Pretty self-explanatory, just one rule before we get started.
You had to have played at least three seasons for a Boston (or New England) team to qualify for the list. So that leaves Ray Allen, Tony Clark, Kevin Garnett, Vin Baker, Wes Welker (he’s only played two years with the Pats, despite Dick Enberg telling us about 20 times during Pats-Seahawks that this was Welker’s third year in New England), Randy Moss and Paul Coffey on the outside.
Here we go. Feel free to tell how wrong I am at email@example.com
10. Troy Brown
Obviously a player who cannot be measured simply by his numbers, but his numbers were plenty impressive to kick off the decade. Eighty-three catches in 2000, a then-club record 101 grabs in 2001 and 97 more in 2002. He was never again the No. 1 option (Deion Branch took that role in 2003), but he made himself invaluable as the ultimate jack-of-all-trades.
I’m still not sure if the title of greatest receiver in Patriots history should belong to Brown or Stanley Morgan (again, I’m applying the minimum three-year rule here; clearly Welker and Moss would already be in the conversation). It seems that all pre-Belichick Patriots get the Pete Best treatment from the Pink Hat crowd, so a player like Morgan might slip through the cracks. But he was terrific, with three straight seasons (1979-81) leading the NFL in yards per catch. Brown leads Morgan in career catches by 23 (557-534), but Morgan dwarfs him in career receiving yardage (10,352-6,366) and TD grabs (67-31). Have to give Brown the edge in big-game production (18 catches for 253 yards in three games during 2001 playoffs, eight catches for 76 yards in Super Bowl XXXVIII) but I really think it is too close to call.
9. Jason Varitek
Tough call here, and I’m sure if I had chosen someone else Varitek would have accepted it and sprinted to the dugout. This spot came down to four Red Sox players.
Derek Lowe: In this decade, Lowe gave you a great season as a closer (42 saves in 2000), a great season as a starter (21 wins and a 2.58 ERA in 2002) and the close-out efforts in 2004. I left him off because he was Capital A awful during the 2004 regular season (5.42 ERA), he killed the Sox in the 2003 ACLS vs. the Yankees (0-2, 6.43 ERA), and was part of just one World Series winner.
Johnny Damon: 14 HRs, 75 RBI and a .294 average. That is what Damon produced, on average, in his four seasons with the Sox (2002-05). Doesn’t seem overwhelming, but from the leadoff spot that is serious production. He topped the 100-run mark in each season and of course was key in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS. You could make a case for Damon ahead of Varitek, but I just think a near-decade of top-five catcher performance overrides two decent seasons and two good years from Damon. It also should be noted that I still think Michelle Damon could emerge as an important journalistic force.
Tim Wakefield: The Kevin Faulk of the Red Sox, Wakefield is just always there. Two-hundred innings, double-digit wins, and every season and half or so he goes on an six-start tear and carries the club. So why isn’t he on the list?
8.59 ERA (2004 ACLS)
12.27 (2004 World Series)
6.75 (2005 ALDS)
9.64 (2007 ALCS)
16.88 (2008 ALCS)
(To be fair, he was great in the 2003 postseason.)
At the end of “Moneyball”, Michael Lewis gave a little insight into what Billy Beane had planned when he took over the Red Sox in 2003. One thought was to trade Varitek and sign Mark Johnson to assume the catching duties.
Okay, Varitek’s cooked now, we all know that. But remember this: the Red Sox do not win the World Series in 2004 without Varitek. He hit .296 with a .390 OBP during the regular season and then slugged .571 with seven RBI in the ALCS.
(Moneyball, by the way, is my choice for Best Sports Book of this decade so far (can we just call it TDSF the rest of the way?). Here’s the rest of that top 10.
2. Johnny U—Tom Callahan
3. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract—Bill James
4. To the Edge: A Man, Death Valley and the Mystery of Endurance—Kirk Johnson
5. Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich—Mark Kriegel
6. War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler , and America in a Time of Unrest—Michael Rosenberg
7. Duel in the Sun—John Brant
8. Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero—Leigh Montville (his Babe Ruth biography is the most disappointing book of TDSF-stick with the Robert Creamer if you want to learn about George Herman.
9. Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy—Jane Leavy
10. My Losing Season—Pat Conroy
All are non-fiction. My favorite work of sports fiction this decade? Either Robert Parker’s “Double Play” or Rob Bradford’s “Are you there God? It’s me, Jiri Welsch”)
8. Adam Vinatieri
Not much to add about this guy. I still count those kicks as the two best in NFL history, and if he doesn’t get into Canton no other kicker should.
Oh, and he will be the only person on this list who wore leather pants on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
7. Richard Seymour
Last Patriot on this list for a while. Kevin Faulk, Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Corey Dillon (played just three years with the Pats but ranks third in club history with 37 rushing TDs), Deion Branch and Mike Vrabel were all considered but fell short. Donald Hayes played just one season in New England, so he does not qualify.
How many Patriots from the three Super Bowl teams wind up in the Hall of Fame? I think four—Brady, Belichick, Vinatieri and Seymour. I think the dominant defensive figure for a dynasty (five Pro Bowls, three-time All-Pro) has to get in. I’m guessing that if Ron Borges is still on the selection committee that he will create a strong case for Seymour (or at least hire Mike Sando to do so).
6. Curt Schilling
What’s he up to these days? It’s hard to have him ranked this high when he had only one truly great season in Boston (if Dave Roberts falls down on the way to second base Schilling isn’t on this list and no one would be reading about his fishing and thoughts on John McCain), but his 2004 (21 wins and a bloody postseason) earns him a spot. Throw in a 3-0 playoff record in 2007 and he’s in. Maybe he should be at seven, but his constant ripping of Shaughnessy bumps him up a spot.
5. Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season (1.74 ERA—league average was 5.07) is the top single-season effort of TDSF. The rest of the top 10:
2. Tom Brady—2007
3. Pedro Martinez—2002
4. Randy Moss—2007
5. Manny Ramirez—2002
6. David Ortiz—2006
7. David Ortiz—2005
8. Corey Dillon—2004
9. Manny Ramirez—2005
10. Kevin Garnett—2007-08
Couple of Pedro thoughts…
That 2000 season may very well be the best by any pitcher in history. He won the ERA crown by 1.96 (Roger Clemens, second that season in ERA, was closer to 38th on the list than he was to first; thanks to yfsf.org for that stat) and his WHIP of 0.737 is the best total of all time. It’s amazing to think he did that during the peak of steriods and juiced-up balls and home-run parks. Put it this way: second on that list is Guy Hecker in 1882. The league leader in home runs that season? Oscar Walker, with seven. The entire American Association hit 52 home runs that year. Troy Glaus hit 47 in 2000.
Pedro took a lot of grief in 2004, and his 3.90 ERA was easily his worst in Boston. But a 16-9 record with a 1.17 WHIP and 227 Ks in 217.0 innings is pretty solid. That gets you an $85 million contract today.
4. Paul Pierce
A year ago, where would he be on this list? Eighth, maybe?
Just remember that when it mattered most Pierce took Kobe Bryant to the shed, plain and simple. That performance in Game 4 cemented Pierce as a top 10 Celtic and a Hall of Famer.
One Celtic and no Bruins on this list (I don’t think I’m giving anything away, pretty sure you know the three guys left). The three-year minimum takes care of Garnett and Ray Allen, and there just isn’t a Bruin that you can put up next to the guys on this list (the most productive Bruin TDSF is probably Joe Thornton).
I’m not anti-Celtic or anti-Bruin. I’ve got three Celtics and a Bruin on my top 10 Boston Athletes of the 1980s.
10. Doug Flutie
9. Andre Tippett
8. Jim Rice
7. Robert Parish
6. Marvin Hagler
5. Wade Boggs
4. Kevin McHale
3. Roger Clemens
2. Ray Bourque
1. Larry Bird
That is an impressive list. If Jim Rice gets into Cooperstown next week (and I think he will) that is 10 Hall of Famers (Flutie is a College Football Hall of Famer, Hagler is in the World Boxing Hall of Fame). No shock, as the 80s were just a great decade in Boston sports. The 1990s gave us M.L. and Rust and Kaspar and Hobson (no titles). The top 10 list isn’t nearly as strong as the decade before (or after).
10. Cam Neely (would be MUCH higher without injury)
9. Reggie Lewis (also would have ranked in the top five)
8. Curtis Martin
7. Adam Oates (forgotten in Boston, he had 142 points in 1993)
6. Ben Coates
5. Roger Clemens
4. Nomar Garicaparra
3. Drew Bledsoe
2. Mo Vaughn
1. Ray Bourque (better in the 80s, but still won a pair of Norris Trophies in the 90s)
See what I mean? Maybe five Hall of Famers on that list (I’ll count Clemens simply on his numbers and all indications are that Oates and Martin will get in).
