Friday, Sep 21, 2018
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Tom Walton

Don’t let me get your GOAT; you decide

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    Ron Turcotte hangs on as Secretariat romps along the final stretch of the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Secretariat became the ninth horse to win racing’s Triple Crown.

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    Tom Walton.

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Acronyms come and go. We certainly have had a lot of them here in Toledo. TAGRA. TMACOG. TARTA. More recently we heard about something called TAWA, which is either a regional water authority that’s not going to happen or a very expensive moisturizing cream only available at fine retailers.

TMACOG, by the way, really needs to buy a vowel, but at least it’s fun to say.

Today a relatively new acronym interests me: GOAT. Maybe it has been around forever, but I only recall hearing it the last few years. GOAT is the ironic acronym for Greatest Of All Time.

I always thought the goat was not the guy who won the game but the guy who lost it. I speak from personal experience back when I was still playing baseball.

Back in the day, when Muhammad Ali was the most famous person on the planet, he declared himself the “greatest of all time,” and he probably was, but nobody called the controversial and supremely talented heavyweight champion of the world a goat.

That was then, this is now.

Read the previous column from Tom Walton

During the recent National Basketball Association playoffs, an old debate was restoked. Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time: Michael Jordan or LeBron James? What makes the argument so much fun is that it’s unwinnable. Each was certainly the greatest of his generation, but pick one over the other and all you pick is a fight.

James has surpassed Jordan in several categories, but Jordan has the edge in what many consider the most important category of all: championships. Jordan has six; James three.

The recent World Cup soccer tournament reignited another GOAT debate. Who you got, Christiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

The experts say they are the two best players in the world, but is either of them the greatest of all time? I’m not a fan of soccer, but even I remember a guy from Brazil named Pele. He was pretty good too.

In football you could make a strong case that Jim Brown is the best there ever was, and you would get no argument from me, but what about the great quarterbacks, from Johnny Unitas to Tom Brady, or the receivers, especially Jerry Rice?

Hockey would seem to offer a fairly easy and straightforward choice as its best player of all time, Wayne Gretzky. Not for nothing was he called “The Great One.” Even so, Gordie Howe has to be in that discussion somewhere.

So what about baseball, which may present the most options and therefore becomes the toughest argument to resolve? Expansion has changed the game so much that today’s best players are playing against opponents who would have been minor leaguers a few generations ago.

Bullpen specialists in today’s game mean that a starting pitcher need only be good for six innings. In the 1940s, Bob Feller was expected to finish what he started.

So comparing players from different eras is complicated. Babe Ruth was the best player in his time, but would he be as dominant if he were a young 20-something rookie called up to the Yankees today?

Willie Mays in his prime would have been a star in any era, including 2018. Joe Dimaggio too. Same for Mickey Mantle. Hank Aaron is the home run king as far as I’m concerned, not Barry Bonds, the king of the juicers. Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters. So are any of those guys in the conversation for the GOAT?

That’s the dilemma of sports, and also the beauty. Fans love arguing with each other for their favorites, and sometimes we build a case based more on emotion than logic.

I have a special affection for the late Larry Doby, who followed Jackie Robinson as the second African-American to make it to the big leagues. What I remember most about Hall of Famer Doby is not his career stats. He certainly was an outstanding player but no one would argue he is GOAT-worthy.

No, my fondness for Doby stems from one simple act: he chose me to be part of his team at the Cleveland Indians’ first fantasy camp back in 1990 in Tucson, Ariz.

See? I’m not thinking logically, just emotionally.

Often it requires the passage of time to confirm and confer GOAT status. Many basketball fans don’t like LeBron James because they see him as a threat to the legacy of the hero they remember with fondness, Jordan.

I went through the same thing with Tiger Woods. I grew up in the Jack Nicklaus era, and I was convinced he was the greatest golfer ever. Certainly his 18 major championships set the bar pretty high. I found myself resenting Woods’ relentless chase of Nicklaus’ records.

With time, however, I have decided that regardless of whether Woods catches Nicklaus, Tiger is the GOAT, based on sheer talent and an indomitable will to win. If not for problems in his personal life and persistent back troubles, he probably would have surpassed 18 majors by now.

So here is my list of athletes who I believe were the best ever in their sport: Muhammad Ali. LeBron James. Cristiano Ronaldo. Jim Brown. Wayne Gretzky. Willie Mays. Tiger Woods. In tennis, Serena Williams. In bowling, Earl Anthony.

Finally, any list of GOAT(s) has to include a horse: Secretariat. He may have been the most dominant GOAT of all time.

It’s fine if you disagree with any or all of these choices. In fact, it’s encouraged.

Tho­mas Wal­ton is the re­tired ed­i­tor and vice pres­i­dent of The Blade. His col­umn ap­pears ev­ery other Sun­day. His ra­dio com­men­tary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard ev­ery Mon­day at 5:44 p.m. dur­ing “All Th­ings Con­sid­ered” on WGTE FM 91 Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com.

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