YCS Barroom Discussion: Athletes of Yesteryear

>> Tuesday

One of the best things to come of Favre's retirement has been the resurgence in interest in Bart Starr for the purposes of debating who truly was the best Packers quarterback ever. In my own opinion it's Favre, and it's not even close. But, that's just my opinion. Others feel it's Starr in a landslide, and it's certainly an argument with plenty of merit.
The problem with my position is that I'm not coming from an informed position (like most people when they discuss politics). Since I never saw Bart Starr lead the Packers, I don't have anything to weigh against what I've seen from Brett Favre (and for what it's worth, my old man saw Starr and Favre and also thinks Brett was better). Sure, there are statistics to compare, but the NFL in 1965 wasn't the same NFL as in 2008, and that's a fact. This, of course, is partly a good thing, because since I never saw Bart Starr play, I don't have any particular memories to overvalue in my subjective recollections. Overall, though, it's a shame, because my opinion comes from evidence that is, by nature, incomplete.

Anyway, the whole debate got me thinking: what players that you never got to watch would you most want to see play? Criteria are open: you didn't see the player because you were too young to really understand sports, they were retired before you were born or, in some cases, you just didn't care at the time but now regret your indifference. My list is below, and I implore our anonymous commenters and lazy staff members to share theirs in the comments.
1. Roberto Clemente, OF Pittsburgh Pirates (1955-1972)
This one is a personal choice, as Clemente is one of my favorite athletes of all-time regardless of the fact that I never got to see him play. A legendary hitter, I would have loved to see him hit but moreover am disappointed that I never got a chance to see him uncork one of his trademark throws from Right Field, where most experts say he had the best outfield throwing arm of anyone, ever. More than seeing him on the field, I wish I had been around to see the coverage of him, as he was somewhat underrated during his playing days and had constant gripes with the media due to perceived slights (similar to one of my favorite current athletes, Allen Iverson). David Maraniss' biography of him is one of my favorite books, he's a member of my all-time "dream outfield" along with Barry Bonds and the Mick (see below) and is the best person to ever play the game.

2. Jim Brown, FB Cleveland Browns (1957-1965)

An obvious pick for the simple reason that he's the person you HAVE to mention in any debate over the best running back of all time. While our generation might say Payton (though we didn't get to see his prime) or Barry Sanders, the over-40 crowd will insist that Brown was the best, hands down. Sure, he may have been playing against (ridiculously) inferior athletes, but his 5.2 career yards per carry go beyond mere athletic superiority. His personality makes him an intriguing athlete to have followed closely and overall, it would be worth it to feel confident in your claim about who the best running back is of all time.

3. Mickey Mantle, OF New York Yankees (1951-1968)

Another personal pick, Mantle is intriguing as much for his personality and lifestyle as for his prowess on the field. A notorious partyer, it would be incredible to follow this guy in the era of Deadspin and camera phones. Imagine, you're sitting there looking at a picture from a guy who saw him with three women in a bar the night before while as you stare at the computer he's out hitting two homers in a game with a presumably massive hangover. Many say he ultimately wasted some of his ability due to his heavy drinking and self-destructive personality, but he still managed to be one of the best of all time and would have been a kickass guy to read about on a daily basis.

4. Wilt Chamberlain, C Multiple Teams (1959-1973)

This one is a no-brainer. Think about it - every time Kobe or LeBron put up a 50+ point night, you get the obligatory reference to the Stilt's 100 point game on SportsCenter. The problem is, nobody freaking saw it. There is no video of the game and the only picture you ever see is Wilt holding that hilarious napkin-thing with "100" written on it. This one is more wishing to have seen the game itself than the guy's whole career, but still - it would have been incredible to have happened to have been in Hershey, PA on March 2, 1962 to see history.

5. Dick "Night Train" Lane, DB Multiple Teams (1952-1965)

Some will tell you he's the biggest cheapshot artist in football history, others will tell you he's the biggest badass that ever played. Either way, it would have been awesome to see this guy flying in from the secondary to clothesline the everloving shit out of some poor, unsuspecting running back that happened to stumble into his area of the field. The reason the rules were changed, Lane was such a badass that profootballreference.com lists him only as "Night Train" and not by his Christian name, Richard. That's fucking tough.


