Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Minnesota's 10 Greatest Athletes

Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew

The Yankees are currently playing a series against the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota's 10 Greatest Athletes

Honorable Mention to Twin Cities-area natives who played for the Twins, but not long enough to be counted as Twins Hall-of-Famers: Dave Winfield, Jack Morris and Paul Molitor. Joe Mauer could also one day fit this category. Terry Steinbach was a decent catcher, but not enough of a hitter to be sent to Cooperstown.

Honorable Mention to Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, both of whom starred for the Twins in the 1960s, and should have been elected to the Hall of Fame by now.

Honorable Mention to Bert Blyleven, who pitched for the Twins at the beginning of his career, reaching the Playoffs in 1970; and near the end, winning the World Series in 1987. He also won a Series with the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. Had he spent his entire career with the Twins, where he went 149-138 of his 287-250, he would be in this Top 10. He is, however, in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Minnesota Vikings in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who did not otherwise make this list: Mick Tinglehoff, Carl Eller, Ron Yary, Paul Krause, Chris Coleman, Gary Zimmerman, Randall McDaniel, Cris Carter and John Randle.

No Minnesota Wild players have yet been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, only former head coach and general manager Jacques Lemaire -- and he was elected on the basis of his play with the Montreal Canadiens.

10. Dino Ciccarelli, right wing, Minnesota North Stars, 1980-89. There were 6 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame who played for the Gopher State version of the Stars. Leo Boivin, Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy each played only 1 season. Gump Worsley played 5 at the end of his career. Mike Modano played the 1st 4 seasons of his career in Minnesota, before moving with the team to Dallas. That leaves Ciccarelli.

He made 4 All-Star Games, 3 with the North Stars. In their run to the 1981 Stanley Cup Finals, he set Playoff records for most assists (14) and points (21) by a rookie. Twice, in 1982 and 1987, he scored at least 50 goals for the Stars. He ended up scoring 608 goals in his career, 332 of them for Minnesota.

9. Randy Moss, receiver, Minnesota Vikings, 1998-2004, with a brief return in 2010. He may have been the most talented receiver in football history, even more than Jerry Rice. Certainly, he got some results: 982 career receptions, over 15,000 receiving yards, 156 receiving touchdowns. He set records for receiving touchdowns by a rookie (17 in 1998) and any player (23 in 2007). He was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1998, made 6 Pro Bowls, and was named to the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team. (Of course, only about half of all that was with the Vikings.)

But he was an egomaniac and a disciplinary problem. And he never won a title. He got to the 1998 NFC Championship Game with the Vikings, and Super Bowl XLII with the New England Patriots, and his teams' losses in those games were hardly his fault: Their opponents' good defenses shut more than him down.

He is now a studio analyst for ESPN. The NFL Network listed him 65th on their 2010 list of the 100 Greatest Players, and he has just been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

8. Kirby Puckett, center field, Minnesota Twins, 1984-95. For a generation, as Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew had been before him, he was the Minnesota Twins. He helped them with the 1987 World Series, and in Game 6 of the 1991 Series, he saved the Twins with a great catch and a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 11th, leading to their Game 7 win. He reached 10 All-Star Games, won the 1989 AL batting title (a rare feat for a righthanded hitter), and led the AL in hits 4 times.

He was so admired in Minnesota that the address of the Metrodome was changed to 34 Kirby Puckett Place, the Twins retired his Number 34, and they dedicated a statue of him outside their new ballpark, Target Field.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame despite playing only 12 seasons, with a .318 lifetime batting average, a 124 OPS+, 2,304 hits and 207 home runs. The Sporting News ranked him 86th on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999.

Regrettably, glaucoma ended his career when he was just 36 years old. Things went from bad to worse. His weight ballooned, and his health suffered. He was arrested on a morals charge, and, though acquitted, his reputation was forever stained by a Sports Illustrated article which seemed intent on convicting him in the court of public opinion -- written by Frank Deford, who should have accepted the jury's verdict and not risked his own fine reputation.

Kirby suffered a stroke and died in 2006, age 45 -- aside from Lou Gehrig, the youngest Hall-of-Famer ever to die, not counting those who died young and were elected to the Hall later, such as Roberto Clemente.

7. Harmon Killebrew, 3rd base & 1st base, Minnesota Twins, 1961-74. Due to his name, they called him "The Killer." Fortunately, like his contemporary, Frank "The Monster" Howard, he was a nice guy in real life.

He couldn't field, and was tried in the outfield and 3rd base before being moved to 1st base, until the American League finally brought in the designated hitter. He couldn't run, and he couldn't hit for average. He was a one-dimensional player.

But that one dimension! He hit 573 home runs, which is still more than any righthanded hitter in AL history. He led the AL in home runs 6 times, they weren't cheap home runs, either: He won the 1st of those crowns while playing for the Washington Senators, playing home games in Griffith Stadium with its faraway fences, before the team moved to become the Minnesota Twins with its hitter-friendly Metropolitan Stadium, where he hit the longest home run in both stadium and franchise history.

He led the AL in RBIs 3 times, won the Most Valuable Player award in 1969, made 13 All-Star Teams, and got the Twins to the 1965 Pennant and the 1969 and '70 AL Western Division titles.

