Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who's Next A-Z

25 Letters, 250 Athletes from the past 30ish years.  The beauty of these lists on sports is that they are fluid.  They look one way today and a different way the next.  My list of the Top 10 Power Forwards from last summer is already out-of-date with the ascension of Dirk Nowitzki and the realization of my exclusion of Dennis Rodman.  So after completing these last 25 lists the question will they look 1, 3, 5 years from now?  What follows is a list by letter of the players (one per letter) who could break into these lists eventually.  Obviously, some letters will be harder to crack.

A - Dustin Ackley (MLB)
B - Ryan Braun (MLB)
C - Robinson Cano (MLB)
D - Novak Djokovic (Tennis)
E - Carl Edwards (NASCAR)
F - Rickie Fowler (Golf)
G - Blake Griffin (NBA)
H - Felix Hernandez (MLB)
I - Kyrie Irving (NBA)
J - Andre Johnson (NFL)
K - Matt Kemp (MLB)
L - Andrew Luck (Football)
M - Rory McIlroy (Golf)
N - Cam Newton (NFL)
O - David Oliver (Track)
P - Michael Pineda (MLB)
Q - Robert Quinn (NFL)
R - Aaron Rodgers (NFL)
S - Steven Stamkos (NHL)
T - Troy Tulowitzki (MLB)
U - Ekpe Udoh (NBA)
V - Joey Votto (MLB)
W - John Wall (NBA)
Y - Titus Young (NFL)
Z - Jordan Zimmerman (MLB)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "M" - Post 1980

"M" is for Magical, as I close my list of 250 athletes A-Z with another list chalked full of greats who brought magic to their sports.

10. Randy Moss (NFL)
9.  Moses Malone (NBA)
8.  Pedro Martinez (MLB)
7.  John McEnroe (Tennis)
6.  Phil Mickelson (Golf)
5.  Karl Malone (NBA)
4.  Greg Maddux (MLB)
3.  Peyton Manning (NFL)
2.  Mark Messier (NHL)
1.  Joe Montana (NFL)

Yes, that is Randy Moss at #10.  With Montana often carrying the best quarterback ever moniker, it is tough to argue anyone else at #1.  Maybe another title from Manning and some passing records will do it.  Messier is top 10 all-time in the NHL, so it is easy to slot him here at #2.  Maddux and Malone dominated for so long, I could not put them lower.  McEnroe vs Mickelson is a good debate.  Omissions included Reggie Miller, Mike Modano, Curtis Martin and Eddie Murray.

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "S" - Post 1980

"S" is for Skillful.  The following list brought unmatched skills to the table and is a deep list with some tough omissions.

10. Curt Schilling (MLB)
9.  Ryne Sandberg (MLB)
8.  Mike Schmidt (MLB)
7.  Joe Sakic (NHL)
6.  Anika Sorenstam (Golf)
5.  Barry Sanders (NFL)
4.  Deion Sanders (NFL)
3.  John Stockton (NBA)
2.  Pete Sampras (Tennis)
1.  Emmitt Smith (NFL)

First off, any list with Barry Sanders #5 is a great list.  Smith, as the NFL's all-time leading rusher and the engine of those great Cowboy teams, was a tough choice for #1 over Sampras, who many feel is the greatest Men's tennis player of all-time.  The ringless "Pasty Gangsta" is a tick behind, coming in before the Great Sanders Debate.  Baseball dominates the bottom, with Schilling beating out Monica Seles for the last spot.  Other notables missing include Ozzie Smith, Vijay Singh, Ichiro Suzuki and Warren Sapp.

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "W" - Post 1980

"W" is for Wide-Eyed.  The great performances of the following list often left me in awe and wanting to see more.

