So, here is the debate: Which Boston athlete can stake claim to the best individual season?
(Note: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to debate further on our new feature at WEEI.com -- Slugfest.)
Pretty straight forward here, just one rule -- a player can only appear on the list once. Why? Just wanted to avoid four Bobby Orr seasons, three from Ted Williams and a couple of Bill Russell's. Thought a little variety might make for a better read.
10. Randy Moss (2007)
This is dopey I know, but I still get angry when I think about the 2007 Patriots. If they had scored the same amount of points during the season and gone 12-4 and lost in the AFC Title Game I'd probably think of them as a fun team that just didn't have the defense to get it done. But to be so close...
Let's face it, the 2007 Patriots were Matt Dillon in "My Bodyguard." And the Giants broke their noses. I'm pretty sure that this is the only team in Boston sports history that can be compared to a Matt Dillon character.
I almost left Moss off this list purely out of spite. But I suppose 23 TD catches can't be ignored.
In case you were wondering, here's the five seasons that just missed making the cut...
Cam Neely, 1993-94 (50 goals in 49 games)
Jim Rice, 1978
Roger Clemens, 1986
Wade Boggs, 1987
Ray Bourque, 1984
9. Larry Bird (1985-86)
I think this was from one of my blog posts from a while ago…
I fear that Bird has been a little forgotten over the last 10-15 years or so. Right around 1986 (when this cover story came out) there was no doubt that he was the best player in the league and probably one of the three best players in history. What changed? Jordan, of course, and it is tough to fight that argument (although Jordan is 0-6 vs. Bird in playoff games). It doesn’t seem that you ever hear Bird mentioned in the “best ever” argument anymore. He seems to be cemented in the “best forward of all time” spot and any attempt to promote him is not allowed. But I still submit that when Bird walked off the floor after Game 6 of the 1986 Finals he was, at that point, the best basketball player of all time.
The 10 Best Teams in Boston Sports History
10. 2007-08 Celtics
9. 2007 Red Sox (11-3 in the playoffs)
8. 1959-60 Celtics
7. 1969-70 Bruins
6. 1912 Red Sox
5. 2004 Red Sox
4. 2004 Patriots
3. 1961-62 Celtics
2. 1970-71 Bruins
1. 1985-86 Celtics
(The 2007 Patriots would have been no worse than No. 2 on the list if they had finished 18-0. Of course, the 1998 Celtics would have been no worse than No. 2 on the list of they had finished 82-0, but I think you get the point.)
8. Tom Brady (2007)
A truly great season, but maybe a touch overrated historically. Phil Esposito’s season (we’ll get there later) is actually far more impressive, if you look at the two. 50 TD passes seems almost incomprehensible at first glance, but the former record was 49 (and before that, 48). Does anyone think Brady’s record is going to last for another five years?
(Oh, and can we put the brakes on this team of the decade argument? Let’s have the Steelers win another Super Bowl first, then I guess we can open the books. Even then, I think the huge tiebreaker is that the Patriots won a pair of road AFC Title Games vs. the Steelers.)
7. Bill Russell (1961-62)
Again, you can just close your eyes and pick any season on Russell’s basketball-reference page and you’ll find a solid candidate for this list. His 1961-62 season stands out for two reasons.
(1) Career high in points per game (18.9) to go along with 23.6 rebounds (his fourth of what would be 10 straight 20+ rebound seasons). There is no game-by-game data for that era, but with those averages can we assume somewhere between 40-50 games with at least 20 points and 20 boards that season (he played 76 games)? I would think that might even be conservative, but we’ll go with it. Well, in the last 20 years the most 20/20 games by a player in a single season are 12 by Kevin Willis in 1991-92. You read all the time about how Dwight Howard is going to change the game, how he could average 20/20 in a season. Can we relax a little? He had nine 20/20 games in 2008-09. Long way to go (and I’m thinking it might not be the worst idea to retire that hook shot of his, either. That baby is “My Sister’s Keeper” brutal.)
(2) Russell in the 1962 playoffs:
48 minutes per game
26.4 rebounds per game (and that is his fourth-best playoff career rebounding average. He led the playoffs in rebounds 10 times.)
Five assists per game
(And not a bad effort in the Game 7 OT win over the Lakers in the Finals. Just 30 points and 40 boards.)
6. Phil Esposito (1970-71)
The most underrated athlete in Boston history, period.