Anonymous,  8:00 PM  

you know you're headed for a good argument anytime someone breaks out the "my old man saw....and he said.....", there's no way this one ends objectively.

Casey 9:17 PM  

Casey's wish list: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Oscar Robertson, 'Rocket Richard', and YA Tittle.

Matt 10:00 PM  

The big O was on my short list, too, but I'm not a huge basketball fan. Also, upon thinking more about it, I'd say Bob Gibson and Willie Mays have to be on the list as well.

Vinnie 10:49 PM  

Ok... Let's end the Starr-Favre debate right here:

Starr, in his prime had comparable peers. Favre, in his twilight, was still being wheighed against a guy who set the record for pretty much every single-season standard in the history of football, ever (Brady)?

I doubt Starr ever tickled the imagination of playground QB superstars (i.e. me, circa 1995) the way the Favre did. But... now I'm venturing into nostalgic old crank territory, which ends my argument here.

To answer your question:

Pistol Pete

Koufax. My huge hard-on for awesome pitchers with ridiculous primes is sadly lacking for having missed the Koufax prime and having super-limited footage of it. I'd love nothing more, as a sports fan, than to watch alternating "best-of" Koufax and Maddux games and trying to evaluate who was better.

Vinnie 10:51 PM  

And yeah, Starr couldn't get enought of those strong, masculine shoulders, even when they were imaginary.

Mike 11:22 PM  

Walter Payton, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Diego Maradona, Eric Cantona, Bobby Hull, Peter Nowak

Zuch 12:01 AM  

Two guys, one who died way too soon (and just before I could understand how good he was), and one I was probably indifferent to but have an appreciation for now. The first is Hank Gathers, who tragically died during his senior season at Loyola Marymount. While people legitimate wondered at how good he would have been in the pros, he led the nation in scoring and rebounding in two consecutive seasons I believe. The second one is Wayne Gretzky, as like Jordan he transcended his sport during its heyday.

Matt 9:18 AM  

Yeah, Gretzky we kind of weren't really cognizant of during his true prime. I'd also put Len Bias on there during his college career at Maryland, apparently he was king of the world.

Paul 9:38 AM  

This was actually relatively easy... sorry if I stole other people's picks.

Players: Dick Butkus, Ted Williams, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Robertson, Muhammad Ali, OJ Simpson, Gale Sayers, Herschel Walker (in college).

Teams: The Showtime Lakers, Phi Slamma Jamma, Murderers' Row, the Wooden Era at UCLA.

Vinnie 1:08 PM  

Cool Papa Bell? I'm guessing you mean you wish you could've seen him pull off the feat of hitting the lightswitch and getting into bed before the room was dark, more so than actually watching him play baseball.

Patrick 4:36 PM  

I'm shocked no one mentioned Shoeless Joe (not the Ray Liotta version)!!! Even as a die-hard Cubs fan, Shoesless Joe remains the one baseball player I would have loved to see play.

While I did see him play quite a bit, I would love to see Steve Larmer put a Hawks sweater on again. The way he glided up and down the ice was absolutely amazing.

Patrick 4:37 PM  

and by the way, if Larmer had stayed healthy, Gretzky wouldn't have been able to hold Larmer's jock strap

jason 5:48 PM  

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jason 5:49 PM  

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Mike 6:47 PM  

Jason, it's a pyramid scheme! You can't win! Leave us alone!*

* or tell us who your favorite athlete you never saw play is.

Anonymous,  7:15 PM  

I live in eternal fear that one day my grandson will sit down next to me and say "Grandpa, what was it like to watch Tiger Woods play? That must have been jorgondo(damn future slang)" and I'll have to sit there and say "To be honest boy...I really didn't give a flying fuck. I was much too obsessed with whether the Sox would finish third or fourth that year." I will then hike my pants way the hell up and crap them.

jason 11:30 AM  

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