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-   -   What athlete with the shortest career is considered an all-time great? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=881808)

Dinsdale 09-10-2019 04:09 PM

What athlete with the shortest career is considered an all-time great?
 
I was recently discussing Gale Sayers. Many folk consider him one of the all-time greats, but I believe he had only 5 uninjured seasons, then one strong comeback before his career-ending injury.

Made me wonder which pro athletes - in any sports - might be considered to be "all time greats" (however you define that) based on the shortest careers.

Quercus 09-10-2019 04:15 PM

Pheidippides?

Snowboarder Bo 09-10-2019 04:21 PM

Bo Jackson's gotta be on this list, right?

Mahaloth 09-10-2019 04:24 PM

Bo Jackson was certainly a popular athlete in both football and baseball and while not considered the greatest, it is amazing how short his careers really were.

Sir T-Cups 09-10-2019 04:25 PM

Bo Jackson.

It's not entirely within the constraints of the OP (but it's not entirely outside of them either) Stone Cold Steve Austin. Most WWE fans remember him and his feud with the McMahons and all the stuff he did in the attitude era, but his career only lasted about 4-5 years.

Snowboarder Bo 09-10-2019 04:28 PM

The problem with Steve Austin is just that he was not a competitive athlete; he was an entertainer.

ElvisL1ves 09-10-2019 04:38 PM

Jim Brown's NFL career was only 9 seasons. Sandy Koufax made it 11 in the majors. Those are both relatively short.

Atamasama 09-10-2019 04:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mahaloth (Post 21852235)
Bo Jackson was certainly a popular athlete in both football and baseball and while not considered the greatest, it is amazing how short his careers really were.

He was popular not because he excelled at either sport; he was good enough to be an All-Star in both, but not enough to make the Hall of Fame in either. But being a successful professional athlete for two major sports simultaneously meant he had a ton of fans.

I wouldn’t say his career was short. He played in the NFL for 3 years, which is close to the average career length in that sport, and he was a running back which is the most physically punishing position in the sport. He suffered a hip injury in his final year in the NFL, and that kind of thing is hard to bounce back from at such a position.

He played in MLB for 8 years, a couple years longer than the average in that league. So it wasn’t a flash in the pan.

Fotheringay-Phipps 09-10-2019 05:15 PM

Rocky Marciano (8 years)

Jackie Robinson (10 years, unless you include his Negro League days - I would argue that his reputation in the sport does not rest on his performance in those years)

Quote:

Originally Posted by Atamasama (Post 21852270)
He played in the NFL for 3 years, which is close to the average career length in that sport, [...] He played in MLB for 8 years, a couple years longer than the average in that league.

You can't compare to the average. The average includes all sorts of on-the-bubble players who get cut early on. The average for great players is much longer. To be an all-time great while playing even close to the average number of years is an accomplishment.

zamboniracer 09-10-2019 05:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ElvisL1ves (Post 21852269)
Jim Brown's NFL career was only 9 seasons. Sandy Koufax made it 11 in the majors. Those are both relatively short.

"Only" 9 seasons in the NFL is a long time, taking into account all of hits he took. He was great every year.

Koufax is an interesting case. He was in the big leagues for 12 full years, the first six of which he had a nothing special 36-40 W/L record. The next six he earned the nickname "The left arm of God" for excellent reasons. Cite.

Both Brown and Koufax retired suddenly in the mid-1960s seemingly at the height of their careers. Koufax said his arm and shoulder couldn't take the stress of pitching anymore, and Brown because he wanted to make movies in Hollywood with Raquel Welch. Both made good decisions methinks.

Gray Ghost 09-10-2019 05:40 PM

How short are we talking? For MLB, Jeff Bagwell and Joe DiMaggio are fairly high on the WAR leaderboards, despite only playing 14 and 13 years respectively. God forbid this were to happen, but if Mike Trout were to die in a plane crash today, he'd win this category handily: Less than 1200 games played over eight years, when most of the others near him in WAR have 1700-2000 and beyond, and he already has 72 WAR/position.

