OK, I saw a ranking for top athlete's that made me die a little inside, so I decided I'd so my own list to purge said feelings out of myself. I also used top sport careers to make it a little more objectively for myself, so I don't get caught up in the minuiate of deciding whether the ability to fly on ice and bulldoze people is inherently more athletic than throwing a ball 100 MPH, etc. I am also limiting this to baseball, hockey, and football, sorry Arnie Palmer/Billy Conn, I don't know you guys well enough to judge you in comparison to the others. So without further ado, here is my list.
Keep in mind I just wanted this out as soon as possible for my own sake, so don't be too hard on me.
Sidney Crosby- This man is 2nd in Points per game as a Penguin, sandwiched between Lemieux and Jagr. He has a bright future but I don't think I should be putting him up here yet. He will be in a few years I'm guessing, as of now he's played 434 games in his NHL career, whereas Jagr in comparison played around 800 in a Pens uniform.
Willie Stargell- Great hitter, hall of famer, but I don't feel he deserves top 10. He's a great player but I just couldn't put him in the same category as the others.
Terry Bradshaw- The guy won 4 super bowls, had a cannon for an arm, and could scramble with the best of them. I have a hard team putting him off the list, looking at 10, 9, and 8 and wondering how I could get one of them off the list for Bradshaw. Unfortuantely for him I couldn't find a way to get him above the other three, who all had something about them that put them on top
10. Troy Polamalu- The strong safety position has taken a life in the NFL as one of a player who must be skilled at covering like a cornerback and tackling/blitzing like a linebacker. You generally hope your strong saftety is very good at one and competent at the other, but Polamalu enters the realm where even his generally considered weaker side of pass coverage is still great. The man has been a signature player on the defense that has been a contributor to 3 super bowl appearances and 2 wins. I couldn't allow myself to be wishy washy so I put him on the list instead of Bradshaw even though Bradshaw contributed to 4 super bowls. I honestly had a hard time placing this guy, but I feel he belongs for some reason.
9. Josh Gibson- An amazing athlete who performed unfortunately in an era when his talents where unable to be shown in MLB, he nonetheless proved to be a force in the Negro Leagues. While his Negro league play might not have been as impressive as his exhibition and independant league play, that is to be expected as it was against top competition. In his 16 season 510 game Negro league career he hit a home run every 16.13 AB, which puts him between Prince and Cecil Fielder in Home run rate. Keep in mind though, he did this from the catcher position. Saying he would be the all-time leader in HR Rate among catchers (he slightly edges out Piazza) is one thing, but the amount he leads the rest of the field by is enormous. No other catcher besides Gibson and Piazza is in the top 100 in HR rate. He simply was in a league of his own at his position. O, hitting .359 doesn't hurt either. The only thing holding him back is his relatively low games played in his career against high level competition compared to other baseball players, (Negro League seasons were light on games), hence my reluctance to put him higher. Yes 16 seasons is a ton, but when Barry Bonds played twice as many games as you and I knock him for not playing enough, I'd be a hypocrite to allow you to be higher on the list.
8. Roberto Clemente- One of if not the best outfield arm of all-time. Very good hitter, 56 all-time among ALL position players in WAR/game (Stargell isn't top 200). A legend simply put who is VERY hard to seperate career from persona. I struggled to figure out where this guy belongs on my list and I figured here was the right spot.
7. Mel Blount/Rod Woodson- Yes, this is a cop-out, but I couldn't choose who to put first, and these two men are two of the greatest to play the position of cornerback in NFL history. Let's start with Blount, This man played cornerback in a different era, one in which physicality was more the norm, but man did he play it well to the point that the Mel Blount rule was put into effect to open the game up more. Widely regarded as one of the best defensive backs to play the game, in 1994 he made the NFL's all-time team list for the leagues 75th anniversary. Woodson was also a member of said team, had intense drive shown by playing in the super bowl after getting reconstructive knee surgery earlier in the season, and along with Blount also won a defensive player of the year award with the Steelers.
