Individual dominance in a sport

I had an idle thought about, by how much any individual player has dominated any given sport. I was thinking team sports, but if you have stats for individual sports would be interested as well.

Anyone from a cricket playing nation will know where I’m going with this.

In cricket, batsmen have a batting average, which is a simple average of number of runs scored/number of innings*

If a batsmen can sustain an average of 50+ (in test cricket) over the course of his career, he is pretty much considered an outstanding batsmen.

In cricket, there is one player, Sir Donald Bradman (an Australian) who finished his career with a batting average of 99.94. So not only did he achieve an average twice that of an otherwise excellent batsmen, but the next highest average is all the way back on 61 (there are 3 batsmen between 60 and 61). So over the course of ~120 years of international cricket tests, there is a single player whose results within his chosen area in the sport are 64% higher than the next highest player and almost double the grade for a excellent player.

Curious as to whether there are any other individuals in any sport around the world that can claim a similar, or even close level of dominance over his peers?

    • (For simplicity to the broader audience I’m ignoring the effects of not out innings)

When Babe Ruth hit his 60 homers, no other AL team totaled 60.

Wilt Chambermaid in one NBA season averaged over 50 points and 25 rebounds per game. That is the most dominating single season in any sport that I can think of.

Michelle Kwan won 9 U.S. Championships (8 consecutively) and 5 World Titles, regaining the latter 3 times.

Bradman’s efforts were over a career (1928 - 1948)

I recall a study that indicated he was 4 standard deviations above average, and that the equivalent in baseball would have been a career batting average of well over .400.

The nearest equivalent dominance of a sport over a career would include:
Walter Lindrum in billiards
Jahangir Khan in squash (1981-86 he won 555 consecutive matches)
Heather McKay won 16 consecutive British Open (essentially world) titles between 1962 and 1977.
Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive 400m hurdles races between 1977 and 1987 and set the world record in his event four times

Wayne Gretzky scored 2857 points in his NHL career. #2 on the list is Mark Messier at 1887, who was a teammate of Gretzky’s for a large part of his career. Gretzky would still lead the league in career points even if you only counted his assists(1963).

One of the most dominant indivduals in a sport ever was Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor in darts.

Of the 18 World Darts Championship he’s contested he’s won 15 and finished 2nd in the other 3. At one point he was pretty much unbeatable.

And he looked damn good in that little French get-up!

Aleksandr Karelin (wrestler) was undefeated in international competitions from 1987-2000. Sergey Bubka completely dominated men’s pole vaulting in the 1980s and 1990s.

And I agree with the OP. Bradman was really, really special.

In North American pro sports it’s difficult to imagine anyone matching Gretzky, whose statistical dominance is almost comical. There is no equivalent performer in baseball, football, or basketball, not even Babe Ruth, who still has an argument for being the best player of all time but others have matched or exceeded most of his accomplishments. Even at the time lots of players were closer to him in overall greatness (Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner) than any hockey player is to Gretzky; cobb and Wagner didn’t ht a lot of homers but they excelled in other things.

I doubt anyone in any major pro sport anywhere matches Gretzky. Donald Bradman is frequently cited is dominant and he certainly was, but here’s the kicker; Bradman’s Test and and First Class average (which were almost identical) were compiled over 286 matches. Even granting that Bradman batted a lot more in a cricket match than a baseball player hits in a game, that’s not even close to a “full career” in most pro sport. If you were to take slices of pro athletes in their best 4-5 years you can find lots of players in other sports with similarly dominant runs - Gretzky in his five best consecutive seasons averaged 205 points a season, an absolutely ridiculous number (no other player has ever scored that many in one.)

I took Russian in high school, and my teacher spent 4 years talking about how special Bubka was. When the Barcelona Olympics arrived, I made sure to take the time to follow the pole vaulting.:smack:

Additionally, he did it in about 270 fewer games than Messier. Of course, although Gretzky was incredibly dominant, you can’t dismiss Lemieux. Gretzky’s 1.92 PPG is barely more than Mario’s 1.88. Of course, considering that third place is 1.31, Lemieux was special as well. I’ve seen games from the 1970s and early 80s on ESPN Classic, and they’re nearly unbearable to watch. Gretzky and Lemieux really elevated the play of the league, but the fact that there were two of them somewhat reduces Gretzky’s position as an answer to this OP.

