Greatest Athletes and Other Myths

ESPN finally revealed the final 20 members of it's SportsCentury's Greatest Athlete list.  Similar to Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War, the roll call of this century's top 50 athletes seems to be taking a year longer than the actual century did (thank you, Dennis Miller).  Anyway, it was nice to see 7 baseball players in the top 20 but I'm not sure their place there is warranted.  Yes, these guys are significant sports figures but are they really the best athletes?  John Kruk once replied to a fan, "Lady, I'm not an athlete, I'm a baseball player."  And there have been many like him.  However, there are worse offenses on this list.

For instance, how can golfers be considered as any of the top 50 athletes of this century?  I'm at a loss at how Arnold Palmer can be considered a better athlete than Eric Heiden.  In one Olympics, Heiden won gold medals in the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m and the 10,000m races, establishing new Olympic records in the first 4 and a world record in the latter.  That means he was the fastest guy on skates in the world at ANY distance... ever!  Or what about Edwin Moses, who didn't lose a single race for 10 consecutive years!  But the voting experts felt that a guy who basically walked for a living was a better athlete than either.

Frankly, I'm not even sure golf is really a sport.  Yes, it takes a lot of muscle control and discipline, but so does throwing darts, or yoga.  I don't consider either of those a sport.  To me, a sport has to be an athletic activity where there is a real and constant danger of physical injury, either through contact with an opponent or exertion.  Golf doesn't really have any of that.  The clincher is this: what do most athletes do when they retire?  They play golf.  I don't see football players retire and go play soccer, or baseball players retire and go play basketball or hockey or lacrosse.

I guess the whole point is that the top 100 list is pretty relative: it all depends on who you ask.  Ask 100 New Yorkers who the best first baseman of all time is and you'll probably get as many votes for Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly as you will for Jimmie Foxx or Hank Greenberg.  Most of the sportswriters who voted in the poll cover guys like Palmer far more than they cover guys like Heiden.  Because that's who they were more familiar with, that's who they voted for.  Had the pollsters done a better job of defining "athlete", I'm sure the poll would have reflected reality a little better.

Speaking of reality, I saw a preview for yet another movie about Joan of Arc.  Milla Jovavich will be playing her.  She's the slim, pretty and waif-like actress who played opposite Bruce Willis in the 5th Element.  What are the chances that the actual Joan of Arc looked like her?  Yeah, she was only 16 years old when she liberated Orleans in 1429, but she had to be pretty strong to wear the plate armor commonly used in battle by army leaders back then.  Even well made plate armor weighed around 50 lbs.  Fighting hand-to-hand with France's toughest knights while encumbered by 50+ lbs of metal is not for the dainty.  Say what you will about the toughness of the French, but I'm betting Joan looked a lot more like Martina Navratalova - deservedly one of ESPN's top 20 athletes (you didn't know where I was going with this, did you?) - than Milla Jovavich.

Speaking of whom, did you hear that she is now going out with Erubial Durazo?  I didn't either, but I figure if dating/marrying a knockout actress can resurrect a waning career (see Matt Williams), it might be the only reasonable explanation for a suddenly blossoming one like Durazo's.  I just can't figure why no one gave this guy a shot before this year.  The big question now: is Erubial Durazo this year's Shane Spencer?  Maybe, but probably not.  Here're the numbers for both:

Player         AVG    G   AB    R    H   Tb  2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO SB CS SH  SF  HP  SLG%   OBP%
Durazo  NL    .325   38  114   23   37   72   2  0  11   22  15  33  1  1  0   2   1  .632   .402
Durazo  AAA   .407   30  118   27   48   85   7  0  10   28  14  18  1  0  0   1   1  .720   .470
Durazo  AA    .403   64  226   53   91  157  18  3  14   55  45  37  2  1  0   3   1  .695   .498
Total         .384  132  458  103  176  314  27  3  35  105  74  88  4  2  0   6   3  .686   .468

Player         AVG    G   AB    R    H   Tb  2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO SB CS SH  SF  HP  SLG%   OBP%
Spencer       .373   27   67   18   25   61   6  0  10   27   5  12  0  1  0   1   0  .910   .411
Spencer AAA   .322   87  342   66  110  195  29  1  18   67  41  59  1  3  0   3   2  .570   .397
Total         .330  114  409   84  135  256  35  1  28   94  46  71  1  4  0   4   2  .626   .398

Durazo, despite being a year younger, has more impressive minor league numbers and he's been playing full-time in the majors rather than platooning, as Spencer did, making his sample size slightly more indicative of his level of talent.  He looks like the real deal.

And speaking of real deals, how are the Braves doing it?  Their leadoff guys have the worst on base percentage in the league, the bottom of their order is almost as anemic and their clean-up hitter, Brian Jordan, has an injured hand.  Add to that the losses of Galarraga and Javy Lopez, and one has to wonder how they are still on pace to win 101 games.  Pitching and an offense consisting of Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko and Andruw Jones.  Chipper has been carrying the Braves for more than 2 months now, hitting .361 (slugging .784!!), with 26 homers, 51 RBI, 60 runs scored and 15 steals since the beginning of July.  While Chipper is a great player, and Klesko and Andruw are pretty darned good, I just don't think that'll be enough.  The Reds, Mets and Astros look deeper and more balanced.  I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict that the Braves will lose to the Reds in a one game playoff for the wild card.  Their only consolation will be that Chipper will win the NL MVP.  Or at least the best athlete.