Overrated sports figures that need to be taken down a notch

All right. I’ve tried to hold my tongue…er, fingers on this, but with the recent rash of wholesale dissent squashing (didn’t we learn anything from Desert Storm?), I can’t remain silent any longer. I must go against the grain. In the way I do best, of course.

With that in mind, here are a few sports figures that I believe are grossly overrated, and it’s about time someone admitted it:

Michael “Greatest team player of all time” Jordan
I hoped that his struggles with the Wizards would open everyone’s eyes, but it appears that some of you still have trouble putting your strange new feelings about the man into words. So here it is: Michael Jordan may have been a great player (he’s definitely slipped a few notches now), and he’s definitely one of the hardest working players the NBA has ever seen, but he did nothing, repeat, NOTHING by himself. In his first few years, he was practically a nonentity. Only after Scottie Pippen, and later Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong, Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman, and several other fine teammates joined the team did he have free rein to really strut his stuff. Except for a persistent weakness at center, he had by far some of the most complete NBA teams of the 90’s under him, and he never, repeat, never had to carry the team on his back. Contrast his supporting casts to the ones Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, or even Shaquille O’Neal had. He was also helped by Phil Jackson, one of the smartest coaches the league has seen, who developed an offensive scheme (the triangle) which was perfectly suited to the Bulls’ strengths.

It’s true that Jordan’s explosiveness and fantastic ability won the Bulls a lot of games they otherwise would have lost. However, it’s also true that the team won him many games he would otherwise have lost. Jordan is no different from John Elway, Mark Messier, or Mariano Rivera in this regard.

If he takes a struggling, incomplete, or mediocre team (say, the Wizards) to the championship, I will acknowledge his status as the greatest of all time. No sooner.
Bill Parcells
Now that the Jets are doing just fine without him, are we ready to finally disavow any notions of his godlike transformative ability? Especially since the Jets should never be used as a benchmark for anything. That team makes the stock market look stable.

I don’t doubt for a second that he’s a good old-school, hardnosed coach and someone who can benefit almost any team. But there’s nothing astonishing about the Jets’ “miracle” transformation. It’s clear to me that Parcells success was based on four things: 1. He reenergized and refocused a team that was practically throwing games under Rich Kotite. 2. He made some terrific moves on draft day, parlaying the #1 pick into a string of picks that addressed many problem areas. 3. He was willing to sacrifice future salary cap space to sign quality free agents for immediate gain. 4. He got butt-lucky with Vinny Testaverde, one of the streakiest, flukiest, wildest NFL QBs ever, and, in a sense, a man who perfectly encapsulates the fortunes of the Jets.

Now, a coach or owner that’s not afraid to gamble and does what it takes to win is nothing to sneeze at (ask any Lions or Cardinals fan). Parcells is a fine coach. He is not a miracle worker who turns everything he touches to gold.
Joe Montana
The author of The Dark Side of the Game (damn, I wish I remembered who…former Atlanta defensive end) has, IMHO, the best indictment of Montana I’ve ever read. Practically the moment he arrived in 49ers camp, he was plugged into an offensive scheme, the West Coast Offense, which played perfectly to his strengths (great field vision, accurate, can make quick judgments) and minimized his weaknesses (not very mobile, can’t throw long). He also had a powerful offensive line in front of him. Like Jordan, just because he’s one of the greats of the game doesn’t mean that he did anything by himself. Most knowledgeable sports fans would agree that he would’ve been absolutely destroyed in a place like Denver.
Tiger Woods
Pro: Tremendous distance off the tee. Master of the “impossible shot”; has escaped from all kinds of trouble situations that would have doomed most golfers. Phenomenal clutch player; almost never fails to win a tournament he’s in a position to win. Never loses his nerve even under the worst pressure. When he’s on a roll, can rack up birdies and eagles as easily as most players shoot pars. Risk-taker with the ability to make his gambles pay off. Iron will; gives his all from start to finish and never gives up.

Con: Error-prone, especially in early rounds. All-or-nothing mentality often knocks him out of the running before he gets in a position to win. Has been known to flub shots and miss putts when things aren’t going his way. Often “chases” his mistakes by taking even more risks, usually falling behind further. Feeds off the crowd a lot and actually does worse at smaller, quieter events.