For the NFL, Jim Brown's already been mentioned. If you go by Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric (which is nowhere near as well-thought of as WAR), Barry Sanders is a reasonable answer to this question, with 150 AV, and only 9 seasons. AV doesn't think as highly of him as I do, but Calvin Johnson has to be considered too: 731 receptions, 11,619 yds, 84 total TDs.

Gray Ghost 09-10-2019 05:44 PM

Bo Jackson's career stats: 38 G: 515 Rushing attempts, 2,782 yds, 5.4 y/att, 16 TDs. 40 Receptions, 352 yds., 2 TDs. Famous certainly. Ungodly talented. Despite the great yards per attempt, not a great career, though certainly a famous one.

I Love Me, Vol. I 09-10-2019 05:50 PM

Barry Sanders?

RedSwinglineOne 09-10-2019 06:01 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Atamasama (Post 21852270)
He [Bo Jackson] played in the NFL for 3 years, which is close to the average career length in that sport...

3.3 years is the average NFL career length, but that includes a whole lot of players that barely made a team. The NFL says the average is 6 years for those players who make a club's opening day roster in their rookie season. For someone as talented as Bo Jackson I would have expected him play even longer.

DCnDC 09-10-2019 06:09 PM

These aren't the winners, but a couple of ideas:

LT Tony Boselli had a HOF-worthy career in just 7 seasons. His playing days were ended by a shoulder injury.

He didn't play nearly long enough to have been considered an "all-time great," but Sean Taylor still casts a large shadow over the safety position in the NFL. He played just 4 seasons before he was murdered.

Kent Clark 09-10-2019 06:14 PM

Dizzy Dean. He played 5 1/2 seasons, wrecked his arm after an injury, then came back in limited use. Played just over 300 games, won 185 of them, including a 30-7 record one year. Even in 1938, with a ruined arm, he managed to go 7-1 with a 1.81 ERA in 13 games, and still had enough left for a 6-4/3.36 record in 1939.

Velocity 09-10-2019 06:18 PM

Gale Sayers.

NAF1138 09-10-2019 06:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Gray Ghost (Post 21852425)
Bo Jackson's career stats: 38 G: 515 Rushing attempts, 2,782 yds, 5.4 y/att, 16 TDs. 40 Receptions, 352 yds., 2 TDs. Famous certainly. Ungodly talented. Despite the great yards per attempt, not a great career, though certainly a famous one.

You have to take into account that he only played half seasons, because he wouldn't report to football until after the baseballs season ended. So he never played a down in September. If you count college in his appeal to greatness, he's one of the all time great college players.

OldGuy 09-10-2019 06:22 PM

Addie Joss' career lasted 9 season (1902-10) for Cleveland in the American leagues before he died of tuberculous meningitis. His career 1.89 is second all time. The first "all-star" game was played as a benefit for Joss's family in July 1911. They waived the rule requiring a ten year career to elect him to the Hall of Fame.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addie_Joss

The Other Waldo Pepper 09-10-2019 06:37 PM

Wiki says, of Rookie Of the Year Maurice Stokes:

Quote:

During his three seasons in the NBA (1955–58), he grabbed more rebounds than any other player with 3,492 (Bob Pettit was second with 3,417) and also amassed 1,062 assists, which was second in the NBA only to Boston Celtics' point guard Bob Cousy (1,583). Stokes was named an All-Star and All-NBA Second Team for all three seasons of his career. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2004.
Set the single-season rebound record in the process, because of course he did.

Leaffan 09-10-2019 06:59 PM

Ken Dryden needs mentioning.

"Dryden played from 1971 to 1979, with a break during the entire 1973–74 season; he was unhappy with the contract that the Canadiens offered him, which he considered less than his market worth, given that he had won the Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy. He announced on September 14, 1973 that he was joining the Toronto law firm of Osler, Hoskins and Harcourt as a legal clerk for the year, for $135 a week."

Tom Scud 09-10-2019 07:11 PM

Bjorn Borg played as a professional for less than ten years, retiring at the age of 26.

Yookeroo 09-10-2019 07:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps (Post 21852355)
Rocky Marciano (8 years)
Jackie Robinson (10 years, unless you include his Negro League days - I would argue that his reputation in the sport does not rest on his performance in those years)

He'd be in even without being the color line breaker.