10. Rod Woodson (NFL)
9.  Tom Watson (Golf)
8.  James Worthy (NBA)
7.  Dominique Wilkins (NBA)
6.  Dwyane Wade (NBA)
5.  Kurt Warner (NFL)
4.  Venus Williams (Tennis)
3.  Serena Williams (Tennis)
2.  Reggie White (NFL)
1.  Tiger Woods (Golf)

Woods was an easy choice for #1, as he is side-by-side with Jordan atop any list from my generation.  The Williams sisters are tough to separate, but I feel younger sis has had the more fulfilling career.  They were also held back by their refusal to have a rivalry against each other which would have been great for Women's Tennis and may have vaulted them ahead of White.  The three NBA players are tough to rank, just as it was tough to leave Chris Webber off the list.  Watson drops behind the NBA triumvirate due to career timing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "Z" - Post 1980

"Z" is for Zesty, as in, there are very few adjectives that start with "Z".  You will also find very few players whose name starts with "Z", thus the following list:

10. Tony Zendejas (NFL)
9.  Amos Zereoue (NFL)
8.  Jim Zorn (NFL)
7.  Sergei Zubov (NHL)
6.  Todd Zeile (MLB)
5.  Ryan Zimmerman (MLB)
4.  Carlos Zambrano (MLB)
3.  Barry Zito (MLB)
2.  Henrik Zetterberg (NHL)
1.  Gary Zimmerman (NFL)

That is correct, an offensive lineman at #1.  Zimmerman gets the nod as the only Hall-of-Famer in the group, beating out the talented and potential Hall-of-Famer in Zetterberg.  Former Cy Young winner Zito beats out fellow pitcher Zambrano.  A trio of NFL players bring up the rear, beating out Ben Zobrist and Chris Zordich to make the list.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "Y" - Post 1980

"Y" is for Young, as in half the list is adorned with this surname, which in some cases, resulted in an outstanding career.

10. Chris Young (MLB)
9.  Eric Young (MLB)
8.  Bryant Young (NFL)
7.  Kristi Yamaguchi (Skating)
6.  Alexei Yashin (NHL)
5.  Kevin Youkilis (MLB)
4.  Michael Young (MLB)
3.  Robin Yount (MLB)
2.  Steve Yzerman (NHL)
1.  Steve Young (NFL)

It came down to the battle of the Steve's for #1.  The high profile nature of a QB and the success that Young had ultimately steered me in that direction.  A pretty good list headed up by two current and one sure-fire Hall of Famers.  There were no real omissions to the list, as the numerous"Young's" who did not make the list are at best forgettable. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "V" - Post 1980

"V" is for Voracious, as this list devoured batters, baseballs and defenders over some quality careers.

10. Frank Viola (MLB)
9.  Adam Vinatieri (NFL)
8.  Robin Ventura (MLB)
7.  Mo Vaughn (MLB)
6.  Omar Vizquel (MLB)
5.  Kiki Vandeweghe (NBA)
4.  Fernando Valenzuela (MLB)
3.  Michael Vick (NFL)
2.  Justin Verlander (MLB)
1.  Troy Vincent (NFL)

This was hands down the hardest list to rank with a lot of good players but no greats to separate themselves.  Ultimately, I went with Vincent at #1 as the only player who ranked at the top of his position consistently during his playing career.  Verlander and his two no-hitters grabbed the second spot over the enigmatic Vick.  Throw the rest in a hat, but no other players had "mania" after their name like Fernando.  Nick Van Exel, Greg Vaughn and John Vanbiesbrouck were the notable omissions.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "U" - Post 1980

"U" is for unimpressive, as this list quickly diminishes in quality from a few excellent players to a few players I can't even tell apart.

10. Jose and Juan Uribe (MLB)
9.  Beno Udrih (NBA)
8.  Ugueth Urbina (MLB)
7.  Justin Upton (MLB)
6.  B.J. Upton (MLB)
5.  Willie Upshaw (MLB)
4.  Dan Uggla (MLB)
3.  Osi Umenyiora (NFL)
2.  Chase Utley (MLB)
1.  Brian Urlacher (NFL)

On a list dominated by baseball, Urlacher is the clear #1.  There is not much else of note here, unless you want to have the Great Upton or Great Uribe Debate.

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "T" - Post 1980

For now, "S" is for skip, so on to "T".  "T" is for terrifying, as in I am terrified of the Top 2 on this list.

