Best Athletes Ever by Jersey Number

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Like many of you, I have a list like this kicking around that I update every handful of years. I'm at the end of midterm week (giving my Business Law final today) and so, it's time once again. No, there's really no basis for comparison across sports. But choices have to be made and I'm going to make them.
I'll give you a winner and one runner-up for each number.

(edit, one month later ESPN the Magazine has done the same exercise, I'm going into this post to insert their picks if they differ from mine - the ESPN picks are in bold. Mine are better.)

00- Robert Parrish (Jim Otto) (Otto)

0 - Al Oliver (Orlando Woolridge)

1 - Oscar Robertson (Ozzie Smith) (Smith)

2 - Secretariat (Moses Malone) (Malone)

3 - Babe Ruth (Dale Earnhardt)

4 - Brett Favre (Lou Gehrig)

5 - George Brett (Joe DiMaggio) (Johnny Bench)

6 - Stan Musial (Bill Russell) (Russell)

7. John Elway (Mickey Mantle)

8. Joe Morgan (Cal Ripken) (Ripken)

9. Gordie Howe (Ted Williams)

10. Pele (Diego Maradona)

11. Carl Hubbell (Isiah Thomas) (Mark Messier)

12. John Stockton (Roger Staubach) (Tom Brady)

13. Wilt Chamberlain (Dan Marino)

14. Don Hutson (Otto Graham) (Pete Rose)

15. Karch Kiraly (Bart Starr) (Starr)

16. Joe Montana (Whitey Ford)

17. John Havlicek (Chris Mullin)

18. Peyton Manning (Dave Cowens)

19. Johnny Unitas (Tony Gwynn)

20. Barry Sanders (Mike Schmidt)

21. Roger Clemens (Tim Duncan) (Roberto Clemente)

22. Emmit Smith (Elgin Baylor)

23. Michael Jordan (LeBron James)

24. Willie Mays (Rickey Henderson) (Kobe Bryant)

25. Barry Bonds (Rafael Palmeiro)

26. Rod Woodson (Wade Boggs)

27. Carlton Fisk (Vlad Guerrero) (Juan Marichal)

28. Marshall Faulk (Bert Blyleven)

29. Eric Dickerson (Ken Dryden) (Satchel Paige)

30. Martin Brodeur (Tim Raines)

31. Greg Maddux (Jim Thorpe)

32. Jim Brown (Magic Johnson) (Sandy Koufax)

33. Honus Wagner (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) (Larry Bird)

34. Walter Payton (Hakeem Olajuwon) (Olajuwon)

35. Frank Thomas (Phil Niekro) (Niekro)

36. Gaylord Perry (Meadowlark Lemon) (Jerome Bettis)

37. Doak Walker (Jimmy Johnson)

38. Curt Schilling (Rocky Colavito)

39. Dominic Hasek (Hugh McElhenny) (Roy Campanella)

40. Mike Haynes (Gale Sayers) (Sayers)

41. Eddie Mathews (Tom Seaver) (Seaver)

42. Ronnie Lott (Jackie Robinson) (Robinson)

43. Richard Petty (Dennis Eckersley)

44. Hank Aaron (Jerry West)

45. Pedro Martinez (Bob Gibson) (Gibson)

46. Andy Pettitte (Lee Smith) (Smith)

47. Mel Blount (Tom Glavine) (Glavine)

48. Jimmie Johnson (Rick Reuschel)

49. Hoyt Wilhelm (Bobby Mitchell) (Ron Guidry)

50. David Robinson (Mike Singletary)

51. Dick Butkus (Randy Johnson) (Ichiro Suzuki)

52. Ray Lewis (Mike Webster)

53. Harry Carson (Artis Gilmore) (Don Drysdale)

54. Randy White (Goose Gossage)

55. Junior Seau (Derrick Brooks) (Orel Hershiser)

56. Lawrence Taylor (Chris Doleman)

57. Clay Matthews (Johan Santana) (Santana)

58. Jack Lambert (Derrick Thomas)

59. Jack Ham (Donnie Edwards)

60. Chuck Bednarik (Tommy Nobis) (Otto Graham)

61. Curley Culp (Bill George)

62. Jim Langer (Charley Trippi)

63. Gene Upshaw (Willie Lanier) (Lee Roy Selmon)

64. Randall McDaniel (Jerry Kramer) (Kramer)

65. Gary Zimmerman (Elvin Bethea) (Bethea)

66. Mario Lemieux (Ray Nitschke)

67. Bob Kuechenberg (Reggie McKenzie) (McKenzie)

68. Will Shields (Jaromir Jagr) (Jagr)

69. Mark Schlereth (Jared Allen)

70. Jim Marshall (Sam Huff) (Huff)

71. Alex Karras (Fred Dean)

72. Bronko Nagurski (Too Tall Jones) (Carlton Fisk)

73. John Hannah (Leo Nomellini)

74. Merlin Olsen (Bob Lily)

75. Deacon Jones (Mean Joe Greene) (Greene)

76. Orlando Pace (Lou Groza)

77. Red Grange (Jim Parker)

78. Anthony Munoz (Bruce Smith)

79. Bob St Clair (Roosevelt Brown) (Harvey Martin)

80. Jerry Rice (Steve Largent)

81. Night Train Lane (Terrell Owens) (Tim Brown)

82. Ray Berry (John Stallworth)

83. Ted Hendricks (Andre Reed)

84. Randy Moss (Shannon Sharpe)

85. Jack Youngblood (Nick Buoniconti)

86. Buck Buchanan (Hines Ward) (Ward)

87. Willie Davis (Dave Casper) (Sidney Crosby)

88. Marvin Harrison (Michael Irvin) (Alan Page)

89. Gino Marchetti (Mike Ditka) (Otis Taylor)

90. Neil Smith (Julius Peppers) (Jevon Kearse)

91. Segei Federov (Dennis Rodman)

92. Reggie White (Michael Strahan)

93. John Randle (Doug Gilmour) (gilmour)

94. Charles Haley (Chad Brown)

95. Richard Dent (Greg Lloyd)

96. Cortez Kennedy (Clyde Simmons) (Pavel Bure)