6. Barry Bonds- Now this guy had 7 seasons with Pittsburgh, and that made him difficult to rank. On one hand he had 2 MVP seasons, outside of his rookie year his WORST season was 5.5 WAR, in 1992 he led the league in BA/OBP/SLG/BB and was indisputably one of the best players in the league. I don't think people realize exactly how great Bonds was in his younger years as a Pirate. He definitely was on a first ballot hall of fame track, (or deserved it at least) even if his power numbers didn't improve at all from his early years in Pittsburgh. A great peak, but longevity is holding him back from the career list for me.
5. Arky Vaughan- OK, stop the fanboy rants and listen for second. This guy was a consensus top 5 SS in MLB history. 25th among players at all positions in WAR/game and 2nd or 3rd among SS, (depending on if you count A-Rod) No dispute, look at the numbers, particularly era adjusted ones because the straight up ones are blindingly ridiculous. Bill James put this guy at #2 all time among SS, and I don't think many would consider that a big stretch at all (A-Rod probably could've made a case if he stayed at short, but he didn't). The guy with Pittsburgh batted .324/.415/.472 with Pittsburgh from the SS position over 10 years. Despite all that, I still had a very hard time placing him. His 3 extra seasons and his performance made him very comparable to Bonds overall in Pittsburgh Sports career territory. Frankly, I went with Vaughan only by a hair because I see his 10 year career with Pittsburgh as enough to be considered a top 10 at his position all-time, and I don't think 7 years of Bonds was enough to put him top 10 at his position all time
4. Jaromir Jagr- On One hand, I knew I had to put this guy high up, the question was how high up? In 11 seasons in Pittsburgh he played at an extremely high level, he's one of the top wingers of all-time, he had his MVP award, (2 if you include the Pearson), had 4 straight scoring titles to end his time in Pittsburgh, and that was during the height of the dead puck era, where scoring was hard to come by. I think Jagr's totals in these seasons get overlooked because they aren't as gaudy as other players, but in those 4 seasons he was #1 each year in scoring when everyone was having a hard time scoring. On one hand he has all that going for him, on the other, I can't help but feel he might be higher up than he should be. O well, no backing off now.
Intermission- For the top 3, these 3 stand out because they are either in the discussion for best player to play the game based on their career in Pittsburgh, or a considered the best player at their position all time. With the other players on the list, I could point to someone else who played the position as better, or at least in the running.
3. Joe Greene- Consensus best defensive tackle of all-time, Pillar of the steel curtain. I go to John Madden's comments on Joe Greene to sum him up . John Madden's opinion was that the whole steel curtain was essentially built on Lambert lining up behind Greene and rampaging into the backfield. Madden and the coaching staff came to the conclusion that the Steel Curtain would be in fact made useless if one just pushed Joe Greene into Lambert, completely negating the whole system. They tried it but realized their plan couldn't succeed because of one reason and one reason only, you COULD NOT push Joe Greene backwards, you just couldn't. The whole system in Madden's eyes worked because one defensive player enabled a variation of the 4-3 scheme that no other team could use as effectively. For this, he gets #3 on the list.
#2 Honus Wagner- You really can't say enough about the guy, when considering a guy for the SS position you can't with a straight face say anyone was better than him, ever. The gap between him and #2, (unless of course you consider A-Rod) is an enormous gap. Whether you consider that #2 to be Ripken Jr. Vaughan, Banks, et al. he just demolishes them in terms of accomplishments. Led league in BA 8 times, Slugging 6 times, WAR through the roof. Got same amount of hall of fame votes as Babe Ruth, just a ridiculous player. Research him and the next guy on the list if you want stats, because I could go all day.
1. Mario Lemieux- In the running for greatest player all-time in hockey with Gretzky and Bobby Orr being the other two commonly cited, even when hobbled by disease and injury he was a threat that few could match. Blessed with great frame, awareness, grit, etc. he took to the NHL like few ever have. When he made his first retirement he ended his career #1 in points per game, the only qualified player in NHL history to have a points per game average above 2. He eventually came out of retirement and still played at a high level in the dead puck era. In his first year out of his comeback he played 43 games only and still finished 26th in scoring, leading the lead in points per game even in a much more defensive era.