10. Fred Taylor (NFL)
9.  Joe Thornton (NHL)
8.  Jim Thome (MLB)
7.  Derrick Thomas (NFL)
6.  Frank Thomas (MLB)
5.  Thurman Thomas (NFL)
4.  LaDainian Tomlinson (NFL)
3.  Isiah Thomas (NBA)
2.  Mike Tyson (Boxing)
1.  Lawrence Taylor (NFL)

The original LT earns the top spot, edging out Iron Mike in the battle of troubled sports icons.  Taylor changed the NFL game and was the greatest linebacker of my generation.  Tyson's dominance was also legendary, but faded in his post prison comeback attempts.  Isiah earns the honor as Top Thomas, leading a pack of 4 greats with that surname.  The underrated Fred Taylor gets the final spot over Al Toon.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "R" - Post 1980

"R" is for Record-Breakers.  This list features a number of record breakers across several sports.

10. Dennis Rodman (NBA)
9.  Ed Reed (NFL)
8.  Manny Ramirez (MLB)
7.  Nolan Ryan (MLB)
6.  Patrick Roy (NHL)
5.  Mariano Rivera (MLB)
4.  Cal Ripken (MLB)
3.  David Robinson (NBA)
2.  Alex Rodriguez (MLB)
1.  Jerry Rice (NFL)

Rice was the obvious choice for #1, followed by an extremely talented and somewhat controversial group with A-Rod and Man-Ram.  Despite PED allegations, Rodriguez is one of the best I have ever seen.  Sandwiched between he and Ramirez are 5 of the greatest professionals ever.  Rodman grabbed the final spot over Ivan Rodriguez, Jim Rice and Andre Reed.

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "Q" - Post 1980

"Q" is for Quiz, as in quick try to even name 10 athletes whose last name starts with "Q".  Not easy.  Which leads to the weakest list of all the letters.

10. Brian Quinnett (NBA)
9.  Sam Querrey (Tennis)
8.  Chad Qualls (MLB)
7.  Jamie Quirk (MLB)
6.  Paul Quantrill (MLB)
5.  Brady Quinn (NFL)
4.  Shelton Quarles (NFL)
3.  Carlos Quentin (MLB)
2.  Mike Quick (NFL)
1.  Dan Quisenberry (MLB)

Not a lot to add to this list.  Quisenberry had a great stretch in the early to mid-1980's that separates him from the rest of this list.  The fact that Brady Quinn can be #5, based mostly on his prowess at Notre Dame is a telling sign.  There were no real omissions, although Rey Quinones and Carlos Qunitana might argue.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "P" - Post 1980

"P" is for Phenomenal, as in the careers the following list of players had over the past 30+ years.  The list includes two generations of ball-carriers, a foursome from the hardwood and an unmatched Olympian.

10. Adrian Peterson (NFL)
9.  Chris Paul (NBA)
8.  Mike Piazza (MLB)
7.  Paul Pierce (NBA)
6.  Gary Payton (NBA)
5.  Kirby Puckett (MLB)
4.  Walter Payton (NFL)
3.  Albert Pujols (MLB)
2.  Scottie Pippen (NBA)
1.  Michael Phelps (Swimming)

What Phelps did 3 years ago was unbelievable and worthy of the #1 spot on this list.  The next group was very difficult to place, all the way through #7.  Payton would have been a slam dunk #2, but I missed the early and probably best part of his career.  I believe Pippen becomes more underrated as time passes.  Jordan does not win those rings alone.  My major omission from the "P's" is one Rafael Palmeiro.  I didn't feel he deserved to make this list with fairly equal competition and as a guy I liked, maybe I just can't forgive Raffy.

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "O" - Post 1980

"O" is for Outstanding, as in how surprisingly Outstanding this list turned out to be.  A little variety to start, some fast talkers, some fast skaters and all ending with the great center debate.