His record speaks for himself…regarding both his strengths and weaknesses. If you gush over the former and completely ignore the latter, you don’t understand Woods.
Alex Rodriguez
“The man who’s going to save baseball”, Esquire? Ha! He barely made a dent in the Rangers’ hopes! Boy, does he feel like a complete idiot right now! A-Rod? More like A-Clod! He was nothing without the Mariners! Nothing! And now those Mariners, the team he so foolishly spurned for empty cash, not only tied the record for the most wins in a season, they also won…ah…that is to say, they made the playoffs and…uh…

Actually, you know what, I think the jury’s still out on him. Maybe I can comment more on him in a year or so… :slight_smile:
Well, that feels good to have gotten off my chest, despite the torrent of flames I know is about to come my way (ah, sports…). Anyone I missed?

About Montana - I remember that he would throw two yards to Rice or some other guy who would then run 85 yards into the end zone and Joe would get credit for the 87 yard TD. It happened often didn’t it? Not to take anything away from him, but he should probably buy his receivers and offensive line a new car every Christmas. He was good, but not great.

Shane Warne. He’s an Australian cricket player (bowler). I guess he’s not overrated because he really is good. I believe he’s just overtaken Wasim Akram as the forth greatest wicket taker in history but God he’s an arrogant prick. NZ and English posters will no doubt agree.

Similarly, Lleyton Hewitt until his latest tournament win appeared to be almost universally despised. I think someone may have had a word to him and he seems to be moderating his behaviour a little these days.

Let me start out by saying I am a Detroiter, so I hated Jordan while I was growing up. However, I don’t see how anyone can say he is not the greatest basketball player or all time. If not Jordan, who is?

Jordan’s career stats

year by year accomplishments

I’m not sure what you mean by first few years - he was injured his second year and missed almost the entire year.

First year stats: Shot 51% from the field, 84% from the foul line, averaged 28 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.39 SPG, and almost a block a game. He also played every game, averaging 38 minutes per game. Won Rookie of the Year. Named to All-NBA second team. Helped take the Bulls to the playoffs-the first time they had been there since 1981.

Second year: Injured, did play 15 games. The Bulls lost 14 more games than the previous year. Jordan did play for them in the playoffs, averaging 43.7(!) points in their opening round loss to the Celtics.

Third year: 48% from the field, 85.7% from the foul line, averaged 37.1 PPG (leading the league in scoring), 5.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 2.88 SPG, and 1.52 BPG. He also played in every game this year, his minutes per game increasing to 40. Named to All-NBA first team.

So taking his first three years, even with him being injured his second year, I think it’s pretty absurd to call him practically a nonentity. I’d take a “practical nonentity” like him any day! What do you feel made him practically a nonentity in his first few years?

I would also argue Jordan carried the team on his back every year. Nobody wanted to win more than him. Take a look at how Pippen has choked in the playoffs. What has Kukoc done since the Bulls? BJ Armstrong? I admit that I think Grant was an excellent player. Rodman was a great player before he joined the Bulls (remember Pistons/Bad Boys fanboy here).

It’s kind of ridiculous to base your determination on whether a player is the greatest of all time on how he performs as a 38 year old, isn’t it?

Note: Phil Jackson did not take over as coach until 1989-90. Take a look at Jordan’s stats up until then, and I don’t see how you can say he didn’t “strut his stuff” before Jackson took over. Also, Phil Jackson did not develop the triangle offense - Tex Winter did (who served as an assistant under Jackson).

The author of The Dark Side of the Game is Tim Green.

To Joe Montan haters, I must point out that:

  1. Joe Montana won the national championship at Notre Dame BEFORE he got a chance to play in the West Coast offense. He’d already proven himself a master at rallying his team to victory in the last two minutes of a game. Everyone who saw him play at Notre Dame KNEW he’d be a brilliant NFL quarterback. The only ones who DIDN’T know it were the idiotic NFL scouts, who remain wedded to the ridiculous notio that a qb has to be 6’4" and have an arm like a cannon. That’s why they drooled over Jack Thompson and Steve Fullerin 1979, but let Montana fall to round 3 and didn’t draft Warren Moon at all.

  2. Though Jerry Rice often made Montana look good, Joe Montana won two Super Bowls BEFORE Jerry Rice arrved in San Francisco.

I don’t know–at least for the team sports, I think a lot of people aren’t looking at it in a synergistic (buzzword bingo, anyone?) light. Take the Bulls for example. Saying that any one player made the team is like saying that any one Beatle made the band. Look at what the Fab Four did together, then look at their careers after the breakup. Often it’s the combination of greatness.