Colibri 09-10-2019 07:42 PM

HOF member Ralph Kiner only played 10 years before retiring due to a back injury.

Tom Scud 09-10-2019 07:44 PM

Olympic gymnasts of course have very short careers - for Nadia Comaneci, Wikipedia lists her first major championship in 1975 and her last in 1981.

F. U. Shakespeare 09-10-2019 08:00 PM

MLB pitcher Smoky Joe Wood. Up there with Koufax. And came back as a good-hitting outfielder, then retired and coached baseball at Yale for 20 years.

They even named a syndrome after him, which could be the name of this thread.

UCBearcats 09-10-2019 08:09 PM

Terrell Davis only played 1995-2001.

F. U. Shakespeare 09-10-2019 08:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Tom Scud (Post 21852678)
Olympic gymnasts of course have very short careers - for Nadia Comaneci, Wikipedia lists her first major championship in 1975 and her last in 1981.

Mary Lou Retton retired in 1985, at 17 IIRC.

dorvann 09-10-2019 08:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sir T-Cups (Post 21852238)
It's not entirely within the constraints of the OP (but it's not entirely outside of them either) Stone Cold Steve Austin. Most WWE fans remember him and his feud with the McMahons and all the stuff he did in the attitude era, but his career only lasted about 4-5 years.

?
Steve Austin started wrestling in World Class Championship Wrestling out of Texas in 1989 and had his last match with WWE at Wrestlemania 19 on March 30, 2003. That's a 14 year career.

Guinastasia 09-10-2019 08:43 PM

Does it count if they died? If so, I'm going to nominate Bill Barilko, who died in the prime of his career, right after winning the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs in 1951.

The guy won 4 Stanley Cups with the Leafs, in a 6 year career before dying in a plane crash. That's amazing.

Sir T-Cups 09-10-2019 08:57 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dorvann (Post 21852758)
?
Steve Austin started wrestling in World Class Championship Wrestling out of Texas in 1989 and had his last match with WWE at Wrestlemania 19 on March 30, 2003. That's a 14 year career.

True enough.

I was really referencing his time at the top of the largest company in the world (akin to playing in the MLB or NFL) rather than the stuff he did in the territories or the early days of WCW.

Xema 09-10-2019 09:32 PM

Bobby Orr probably deserves a mention - he scores big on the "all-time great" metric.

His career was seriously truncated by injuries - he played in 657 total games. Compare this to 1487 for Wayne Gretzky and 1767 for Gordie Howe, a couple of other guys who qualify as all-time greats.

Ají de Gallina 09-10-2019 09:32 PM

How are 9-,10, 13-year careers short by any stretch of imagination? Even 5 years is pushing it.
In Perú, Sandro Baylón played 3 years in the top football league and he is still remembered as a great player. He died in an accident at 22.

kenobi 65 09-10-2019 09:54 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Atamasama (Post 21852270)
He played in MLB for 8 years, a couple years longer than the average in that league. So it wasn’t a flash in the pan.

But, bear in mind that the final three of those seasons were after he'd suffered the hip injury. He played in 23 games for the White Sox in 1991, on what was a dying hip joint. He then had his hip replaced in late '91 or early '92, and after a year off to rehab post-surgery, played as a part-time player for the White Sox and Angels for two seasons, playing on an artificial hip. :eek:

So, really, he only had four-plus seasons (his time with the Royals; he only played in 25 games in '86) before his injury, which diminished his abilities.

Ike Witt 09-10-2019 10:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by UCBearcats (Post 21852714)
Terrell Davis only played 1995-2001.

Davis is the guy that popped into my mind at first. A quick glance, and his numbers don't look like too much- 7 seasons 7,607 yards. But the numbers in his first 4 years are just insane - 6,413 yards. Then the injuries took over.