He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and The Sporting News ranked him 69th on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999. The Twins named him to their team Hall of Fame, retired his Number 3, and named a street outside the old Met Stadium (the street is still there, at the Mall of America, though the stadium is not) and a gate at their new home, Target Field, after him.

He is also believed to be the inspiration for the Major League Baseball logo, as Jerry West is for the NBA logo. He also broadcast for the Twins, and also for the A's, alongside the aforementioned fellow Idahoan Wayne Walker.

6. Paul Krause, safety, Minnesota Vikings, 1968-79. A 9-time All-Pro, twice with the Washington Redskins and 7 times with the Vikings, he led the NFL in interceptions as a rookie. He helped the Vikings win the 1969 NFL Championship and reach 4 Super Bowls. Although he is the only player ever to both intercept a pass in a Super Bowl (IV) and recover a fumble in another (IX), the Vikings lost all 4.

He is the NFL's all-time leader in interceptions, with 81. He also recovered 19 fumbles. Think about that: He personally had a turnover ratio of +100. He was named to the 70 Greatest Redskins, the Vikings Ring of Honor, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But not, as it turned out, The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999, or the NFL Network's 2010 list of the 100 Greatest Players. That's a travesty.

5. Alan Page, defensive tackle, Minnesota Vikings, 1967-78. Perhaps the only candidate to dispute Fran Tarkenton's title as greatest player in Vikings history, he made 9 Pro Bowls, and was the 1st defensive player to be awarded the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, in 1971. (The award was started in 1957. Only 1 other has achieved the honor, Lawrence Taylor.)

He was with the Vikings on all 4 Super Bowl teams. They retired his Number 88, and named him to their Ring of Honor. He was named to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame and the NFL's 1970s All-Decade Team. The Sporting News ranked him 34th on their list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999, and the NFL Network ranked him 43rd on their 100 Greatest Players in 2010.

He earned a law degree, was appointed an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Minnesota, and was the 1st black person appointed to the State's Supreme Court, serving 22 years until the State Constitution's mandatory retirement age of 70.

4. Kevin Garnett, forward, Minnesota Timberwolves, 1995-2007, with a return for 1 last season before retiring, in 2015-16. He was a 15-time All-Star, 10 of those times in Minnesota. He was named NBA Most Valuable Player after leading the T-Wolves to their 1st Division title and their 1st trip to the Western Conference Finals -- in each case, still their only one. Of course, his only title was with the 2008 Boston Celtics, his 1st season after leaving Minnesota.

He is not yet eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame, but he will almost certainly make it. Presumably, the T-Wolves will then retire his Number 21. And if the NBA does a 75th Anniversary 75 Greatest Players, as it chose 50 for its 50th, he will be there.

3. Rod Carew, 2nd base and 1st base, Minnesota Twins, 1967-78. He should have been a Twin for his entire career, but team owner Calvin Griffith was both a bigot and a cheapskate, and Gene Autry of the team then known as the California Angels was neither.

Carew won the AL's Rookie of the Year in 1967 and its MVP in 1977, when he batted .388, the 6th of 7 batting titles he won, all with the Twins. He made 18 All-Star Games, 12 of them with the Twins. Of his 3,053 career hits, 2,085 were with the Twins.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His Number 29 was retired by both the Twins and the Angels. The Sporting News ranked him 61st on their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999.

2. Fran Tarkenton, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings. 1961-66 and 1972-78. He was the Vikes' 1st starting quarterback, but couldn't get it done, and they traded him to the Giants. After 5 seasons away, the Vikings brought him back, and he guided them through their best years, making 9 Pro Bowls, and being named NFL MVP in 1975.

By the time he retired, he held most of the major NFL passing records, including most passes, most completions, most passing yards, and most touchdown passes. But he couldn't win the big one: He helped the Vikings win the NFC Championship in 1973, 1974 and 1976, but they lost all 3 Super Bowls.

The Vikings retired his Number 10, and named him to their Ring of Honor. He was elected to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, and was named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999 (59th) and the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010 (91st).

1. George Mikan, center, Minneapolis Lakers, 1948-56. It's been 62 years since he last strode the hardwood in a game that counted, but he is still responsible for 5 of the 7 World Championships that Minnesota teams have won.

He won National Basketball league titles with the 1947 Chicago American Gears and the 1948 Lakers. The Lakers then went into the nascent NBA, and he led them to the title in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. That's 7 league titles in 8 seasons.

He was NBL Most Valuable Player in 1948, a 5-time scoring champion (twice in the NBL, 3 times in the NBA), and played in the NBA's 1st 4 All-Star Games (1951-54). He was bigger than the league: A game against the Knicks had the marquee at the old Madison Square Garden not mention the Lakers, just him: "GEO MIKAN v/s KNICKS."
That's a legend, but it's no myth, and it's no joke.

Oddly, the now-Los Angeles Lakers have never retired his number, even though 99 is a number rarely seen in the NBA. (They do have a banner honoring their Minneapolis-era Hall-of-Famers.) He was named the greatest basketball player of the half-century by the Associated Press, and was named to the NBA's 25th Anniversary Team and its 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. He lived long enough to receive all of these honors.

Honorable Mention to his Minneapolis Lakers teammates who made the Basketball Hall of Fame: Jim Pollard, forward, 1948-55; Vern Mikkelsen, forward, 1949-59; Slater Martin, guard, 1949-56; and Clyde Lovellette, forward, 1953-57.

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