97. Bryant Young (Jeremy Roenick) (Simeon Rice)

98. Julian Peterson (Sam Adams) (Tony Siragusa)

99. Wayne Gretzky (George Mikan)

-I'm slaying some sacred cows up top. There are some first/second place differences between this list and my previous unpublished versions.

-Deion is a hard out at #21. As is Bird at #33. 

-I don't know what to do at #42. Rivera's higher rated on my baseball list than Robinson. Do with that what you will.  No one's more important than Robinson, I think I'm doing on the field only in that way that I do. 
-There are some soft choices near the bottom of the list; available spots for you young athletes.
-Lance Armstrong is a defensible backup choice for #1, I also considered Sadaharu Oh
-Is Bobby Orr better than Gehrig? Is Orr higher rated in his sport than is Gehrig? I may need to reconsider this one.  Gehrig's just a touch, a touch overrated by the public...nah, I'd still take Gehrig. 

-Brett's higher than DiMaggio and Bench (and Pujols, for now) on my baseball list - same question about Franz Beckenbauer I asked about Orr. What about George Best/Mickey Mantle?

-I have Musial tenth on my baseball list, I don't have a basketball list, but I assume Russell would be right about there too. It's a toss up, Russell has the college accomplishments too.  Either way would be fine.
-Steve Young ahead of Yogi for 3rd place #8.

-Zeke just beats out Elvin Hayes for #11 backup. Should Zeke beat out Hubbell too? Maybe need to rethink that one also.

-ARod can't crack 13 yet.

-Rose I think just misses, but maybe he should beat out Graham. I don't like him and it might influence me here.  I could stick Graham at 60 like everyone else. 

-Earl Monroe or Bart Starr?

-Schmidt beats out Frank Robinson on my baseball list.

-McGwire was also #25. Curious that.  Was that code?  On the 90210 when Brandon was in the club with this wild girlfriend Emily Valentine, she pointed out that the drug dealer selling euphoria (presumably as proxy for ecstasy, which I guess you didn't want to actually say on 90210) was the guy with the 4 on his jacket.  Maybe we round up all the 25s we see and check them for needle marks.

-Darrell Green gets edged out at #28.  I heard he was fast.

-Shaq is hard given all the numbers he had, if we think of him at #34 then we have to make an interesting choice. He might deserve that spot over Hakeem; he had a better career.  Yeah - I am too lazy to go make that change, but if I put in Honus Wagner for the number he wore as a coach, I can put in Shaq at 34.  Done and done. 

-Unit or Butkus for #51?  Very close.  Ichiro isn't in any way part of that conversation.   How did ESPN put Kobe over Willie Mays and Koufax over Jim Brown?

-When does Santana pass Matthews? Or should it be Dwight Stephenson?

-Jim Thorpe over Cheryl Miller at 31? Yeah, I'm gonna do that.  Done.

-Wagner wore his number as a coach, it's retired for him, that could be too cute by half.


Mark said...

Franz Beckenbauer was exceptional. A truly magnificent and graceful footballer, who won pretty much everything there was to win. But it's still very debatable if he belongs on this list. What's not, though, is that Diego Maradona needs to be at number 10. There's no good argument to the contrary.

Think of the greatest footballers of all-time like this:

There's a top 1: Maradona. The single most gifted footballer ever. Won the 1986 World Cup single-handedly. Won Napoli the Italian league twice (Napoli do not win league titles - ever). When people say Pele was the greatest ever, they say it because he was a nicer man that Maradona. But as a performer (and even as an artist), Maradona was streets ahead.

After that, there's a clutch of footballing geniuses. They're great. Exceptional. Magnificent. But not as good as Maradona. These include: Pele, Cruyff, Beckenbaeur, Di Stefano, Puskas, Eusebio, Best, Van Basten, Gullit, Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) and Zidane.

This group looks very likely to be joined by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at some point in the future. Messi may even be capable of joining Maradona's group. Maybe.

Jim said...


Now, here's what I'm going to do, I'm going to replace Tarkenton with Maradona. That's not a trivial move; Fran Tarkenton is the most historically underrated quarterback in NFL history.

But I'm willing to make that degree of move for Maradona.

My computer might blow up if I moved anyone ahead of Pele.

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