Atamasama 09-10-2019 10:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by kenobi 65 (Post 21852880)
But, bear in mind that the final three of those seasons were after he'd suffered the hip injury. He played in 23 games for the White Sox in 1991, on what was a dying hip joint. He then had his hip replaced in late '91 or early '92, and after a year off to rehab post-surgery, played as a part-time player for the White Sox and Angels for two seasons, playing on an artificial hip. :eek:

So, really, he only had four-plus seasons (his time with the Royals; he only played in 25 games in '86) before his injury, which diminished his abilities.

Yeah, and note that while he’s the only player to be both in an MLB All-Star game and NFL Pro Bowl game (and amazing because of that), he only made it to one each. It’s hard to judge how “great” he was.

kenobi 65 09-10-2019 11:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Atamasama (Post 21852944)
It’s hard to judge how “great” he was.

He was a freakishly talented athlete, capable of astonishing feats, even if his stats didn't necessarily reflect that greatness -- though his ridiculous yards-per-carry number in the NFL does suggest it.

So, "all-time great" may not exactly be the right way to describe Jackson -- more accurately, he was one of the (if not *the*) most talented athletes of his generation.

Atamasama 09-10-2019 11:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by kenobi 65 (Post 21853056)
He was a freakishly talented athlete, capable of astonishing feats, even if his stats didn't necessarily reflect that greatness -- though his ridiculous yards-per-carry number in the NFL does suggest it.

So, "all-time great" may not exactly be the right way to describe Jackson -- more accurately, he was one of the (if not *the*) most talented athletes of his generation.

I think that’s a really good way to put it.

AK84 09-11-2019 05:05 AM

In soccer Just Fontaine retired pretty early, at 29.
Eric Cantona at 30.
Didier Deschamps at 32.

Is it a French thing?

In cricket Kevin Pietersens internationa career was from 2005 to 2013.

Boycott 09-11-2019 06:34 AM

Shane Bond - Cricket

14 year First Class career of which for 9 years he played Internationals for New Zealand.

Plagued by injuries throughout which meant he was often unavailable but when he was playing he was dynamite.

Quote:

A right-arm fast bowler, his fastest recorded delivery was clocked at 156.4 km/h against India in the 2003 World Cup.[4]

Bond's career was plagued with injuries, chiefly recurring stress fractures of the back. He had surgery in 2004 to try to prevent further injury,[5] but it was only partially successful. In later years he suffered back problems, knee injuries and an abdominal tear. These problems, in conjunction with a late start to his fully professional cricket career, limited his appearances in both international and domestic cricket. Since his debut in the 2001/02 season, he only managed to appear in 18 Test matches for New Zealand before he retired from Test cricket in December 2009 at the age of 34.[2][6]

His international career also suffered a hiatus of 18 months,[7] due to Bond's involvement with the Delhi Giants in the 'rebel' Indian Cricket League during March 2008, which caused the New Zealand cricket board to terminate his central contract in January 2008.[8] However, in June 2009 Bond severed ties with the rebel league and declared himself available to be selected for the national side once again.[9] In January 2010, Bond was selected to play in the 3rd season of the Indian Premier League for the Kolkata Knight Riders. On 13 May 2010 he retired from all forms of the game and did not play in the 4th season of Indian Premier League. Brydon Coverdale on Cricinfo described him as New Zealand's best fast bowler.[10]

Bond currently has the second best bowling strike rate of all time in Test match cricket (amongst bowlers who have bowled a minimum of 2,500 deliveries), behind George Lohmann.

don't ask 09-11-2019 06:54 AM

In Australian sport great players usually play at a representative level - for their state and in international contests. In 1971 Geoff Starling, after only a few senior games, became the youngest player ever to play for Australia. He continued to play at this level for 3 years and was considered likely to end up one of the greats. In 1974 he contracted a debilitating illness that caused him to lose weight and suffer constant fatigue. Years later, too late to resume his career, a woman reading an article about Starling contacted him to tell him that she thought he had Addison's disease. Tests proved her right.

Cumbrian 09-11-2019 07:10 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by AK84 (Post 21853307)

In cricket Kevin Pietersens internationa career was from 2005 to 2013.