10. Adam Oates (NHL)
9.  Charles Oakley (NBA)
8.  Lorena Ochoa (Golf)
7.  Roy Oswalt (MLB)
6.  David Ortiz (MLB)
5.  Jonathon Ogden (NFL)
4.  Alexander Ovechkin (NHL)
3.  Terrell Owens (NFL)
2.  Hakeem Olajuwon (NBA)
1.  Shaquille O'Neal (NBA)

The #1 spot goes to the recently retired "Big Aristotle", who edges out Olajuwon in one of the best debates of our generation.  Brute Force vs Unstoppable Finesse.  I had already settled this one last year in my Greatest Centers list.  Ovechkin may very well force his way ahead of Owens in time, but despite all the baggage, Owens has put together a Hall of Fame career.  Oates grabbed the final spot over Jermaine O'Neal and Lamar Odom.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "N" - Post 1980

"N" is for Next, as in I am skipping the letter "M" and saving it for last as the featured list.  The "N" list features a pair of former teammates, a pair of southpaws who preferred different surfaces and a pair who made plaid pants look good.

10) Larry Nance (NBA)
9)  Scott Niedermayer (NHL)
8)  Cam Neely (NHL)
7)  Ozzie Newsome (NFL)
6)  Greg Norman (Golf)
5)  Jack Nicklaus (Golf)
4)  Steve Nash (NBA)
3)  Rafael Nadal (Tennis)
2)  Dirk Nowitzki (NBA)
1)  Martina Navratilova (Tennis)

This was really a 4-way battle for the #1 spot, with the prolonged dominance of Navratilova edging out her three male competitors.  Nowitzki's recent success is fresh and may have swayed my current opinion over Nadal and Nash.  Yes, Jack Nicklaus is #5, keeping in mind the context of these lists.  I remember Larry Nance winning one of the first dunk contests I watched.  He gets the final spot over a couple more NHLers in Mats Naslund and Joe Nieuwendyk.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "L" - Post 1980

"L" is for Lethal, as in the manner this group went about their careers.  The list includes lethal backhands, lethal defenders, lethal punchers and lethal stickmen.

10. Barry Larkin (MLB)
9.  Ivan Lendl (Tennis)
8.  Greg Louganis (Diving)
7.  Steve Largent (NFL)
6.  Sugar Ray Leonard (Boxing)
5.  Nicklas Lidstrom (NHL)
4.  Ray Lewis (NFL)
3.  Ronnie Lott (NFL)
2.  Carl Lewis (Track)
1.  Mario Lemieux (NHL)

Lemieux was a fairly easy choice for #1, as its tough for an Olympian like Lewis who fades in and out of the limelight to have the same impact as an all-time great in his sport.  This list also features easily 2 of the Top 5 NFL defensive players of my lifetime Lott and Ray Lewis.  Larkin nabbed the final spot over James Lofton and the fast-rising Tim Lincecum.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "K" - Post 1980

"K" is for King-Sized, as in the totals that this list put up in their careers.  Whether it be scoring, assists, home runs, sacks or touchdown passes, this list knew how to put up the king-sized numbers.

10. Ilya Kovalchuk (NHL)
9.  Jeff Kent (MLB)
8.  Paul Konerko (MLB)
7.  Alex Kovalev (NHL)
6.  Paul Kariya (NHL)
5.  Jevon Kearse (NFL)
4.  Bernard King (NBA)
3.  Jari Kurri (NHL)
2.  Jim Kelly (NFL)
1.  Jason Kidd (NBA)

This was a tough call for #1.  Kelly put up huge numbers in the K-Gun and led the Bills to those unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, but was overshadowed at his position by some of his peers.  Kidd is currently 2nd all-time in NBA history in assists, 3rd in steals and 3rd in 3-pointers made, ranking as arguably the top point guard of his time.  He also now has the championship that eluded Kelly.  Hockey dominates the remainder of the list, including Kovalchuk, who beats out the likes of Tom Kite and Ian Kinsler for the final spot.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "J" - Post 1980

"J" is for Jam-Packed, as this list is packed with some of the greats of the past 30+ years.  It has quality at the top and exceptional depth.

