Boy, this was a toughie. A couple of personal favorites are among the athletes listed here, and except for a few guys on the list, all were truly great. But what it came down to is this: They weren't as great as we'd like to remember, or as we wanted them to be.
|Namath declared the Jets would win Super Bowl III, but we declare him overrated.|
1. Joe Namath
I'm a Joe Namath fan from way back, so it pains me to say this, but Namath was a great quarterback for only a few seasons. He's been properly credited for leading the Jets to a Super Bowl III win (and a few bonus points for being cool enough to know he didn't have to pass to beat the Colts). Namath was an icon, a product of his times, and he played the New York tune in perfect key, fur coat and all. But as a player ... there have been dozens of better QBs in modern times. Some surprisingly lousy career stats to consider: 173 TD passes, 220 INTs, completion percentage of 50.1.
2. Phil Rizzuto
Rizzuto was a fine shortstop who had one truly great season -- his MVP year of 1950. His admittance into the HOF in 1994, nearly 40 years after his playing career ended, was clearly a product of the New York media machine, Yankee aura and HOF voting politics.
3. Lynn Swann
Hmmm. In nine seasons, he was a Pro Bowler only three times. Averaged less than 40 catches per season. A couple of great playoff performances, but lots of so-so ones. In terms of career stats, you can't get more straightforward than the footballreference.com summary: "Lynn Swann is not in the all-time top 50 in any major category." So why is he in the Hall of Fame?
4. Jose Canseco
Wow. We knew Canseco was overrated, and he's especially unlikable these days, but just checking out his stats in an objective fashion, you'd be less than impressed. A .266 BA and just six 100+ RBI seasons in an offensive era, a so-so .353 OBP. Terrible in the postseason -- a .184 batting average and .398 slugging percentage when the stakes were highest.
|Remember all the hype when Deion returned to the Reds in 2001? He hit .173 for Cincy that year.|
5. Deion Sanders
Spectacular to watch in his prime, dominant on pass defense (although a notoriously weak tackler), but he asked for too much money, and undeservedly got it. ESPN the Mag's Tom Friend summed up Sanders' career well, calling Sanders the "Greatest selfish player of all-time, best-bandannaed player of all time, (who) killed wide receivers and salary caps." Oh, and he was a mediocre baseball player, despite the hype and two Sports Illustrated covers (only one less than Barry Bonds!).
6. Pete Maravich
Pistol Pete, perhaps the most spectacular college player ever, was a very good, but not great, NBA player. A marginal Hall of Famer if you look at his pro stats, and shouldn't have made the list of the NBA's top 50 players of all time.
7. Nolan Ryan
If you wanted to go see a game with lots of K's, lots of walks, and not much in-between, Ryan was your man. In his long career, he racked up some spectacular achievements -- for example, 5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters. Other spectacular marks included 2,795 walks and 292 career losses, which put him, with a 324-292 record, not far above .500.
Granted, he pitched most of his career for mediocre teams, but he never won the Cy Young Award (Steve Carlton, his contemporary and also a strikeout pitcher, won four Cy Youngs). A great hurler, but not, as many fans believe, the greatest in baseball history.
8. Pete Rose
He's got the most hits in baseball history, but that doesn't make him the greatest hitter in baseball history, as many casual fans believe. Rose kept himself in the game for five years after he should have retired, and he hurt the Reds as a player his last couple of years. Don't get me wrong: Rose was great, and he worked his tail off, but his his hits record is greatly overplayed. He didn't even come close to Ty Cobb at the plate:
Rose: BA: .303; OBP: .375; SLG: .409, career high of 82 RBI, 198 SB
Cobb: BA: .366; OBP: .433; SLG: .512, seven seasons of 100+ RBI, 892 SB
9. O.J. Simpson
Simpson had one incredible year, and two other great ones. But if you check
out his career stats, what you'll find is five fine seasons and six so-so
ones in which he gained less than 700 yards on the ground. Not much of a
receiver, either -- in his 2000-yard season, Simpson caught a grand total of
10. Apolo Ohno
Ohno already deserves a spot in SI's "Where are they now?" issue. A couple of questions: Why was he an SI cover boy last year when he was in a minor sport that had only been in the Winter Games since 1992? We could think of a dozen winter Olympians more deserving of that slot. Anything intriguing about him? Nah ... he's no Barry Zito. As my esteemed colleague Jim Caple put it, "It was his name and Nike that got him cred, not talent."
Also receiving votes:
Sugar Ray Leonard