Overrated - Former Oiler D-man Paul Coffey.

Here’s a guy that supposedly set the standard for NHL defensemen. Blessed by playing with some of the best players the world has seen, (Messier, Gretzky, Kurri) Coffey went on to set NHL records for defenseman scoring.

The Oilers offence allowed for him to rush the puck and move into the offensive end while his defensive partner stayed back.

He was a HUGE liability on defense. He’d be the guy standing in front of his own net chasing the puck. He’d never drop to block shots. He’d always be out of position when the other team scored. He’d shy away from checking and hitting, and he rarely venture into the corners.

So the league - in it’s infinite wisdom - bestows on him twice, the Norris trophy for best defensemen.

Paul Coffey is a gifted playmaker, an awesome shooter, and can skate like the wind… but… the last thing he was - is defensive.

I reject the entire concept that sports achievement is of any great significance, other than personal satisfaction, but hey, that’s just me.

Within the scope of the OP though, are these people really overrated? Well, of the group mentioned here, maybe A-Rod and Parcells, but this is in my mind only a fair question once that person’s career is over. Taking Woods as an example, jeez, the guy’s likely to be on the tour for another 20 years at least. I’ll make my judgement then.

Secondly, even the greatest athletes in history have holes in their game, and the greater the complexity of the sport, the more likely that these weakness will be visible. The measure of their greatness is that they can work around specific weaknesses and play to their strengths.

Specific to NFL quarterbacks, the complexity of the game makes it difficult to separate pure athletics from an effective coaching strategy. Certainly both are necessary. John Elway undoubtedly had a better arm than Montana, but which QB achieved more? OTOH, which was better at reading the defense and adjusting to changing conditions? Damned if I know; too many variables.

In the end, I tend to assume that the records speak for themselves, unless they were set under conditions very different from those in effect for previous records.

You want overrated? I’ll spell it out GRANT HILL.

Not like he’ll ever have a career now with that crippled ankle of his. Thank god that lame ass is treading the same path penny hardaway took.

Back to the OP:

Granted, Tiger Woods gets more press than any golfer should, but how can he possibly be overrated? He’s already established himself as one of the 2 or 3 greatest golfers ever, and he’s dominated golf to an extent that even Nicklaus and Hogan NEVER approached… and which I’d have told you 5 years ago was impossible.

Now, as for team sports, it’s always tough to figure ot how much credit for success belongs to an individual, and how much belongs to his teammates, his coaches, and the game plan he’s called upon to execute.

In baseball, statistics usually DO tell the whole story. If Roy Hobbs bats .338, hits 51 homers, and drives in 145 runs, it’s safe to say he’s a great player. In basketball and football, of course, stats can be meaningless. Bob Griese was a superb quarterback, but rarely put up big numbes, because the Dolphins of the 70s adhered to a ball control philosophy, and he didn’t get to pass so often. SO, it’s certainly true that a football or basketball payer can great without posting impressive stats, or mediocre despite incredible stats.

Still, when you have 4 Super Bowl rings to your credit (as Joe Montana did) or 6 NBA titles under your belt (as Michael Jordan does), there is NO WAY you can be overrated.

As for Alex Rodriguez… no two ways about it, he’s ridiculously overpaid, but he’s NOT overrated. He’s the best shortstop in baseball by far, maybe the best overall player. He’s not good enough to carry a bad team like the Rangers on his back, but I don’t think anybody IS that good.

To me, overrated players are guys who got huge amounts of press coverage that was NEVER remotely justified by their play. Some names that come to mind:

  1. Nolan Ryan. Some great numbers, some flashes of brilliance, but NEVER a winner. Great pitchers (Steve Carlton comes to mind) find ways to win even on lousy teams. Nolan Ryan was a slightly-over-.500 pitcher. Definitely overrated.

  2. Don Sutton. He was NEVER one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball at any point in his career. He was a PRETTY goo pitcher for a very long time, which enabled him to approach deceptively big career numbers in many categories. No way this guy should be in the Hall of Fame… but he is.

Overrated by himself: Randy Moss. Anyone who “saves his game” for national television games is pathetic. He struts his stuff, drops easy passes, and slacks off during games. Whi his quarterback hasn’t taken him behind the woodshed yet is beyond me.

astorian, I didn’t know that Don Sutton had such pretty goo. Is he going to give some of that goo to Pat Riley, who needs it so bad.