Not totally forgotten, of course, but I do feel that Esposito is viewed now as the second banana to Orr on those title teams, and that just isn’t the case. We’re not talking about Kevin McHale or Scottie Pippen here, Hall of Famers but by no means immortal. Esposito led the NHL in goals six straight seasons for the Bruins and was MVP in 1974. Okay, is he Bobby Orr? No. But he’s one of the seven or eight best players in NHL history. Put it this way:
Through the 1974-75 NHL Season
Esposito: Four 60-goal seasons
Every other player in the history of the league combined: Zero 60-goal seasons
The truth is that Esposito could have easily made this list two or three times, but I’m going with his 1970-71 season here. He set a league record with 76 goals, 25 more than anyone else that season (and breaking the former mark by eighteen) and his 152 points also set an NHL record.
5. Carl Yastrzemski (1967)
If Yaz had the exact same numbers in 1967 but had not won the Triple Crown would he still be on this list?
I wasn't sure when I started looking, figured that Rice in 1978 might be as good, or maybe one of Jimmie Foxx's seasons. But it turned out that Yaz in 1967 had the best season ever produced by a Red Sox player not named Ted Williams. His OPS+ of 198 is higher than any season from Rice, Manny, Boggs, Ortiz or Foxx (with the Red Sox.)
I get a little too caught up in MVP voting, but I can't let this one slide. In 1967 Yastrzemski received 19-of-20 first place votes for MVP. Keep in mind this is a Triple Crown winner and Gold Glove outfielder for a pennant winner. So who got the other first place vote?
This Tovar must've been some presence in the clubhouse, because he fell just a little shy on numbers vs. Yaz.
Yaz: 44 homers, 121 RBI, 112 runs, .326 average, .418 OPB and .622 slugging
Tovar: 6 homers, 47 RBI, 98 runs, .267 average, .325 OPB and .365 slugging
4. Babe Ruth (1918)
Led the American League in homers (11, tied with Tilly Walker, who needed nearly 100 more at-bats than Ruth. No one else had more than six home runs), slugging and OPS. Not too shabby, right? But didn't Ruth have 10 seasons better than 1918?
As a hitter, yes. But let's not forget that before he became the most famous man in America the Artist Formerly Known as George Herman would also take a turn on the hill every four days or so. And in 1918 he won 13 games with an ERA of 2.22 (ninth in the league). He also started and won a pair of games in the World Series, including a complete game shutout in Game 1 (the Sox won the World Series in 1918 and didn't win again until 2004. Had you heard? Pity a book was never written that examined all the bad luck that plagued the franchise after selling Ruth. I'm sure had one been penned the author would have never actually believed that a groundball in 1986 had anything to do with No No Nanette.) I guess the best way to describe Ruth's value in 1918 in today's context is this: Imagine if Jon Lester in 2008 also hit 50 home runs.
3. Ted Williams (1941)
According to baseball-reference, the first .400 season was from Ross Barnes, who hit .429 in 1876. The last, of course, was Williams and his .406 in 1941. In the 63 seasons between Barnes and Williams there were 26 seasons in which a player reached .400. Isn't the fact that there have been none in the 68 years since Williams accomplished the trick sort of remarkable? Just by accident shouldn't someone have done it?
Not really, no. The truth is that the .400 hitter was nearing its demise even by 1941. Bill Terry of the Giants was the only player to hit .400 in the 1930s after seven players did so in the 1920s (11 players reached the total in the 1890s). Modern baseball has found its sea legs by 1941. Most of the truly gimmicky rules had exited (Barnes, for example, used the "fair-foul" hit to his advantage. Until 1877, any ball that first landed in fair territory was considered a fair ball, no matter where the ball ended up. So players like Barnes would bunt or squib the ball with a lot of spin, and the ball would wind up all over the place.) The condition of the fields were significantly better. And though it wasn't nearly as specailized as it is today, relief pitching was becoming more of a factor, so guys like Williams were facing fresh arms more often then the previuos generations.
Complete Games in the American League:
1901: 937 (eight teams)
1921: 650 (eight teams)
1941: 569 (eight teams)
1961: 417 (10 teams)
1982: 445 (14 teams, skipped the strike season of 1981)
2001: 103 (14 teams)
In 1887, Old Pete Browning didn't have to worry about Hideki Okajima in the seventh inning (another factor in the last 50 years -- guys named "Okajima" wouldn't have exactly been part of the gang in 1887. Or 1941, for that matter) and Papelbon in the ninth. Nor would have Williams in 1941, but he was at least occasionally looking at a new face as the game reached Act II or III.