3. David Ortiz
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, let’s assume that Ortiz continues to decline and never again reaches the totals he produced from 2003-07. Does he still get the call from Jack Lang? (Uh, Lang died in 2007? I didn’t know that. You get the point, though.)
It’s close. Critics will point to Don Mattingly (like Ortiz, a dominant hitter for five seasons) being left out. It’s an interesting case but Ortiz has an overwhelming postseason history (.543 career playoff slugging, 2004 ALCS MVP) and Mattingly does not.
Ortiz is a unique candidate. A designated hitter with a short but brilliant peak and unrivaled as a clutch hitter. I actually think he’ll get in, and get in on the first ballot. His best seasons are historically great ones (four straight seasons with a slugging percentage of .600 or better), and no player in the last 25-30 years has his postseason reputation. (George Brett may be the last. I guess Reggie also.)
I’m starting to think I whiffed when I thought that Jeremy Giambi would be better than Ortiz.
2. Manny Ramirez
Six things here…
1. With apologies to Peter Gammons (and in defense of Felger) you can make a case for Manny Ramirez as the best right-handed hitter of this generation (and I have heard of Albert Pujols). Pujols is indisputably great (I think he’s had the best first eight seasons of any hitter in history not named Babe Ruth), but let’s see if he can post a .332, 37, 121 line at age 36. Of course Pujols may have turned 36 in 2004.
2. Manny is at 1,725 career RBI. Figure he plays four more years and averages 90 RBI (and I think that’s conservative), that’ll put him at 2,085. That would put him third all time behind Aaron and Ruth.
3. If you pick the worst of his numbers for his first six seasons with the Red Sox you get this line: 33 homers, 102 RBI, .292 average, .388 OBP and .587 slugging. Who wouldn’t sign for that from Jason Bay in 2009?
4. I actually wrote a 400-word parody called “Manny and Me” based on the bestselling book and Owen Wilson/Jennifer Aniston movie “Marley and Me” that I was going to put in this spot. I chose not to for two reasons. (a) I have not read the best-selling book nor have I seen the movie and (b) “Manny and Me” may be the single worst thing ever written in any format, and that includes every song by Winger and every USA Today column by Larry King.
5. “Marley and Me” is part of a 2008 film year that is completely forgettable. When the best movie of the year is a comic book adaptation that runs 45 minutes too long and features Eric Roberts in a prominent role you know it’s best just to move on to 2009. The top 10 movies of TDSF (I was going to include a sports movie but there isn’t one that should be on the list--terrible decade for sports movies):
10. Grizzly Man
9. The Squid and the Whale
8. Michael Clayton
6. Letters from Iwo Jima
5. Hotel Rwanda
4. Good Night, and Good Luck
3. No Country for Old Men
6. Was I wrong to leave Nomar off this list (I don’t mean the top 10 movies)? Maybe. Jason Varitek never had a season like Garciaparra did in 2000 (.372 average with .599 slugging), or 2002 (24 homers, 120 RBI and a .310 average), or 2003 for that matter (28, 105, .301). No rings for Nomar, though, and everyone on here has at least one. But on pure stats he should be here.
1. Tom Brady
An easy choice, really. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks (along with Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr, though we might have to make some room for Peyton Manning) and I think will end his career as the best QB in NFL history.
(If you are curious, the Mount Rushmore of “Underrated Women From 80s Movies” includes Gail Stanwyk from Fletch, Ferris Bueller’s mom (she still holds up), the owner from Major League and Tom Hanks’ secretary in Nothing in Common.)
This idea that the Patriots would have had the same record with Brady at quarterback this year is ludicrous. Cassel threw 21 TD passes this season. Anyone think a healthy Brady (with Moss and Welker) doesn’t throw 35? I think with Brady the Indy game, the San Diego game and the Pittsburgh game are all in play.
My favorite Brady stat? He has 52 career games with a passer rating of 100.0 or better. The Patriots are 51-1 in those games.
My favorite Brady stat, runner-up: He has a career 30-6 record in games where the final margin was six points or less.
Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com Contributor, is the resident Fantasy Sports expert for WEEI.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at WEEI.com