Weird thing about someone like Pietersen - he played double the test matches Don Bradman played (exactly, KP - 104, Don Bradman - 52). Length of time is one thing - how many games some of these guys played is obviously another (and World Wars getting in the way shortening some players effective careers would have an impact on that too).

penultima thule 09-11-2019 07:22 AM

Shane Gould

Won 3 gold medals (in WR time), silver and bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics aged 16.
From Dec 1971 to Sep 1972 she became the only person to hold all freestyle world records (100m to 1500m). Voted best female athlete in the world 1972.

Retired aged 17.

Dinsdale 09-11-2019 08:37 AM

Thanks for the interesting replies. I'm not a big sports fan, so I truly had no idea who else might compare to Gale Sayers. I guess I had thought there might be someone who had a great first couple of seasons but then - I don't know - died or had a career-ending injury.

I had thought of offering Bo Jackson, but my quick look at his record suggested a decent length MLB career. I guess I should have looked closer.

Have to admit the name Terrell Davis meant nothing to me. Makes me wonder about whether how much name recognition an "all-time great" ought to have among non-fans... Is TD in (or expected to get into) the HoF?

I'd also thought of Jim Brown. I guess he played 9 seasons, but he quit while still going strong.

Don't think I buy any of the gymnasts and swimmers. My superficial familiarity suggests that among them a LONG career is the exception.

How about Secretariat? Not only 3 races, but less than 8 minutes! ;)

RickJay 09-11-2019 09:15 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Snowboarder Bo (Post 21852227)
Bo Jackson's gotta be on this list, right?

Bo Jackson WOULD have been a great athlete had he not gotten hurt, but he did. He was a hell of a running back but I don't think many people would say his two season's worth of games make him an all time great, and he wasn't a great baseball player.

Bjorn Borg has to be the winner here, with Ken Dryden a pretty decent runner-up.

Among baseball players, the player with the shortest Hall of Fame career is Amos Rusie, a 19th century pitcher who only barely made the 10-year requirement, but I think there are pretty legitimate questions as to just how great 19th century players were.

The only other baseball Hall of Famer I can think of who only played ten years is Jackie Robinson, who was one hell of a ballplayer.

RickJay 09-11-2019 09:22 AM

Secretariat raced 21 times over the course of a year and a half (winning sixteen.) As horses go that's actually a pretty long career.

kenobi 65 09-11-2019 09:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RickJay (Post 21853530)
Bo Jackson WOULD have been a great athlete had he not gotten hurt, but he did. He was a hell of a running back but I don't think many people would say his two season's worth of games make him an all time great, and he wasn't a great baseball player.

Agreed. He was a very good baseball player, but the sense I have is that he was doing that largely on his pure talent -- though he'd played baseball in high school and college, he hadn't really focused on the sport, and he played only 53 games in the minors before joining the Royals. I've read that scouts felt he was a promising baseball player despite his relative lack of experience.

As far as football, even setting aside the injury, as already noted, he was only playing half of each season. Despite not participating in the Raiders' training camps, and coming to the Raiders each season immediately after the wear and fatigue of a full MLB season, he was still a dominant running back when he did play, which is hugely impressive.

But, yeah, his body of work, in both sports, was limited, and a key part of his legacy is the imagining of "what might have been" without the injury.

Dead Cat 09-11-2019 09:59 AM

Looking to rugby union, Jonah Lomu seems a prime candidate. International debut in 1994, set the world cup alight in 1995, forced to retire (due to a kidney condition that saw him dead by 40) in 2002. 15 tries in 2 World Cups - no-one has scored more despite competing in 3 or 4 of them.

Dinsdale 09-11-2019 10:03 AM

I was joking WRT Secretariat.

Didn't know there was a minimal length career for the MLB HoF.
Like I said, I'm not a big sports fan. But I was wondering about some of the pitchers I've heard of over the years, who were trumpeted as phenoms, but whose careers didn't last (for whatever reason.) Like Fidrytch (sp?), Valenzuela, or Gooden.
Maybe there would be fodder for another threads of All-Time Greatest Might-Have-Beens!

D_Odds 09-11-2019 10:13 AM

Doc Gooden destroyed his potential early on, but he had a ~14 year MLB career. He just fell off of the radar after about 3 seasons.


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