. Cleveland: Baseball, Tris Speaker, HOF, 100.  Football, Jim Brown, HOF, 100 (in fact, TSN ranked him Number 1), AC.  Basketball, LeBron James, future HOF, would be in the top 50 if they made a new list.  Hockey, Charlie Simmer, probably the best player on the 2-year NHL experiment of the Cleveland Barons, 1976-78, later an All-Star with the Los Angeles Kings.

16. Dallas: Baseball, Nolan Ryan, HOF, 100, AC -- but was only a Ranger for the last 5 years of his career.  Football, Bob Lilly, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball, Dirk Nowitzki, All-Star & future HOF, and would be in the top 50 if they did a new list.  Hockey, Mike Modano, future HOF, and would in the top 100 if they did a new list.

15. Minneapolis: Baseball, Harmon Killebrew, HOF, 100.  Football, Fran Tarkenton, HOF, 100.  Basketball, George Mikan, HOF, 50.  Hockey: Neal Broten, not in the HOF but probably should be.

14. Seattle: Baseball, Ken Griffey Jr., future HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Steve Largent, HOF, 100.  Basketball, Lenny Wilkens, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Harry "Hap" Holmes, who played on all 4 Seattle Metropolitans teams to win the Pacific Coast Hockey Association title and thus reach the Stanley Cup Finals, including the 1917 Cup that made the Metros the first team outside Canada to win the Cup; he is in the HOF, and along with his 1914 Toronto Blueshirts teammate Jack Marshall, he is one of only 2 players to win the Cup with 4 different teams.

13. Houston: Baseball, Nolan Ryan, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Earl Campbell, HOF, 100.  Basketball, Hakeem Olajuwon, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Gordie Howe (WHA's Houston Aeros for 4 years), HOF, 100.

12. Cincinnati: Baseball, Johnny Bench, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Anthony Munoz, HOF, 100, AC, although it is odd for a team's greatest all-time player to be an offensive lineman.  Basketball, Oscar Robertson, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Mike Gartner, Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association before going on to the Washington Capitals; HOF, 100; Mark Messier also played for the Stingers but only half a season.

11. Baltimore: Baseball, Cal Ripken, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Johnny Unitas, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball, Earl Monroe, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Gary Veneruzzo, the best of the players on the Baltimore Blades, who were created from the failed Michigan Stags of the WHA in January 1975, but only played out that season; Veneruzzo played a grand total of 7 games in the NHL.  (No, you can't combine Baltimore and Washington.)

10. Pittsburgh: Baseball, Honus Wagner, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Joe Greene, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball, Connie Hawkins (ABA Pittsburgh Pipers), HOF.  Hockey, Mario Lemieux, HOF, 100.

9. San Francisco: Baseball, Willie Mays, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Joe Montana, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball, Rick Barry, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Patrick Marleau, probable future HOF.

8. Los Angeles: Baseball, Sandy Koufax, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Deacon Jones, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball: Magic Johnson, HOF, 50.  Hockey: Wayne Gretzky, HOF, 100 (THN ranked him 1, but he can't be counted as mainly an L.A. player since his best years were in Edmonton, so that hurts L.A.'s ranking here).

7. St. Louis: Baseball, Stan Musial, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Marshall Faulk, HOF, and if they did a new top 100 list he'd be on it, whereas Kurt Warner might not be.  Basketball, Bob Pettit, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Brett Hull, HOF, 100.

6. Washington: Baseball, Walter Johnson, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Sammy Baugh, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball, Elvin Hayes, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Alexander Ovechkin, future HOF, and if they did a new top 100 he'd be on it.

5. Detroit: Baseball, Ty Cobb, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Barry Sanders, HOF, 100.  Basketball, Isiah Thomas, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Gordie Howe, HOF, 100.

4. Chicago: Baseball, Ernie Banks, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Walter Payton, HOF, 100.  Basketball, Michael Jordan, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Bobby Hull, HOF, 100.

3. Philadelphia: Baseball, Mike Schmidt, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Chuck Bednarik, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball, Wilt Chamberlain, HOF, 100.  Hockey, Bobby Clarke, HOF, 100.

2. Boston: Baseball, Ted Williams, HOF, 100, AC.  Football, Tom Brady, future HOF, if the voters don't hold Bill Belichick's cheating against him, and easily in a new all-time top 100, if not top 50.  Basketball, Bill Russell, HOF, 50 Greatest Players.  Hockey, Bobby Orr, HOF, 100.

1. New York: Baseball, Babe Ruth, HOF, 100 (TSN ranked him Number 1), AC.  Football, Lawrence Taylor, HOF, 100, AC.  Basketball, Walt Frazier, HOF, 50.  Hockey, Martin Brodeur, future HOF and would easily be in the top 100, maybe the top 20, if they did a new list.

New York ranks Number 1 because they have the best baseball player, the highest-ranking defensive player in football, and possibly the best hockey goalie ever, and when you consider that Walt Frazier, the smoothest player ever, is the "weak link" in this chain, no one can top New York.

If you still doubt that New York should be Number 1, look at who the backups would be.  Baseball? Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, and the first 5 full seasons of Willie Mays.  Football? Joe Namath.  Basketball? Willis Reed, Patrick Ewing, Jason Kidd, and the early Julius Erving.  Hockey? Frank Boucher, Rod Gilbert, Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Scott Stevens, and the older Mark Messier.

Who's got better backups? Boston can claim lots of great baseball, basketball and hockey players, but after Brady, who's their best football player, John Hannah? Chicago could replace Payton with Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski or Dick Butkus, but other than that they fall short.  Philly could replace Schmidt with Lefty Grove, and Chamberlain with the older Erving, but that's it.  Detroit could replace Cobb with Al Kaline and Howe with Steve Yzerman, but after Sanders there is, if not a dropoff in quantity of great football players, not really one who comes close to him; and after Isiah, who's next among Pistons, Joe Dumars?

No, New York is tops.  If you want to go by per-capita, Boston probably ends up on top.  But that's not what we're going by.

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