The reality is that hitting .370 for a season in 2009 is every bit the accomplishment of hitting .400 in, say, 1926. There have only been 12 seasons of .370 or better in the last 68 years. In the previous 65 years there were 140 such seasons. But the "Chase for .370" doesn't sell magazines or make you want to watch Baseball Tonight.
2. Bobby Orr (1970-71)
Only three players in NHL history have had a season with at least 100 assists. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr (102 in 1970-71). No other defenseman has eclipsed 90 in a season.
You could fit all I know about hockey inside the plot of "Police Academy: Mission to Moscow" but even a moron like me can figure out that a season with 139 points and a plus/minus rating of plus-124 (best in history. And Orr has four of the top 13 plus/minus ratings in history) from a defenseman is a lot more than historic. It is an act of hockey revolution. And it hasn't even been approached since.
(Quasi off-topic, but as the hockey editor for Upper Deck I had to write a lot of Orr cards, as you might imagine. And for a period of about six months I could not stop writing "Booby Orr". It was unreal. Total mental block. Pretty much I was Chuck Knoblauch. These cards get seen by about five pair of eyes before they get printed, so I doubt very highly that any made it to the public. But I must've done it 20 times.)
1. Pedro Martinez (2000)
Why is Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season the best ever authored by a Boston athlete?
(1) Martinez led the AL with a 1.74 ERA, almost beating runner-up Roger Clemens (3.70) by a full two runs. Clemens was in fact closer to 38th place (Rolando Arroyo) than to first place.
(2) If Jimy Williams had left Martinez in for another inning during his final start of the 2000 season and Pedro allowed 45 earned runs without recording an out he STILL would have won the ERA title.
(3) His ERA in his six losses was 2.44.
(4) His WHIP for the season (.737) is the best single-season total in MLB history.
And this was at the peak of HGH madness (the average AL WHIP for the season was 1.49). Of the top 100 WHIP seasons all time just six have been from the 2000’s (three from Pedro). This season would have been dominant in deadball era, much less 2000, when the league ERA was 4.91. Forty-seven AL players hit at least 20 home runs in 2000. In 1910 (pretty much a typical deadball season) the entire league hit 147 homers, which goes a long way in understanding a league ERA of 2.52.
(5) His batting average against was .167.
(6) He had 15 games with at least 10 strikeouts. In those 15 starts he had a total of 16 walks.
(7) How about these road numbers?
12-1, 1.66 ERA, 150 Ks in 119 innings
Road OBP against was .206
(8) He escorted Brooke Shields and Emmanuel Lewis to the 2000 American Music Awards.
(Not really, but Nelson was sort of like Webster, right? Is there a 2009 equivalent to Lewis or Gary Coleman? An undersized sitcom actor forced to play a character that is 20 years younger than his actual age? Not counting Kevin Connolly, of course. Boom! And if you like that one then you’ll love every single zinger from Ari Gold. Eric is short, Turtle is a freeloader and Johnny Drama has no career. Oh, and Lloyd is a homosexual. We get it. And still I’ll watch every week for reasons I’ll never understand.)
(9) The only season in history in which a starting pitcher struck out more than twice as many batters (284) vs. hits allowed (128).
(10) His highest ERA for any month was his 2.60 in August. Tough to call that month a struggle, though, as he had a .622 WHIP, a 3-1 record and a 25.5 K/BB ratio.
Hard to believe that Pedro won just one AL Pitcher of the Month Award in 2000 (April). I had a sneaking suspicion that the voters may have just looked at won/loss records to make the determination (shock), so I decided to have a look...
Yup, the five other winners (James Baldwin in May, Cal Eldred in June, Clemens in July, Steve Sparks in August and Tim Hudson in September) combined for a 25-1 record. That's a huge edge over Pedro's 13-6 record (remember, his 5-0 record in April doesn't apply here). So the voters got this one right, huh?
Well, maybe not.
Pedro Martinez (Final Five Months): 13-6 , 1.83 ERA, 234 Ks, 24 walks, .716 WHIP
The Five Winners: 25-1, 2.24 ERA, 143 Ks, 63 walks, 1.05 WHIP
Take out the win/loss and it's not even close. That's how great Pedro was in 2000. He was that much better than 25-1.