10. Bo Jackson (NFL & MLB)
9.  Chipper Jones (MLB)
8.  Jaromir Jagr (NHL)
7.  Randy Johnson (MLB)
6.  Derek Jeter (MLB)
5.  Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR)
4.  LeBron James (NBA)
3.  Michael Johnson (Track)
2.  Magic Johnson (NBA)
1.  Michael Jordan (NBA)

For me, this was another no-brainer for the #1 spot.  Michael Jordan would be at the top of every list (but would he have been as great as Michael Vordan?).  I am also fairly clear on my opinion of all this LeBron is the best player ever hogwash.  He is great, but he is only 3rd at his sport on this list.  Baseball dominates the lower portion of the list, with two-sport star Jackson garnering the final spot.  Honorable mention to Edgerrin James and all the other Johnsons out there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "I" - Post 1980

"I" is for impressive, as in least impressive. The ninth letter of the alphabet brings the least impressive list of 10 names thus far.

10. Mark Ingram (NFL)
9.  Raul Ibanez (MLB)
8.  Goran Ivanisevic (Tennis)
7.  Qadry Ismail (NFL)
6.  Raghib Ismail (NFL)
5.  Andre Iguodala (NBA)
4.  Jarome Iginla (NHL)
3.  Hal Irwin (Golf)
2.  Michael Irvin (NFL)
1.  Allen Iverson (NBA)

Iverson vs Irvin was a good battle for #1 on this list.  I will take the diminutive Iverson's individual accomplishments over the "Playmaker", who had more modest individual but better team success.  Who is the better Ismail?  I have Raghib, who was a bit more celebrated in college and had a similar NFL career to his younger brother.  The final spot went to the currently incarcerated elder Mark Ingram over really no one, as this list stretched the limits fast.  Marc Iavaroni anyone?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "H" - Post 1980

"H" is for huge or humongous, as in the totals that this list put up in several categories.  Whether it be rebounds, goals, saves, receiving yards or stolen bases, the "H" list is not short on numbers.

10. Dwight Howard (NBA)
9.  Roy Halladay (MLB)
8.  Brett Hull (NHL)
7.  Martina Hingis (Tennis)
6.  Trevor Hoffman (MLB)
5.  Dominik Hasek (NHL)
4.  Torry Holt (NFL)
3.  Marvin Harrison (NFL)
2.  Evander Holyfield (Boxing)
1.  Rickey Henderson (MLB)

Rickey himself claims to be the greatest of all-time, so the least I can do is make him the greatest "H" of the last 31 years.  Based on quotes alone, Rickey would top this list...A reporter once asked Rickey if he talked to himself, “Do I talk to myself? No, I just remind myself of what I’m trying to do. You know, I never answer myself so how can I be talking to myself?”

The Holt/Harrison debate is a good one.  I always felt Harrison was considered to be in the group ahead of Holt.  Hoffman is the all-time saves leader, but did not seem as dominant as the appropriately nicknamed "Dominator".  The physically imposing Howard takes the final spot on the list and is poised to ascend higher.  Quality professionals Tim Hardaway and Todd Helton were top omissions.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Top Athletes - Last Names Starting with "G" - Post 1980

"G" is for "Great One", which is pretty self-explanatory on this list.  In addition to the one who carries that title, the "G" list also includes some of the greatest hitters, defenders, pass-catchers, drivers and forehands to ever play their positions.

10. George Gervin (NBA)
9.  Eddie George (NFL)
8.  Vladmir Guerrero (MLB)
7.  Tony Gonzalez (NFL)
6.  Tony Gwynn (MLB)
5.  Jeff Gordon (NASCAR)
4.  Kevin Garnett (NBA)
3.  Ken Griffey Jr. (MLB)
2.  Steffi Graf (Tennis)
1.  Wayne Gretzky (NHL)

#1 and #2 were immediately written in ink when this list started.  I went back and forth on the Griffey vs Garnett ranking and finally sided with Griffey, who was the best player in baseball for the decade of the 90's, a title Garnett cannot claim about his sport for any decade.  I also wavered on Gordon, but his Winston Cup Titles edged out the batting titles of Tony Gwynn.  The "Ice Man" garnered the final spot on the list, edging Tom Glavine.