**Ed's note: In preparation for another mammoth of a trip to Las Vegas for Memorial Day weekend, along with some personal sadness that I'm dealing with (read below to find out) one of ETSF's biggest supporters, JAG, will bless us with a guest post today. You Cincinnatians, you need a teeth cleaning? Hit him up!**
I was feeling for our great leader, Ed, yesterday when I heard that his Oklahoma Brother, Blake Griffin, would likely become a Clipper since they secured the #1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. I hope he’s not another great player who is never given his just due because he plays for a team that makes GM and Chrysler look like successful Blue Chip Corporations.
Now it doesn’t happen as much today because players have free agency and can get out of a bad situation. Kevin Garnett is a prime example of this. But, back in the day, your only options were to play for a loser or retire (more on Barry Sanders later). Who were the hardest luck players in sports? Here are my selections.
Baseball: Ernie Banks
Mr. Baseball is the Godfather of power hitting middle infielders and was a true ambassador of the game. A hall of famer who hit 500 homers back when hitting 500 homers meant something. Unfortunately, he had to buy a ticket to any World Series games that he wished to attend because he labored for the lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs.
Hon Mentions: Nolan Ryan – Could you imagine how incredible this “7 no hitters” fireballer would have been had he played in his prime on some decent teams? It’s also worth mentioning that in 1972, Steve Carlton went a mind boggling 27-10 pitching for a Phillies team that was 59-97 overall.
Basketball: Oscar Robertson
I admit that I might be a bit biased being from Cincy, but I consider the “Big O” to be the most under -appreciated player in sports history. Yes, I know he won a “past his prime” championship in ’71 when he fed a young Lew Alcindor (note to the youngbloods; he changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar later that year; perhaps you know him better that way). But Oscar spent the ‘60’s putting up ungodly numbers in a half empty Cincinnati Gardens arena, (in 1962, he AVERAGED a triple double) and played third fiddle behind Cousy and West because he could never get past the Celtics in the playoffs.
Hon Mention: Like I said earlier, Kevin Garnett was headed for this list until Kevin Mchale took pity on him and shipped him to beantown. It’s often noted that Charles Barkley never won a title but he doesn’t really qualify since he played on several good teams and didn’t exactly toil in obscurity. Let’s be frank; Charles Barkley doesn’t do anything in obscurity.
Football: Barry Sanders
Here’s a typical stat line from Barry’s rushing plays:
-3, 0, 1, -1, 0, 80yd TD
In other words, if his usually inept offensive line gave him an inch of daylight, it was all over.
Mr. Sanders shocked the NFL world when he retired and left at least five prime years on the table (not to mention $10-15 mil). The rushing record was his for the taking but he was just fed up with losing games and making three guys miss just to get to the line of scrimmage. Barry was a true artist on the field, a great combination of speed, elusiveness and strength rivaled only by Jim Brown himself.
Hon Mention: Walter Payton was headed for this list until the late career arrival of the ’85 Super Bowl Shuffle Bears saved him. However, he was on his last legs then and everybody including the fridge got to score a Super Bowl TD except Sweetness. The fact that Mr. Payton was not blessed with longevity and has been taken from us is a great loss for the NFL and society as a whole.
Hon Mention II: Carson Palmer – unless he gets some help, he is a prime candidate for this dubious distinction.
Let’s hope that Mr. Griffin can turn things around for the Clips and not have to be considered for this list in the future.
Who’d I miss? Marino? Stockton and Malone? Hank Aaron? Let me know!
Ice cold regards,