Babe Ruth does have a trump card. He’s known and revered for his batting, which was second to none, but he spent the first 5 years of his career as a hall of fame quality pitcher.

I was curious about the differences in periods in which the two played, the 80s being known for being much more offensive and the 90s being known for being much more defensive, and was surprised at how much of their careers overlapped, allowing for a certain amount of reduction of era effects.

Just looking at the overlap period from the 1984-85 season when Lemieux came into the league through the 1996-97 period when he retired the first time, Lemieux actually appears to have the edge.

In 942 games played in this period, Gretzky had 506g-1285a-1794p, for averages of .54g-1.36a-1.90p per game.

In 745 games played, Lemieux had 613g-881a-1494p, for averages of .82g-1.18a-2.01p per game.

One can make a case that it’s not entirely fair to limit the comparison to just those years, as Gretzky was in his 7th year when Lemieux entered the league, but this was actually Gretzky and the Oilers’ peak, when they won 4 out of 5 Cups between 83-84 and 87-88.

Regardless, it points to the fact that Lemieux’ performance does sort of remove some of the feeling of dominance by Gretzky, even if he does hold most of the records.

Jerry Rice comes close to this definition in football.

From Fox sports
— The 1,549 receptions are 447 more than No. 2 on the list, Marvin Harrison, who is done with football.

— The 22,895 receiving yards are 7,961 ahead of his former Raiders teammate and another Hall of Fame-caliber talent, Tim Brown.

— The 197 receiving touchdowns that make up his otherworldly total of 208 exceed Moss by 49.

As marvelous as Mario was, there’s no downslope on his career the way there is for Gretzky, since he retired at 32, then played a bit later and not as well. Gretzky kept at it long after he’d passed his prime.

By the time he hit his age 32 years Gretzky was not only averaging more points per game, but he’d played over four hundred more games than Lemieux had to that point - indeed, by age 32 Gretzky had long since blown away the career points record and had played so many games that had he retired then he’d be in the top 100-120 in NHL history of the most career games played.

It’s unfortunate that Lemieux was injury-prone, but he was, and that goes to the level of dominance of the two players. Gretzky’s slight advantage in points doesn’t look that huge but there’s a huge difference in dominance between a guy who by age 32 had played almost 1200 games and a guy who’d played about 730. You can’t dominate from the press box. For what it’s worth Gretzky also played twice as many playoff games with more points per game.

You’ll get no argument from me.

That Gretzky has the records he does, and in some cases the bulk of the top 10 spots for records, speaks to his dominance. Longevity is another issue, I think, though. It plays a part, especially in conversations about whether or not Eric Lindros deserves to be in the HoF or if Martin Brodeur would have the gaudy numbers he does if he’d worn down sooner… but I think both Gretzky and Lemieux have sufficient sample sizes to draw pretty conclusive determinations about their abilities.

Gretzky is often placed on a pedestal of untouchability and I think that many, myself included, overlook Lemieux. In the context of this discussion about just how dominant Gretzky was (and I’m not disputing he wasn’t or shouldn’t be considered so), it does have to be considered that his dominance wasn’t that far ahead of the next guy in a lot of cases, and that, to me at least, removes a little bit of luster from Gretzky’s dominance.

And he had sex with over 20,000 women. So he’s tough to beat!

Indeed. In fact, I looked up the points/game stat because I was sure the Gretzky was far and away the best there, and then I noticed Lemieux’s stats. It’s notable though that from their 1.92 and 1.88 you drop to 1.50 for Bossy, and 1.39 for Orr and Crosby (to date). [I somehow missed all three in my earlier glance :smack:]

I still think Gretzky was easily the best player in league history, and I’ll be surprised if any of his big single season records get challenged any time in the next couple decades. Growing up as a North Star fan, one of my favorite childhood hockey memories was the Broten-Gretzky fight. Broten-Lemieux wouldn’t have had the same cachet to me.

Tiger Woods makes a good case. Even after a horrible 2010, his career winning % in tournaments is over 26%. Next best in history of golf : Jack Nicklaus at 15%.
So Tiger’s % is over 70% better. Of course if he keeps struggling, his % will fall, but probably not too far below 20% when all is said and done.

Mike Tyson was absolutely dominant as a heavyweight boxer from March 1985 until February 1990. Of course, then he met Buster Douglas, and it was the beginning of the end for Iron Mike. Still, his run was impressive.