Which brings me to my next sports figure, which is indeed Pat Riley. They were all going to call him the greatest coach of all time while he was with the Lakers. But all he did with the Knicks was lead them to one championship series, and while he is coach at Miami, Van Gundy, coach of the Knicks, outcoaches him constantly in the playoffs. And now, Miami is on a severe losing streak. Phil Jackson would never suffer a 10-game losing streak, either as Pat’s teammate with the Knicks way back when, or as the Zen head coach.

Capacitor is absolutely right about at Riley. People forget that the Lakers had already won an NBA title before hebecame coach, and that the important players who made up that dynasty were already in place before he got there.

Phil Jackson took a talented-but-underachieving Bulls team and a talnted-but-underachieving Lakers team and tok them t the next level. Pat Riley merely took over a championshipteam and rode the gravy train. LOTS of coaches could have done THAT. Why he’s regarded as a geniu is beyond me.

Eric Lindros has to be the most overrated hockey player ever. He won’t change his head down skating style to avoid concussions, so he’s a liability to his team. He was a complete non-factor when the Red Wings swept the Flyers for the Stanley Cup. Worst of all, though is his big fat ego. He refused to play for the Nordiques when they drafted him. Before that he refused to play for the Sault Ste Marie Greyhouds in juniors. Wayne Gretzky played juniors in the Soo! Lastly, even after being run out of Philadelphia, he still said he would only play for certain teams. Lindros is lucky he’s still in hockey.

As Boswell, I believe, pointed out when they were inducted into the HoF, the career stats of Carlton and Sutton don’t differ by much:

Carlton: 329-244, 3.22 ERA;
Sutton: 324-256, 3.26 ERA.

If you dig deeper, they pitched roughly the same number of games and innings; Carlton had significantly more K’s, but also significantly more BBs. Sutton fed the gopher a little bit more often. Carlton was 6-6, 3.17 in the postseason; Sutton was 6-4, 3.68. Sutton’s been known to win a big game or two during the regular season: as an O’s fan, one that I remember, to my chagrin, is the last game of the 1982 season, between the O’s and Brewers (then tied at 94-67) for all the marbles. I expect the same could be said of Carlton.

The big difference between the two is that Carlton had great years and lousy years, while Sutton went out and did pretty much the same thing, year after year, without Carlton’s remarkable highs and lows.

Currently, this is thankfully happening to Manchester United FC!

Concerning Joe Montana one of the things that made him the best QB of his time was his passing touch. He had the ability to hit his receivers in stride and to the deliver the ball to them in places where they could easily catch it. Sure it helped that he was passing to Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig, but the fact that Montana got them the ball in places that accentuated their talents.

How about Keyshawn “Just give me the Damn Ball” Johnson?
Look “overrated” up in the dictionary, and there is his smiling mug. 0 touchdowns this year?? Really worth that $56 mil, there Key. Had a couple good years, but has never lived up to his hype. Then, of course, there is his clubhouse presence :rolleyes:

This is confirmed somewhat by their “similarity scores”. Similarity scores are yet another Bill James invention that attempts to identify which players are most similar to one another. Essentially, the method is to start at 1000, which would denote two players who were statistically identical and played at the same position. For each career statistical difference between the players, a certain number of points are subtracted (one point for each win, one point for each 10 games pitched, one point for each 30 strikeouts, etc.). The player with the highest similarity score for Don Sutton is Gaylord Perry (another HOF player), at 945. Next closest is Bert Blyleven, at 914. The next three closest are Carlton (888), Niekro, and Seaver (all HOF). In all, of the ten players most similar to Sutton, seven are in the Hall (Blyleven, Tommy John, and Jim Kaat being the exceptions). Blyleven and Kaat might still have an oustide shot at the Hall, though it seems doubtful that either will ever make it.

In any case, it seems silly to argue that Sutton was never one of the ten best pitchers in his league, when he finished in the top ten in ERA eight times (including leading the league in 1980), wins seven times, winning percentage five times, WHIP fourteen times (including leading the league four tims), strikeouts thirteen times, and shutouts eleven times (including leading the league once).

Using another of Bill James’ measures, the Hall of Fame Career Standards score (on which the “average” Hall of Famer scores a 50), Sutton comes in at 58 – slightly above the level of the average Hall of Famer. James’ Hall of Fame Monitor score tries to calculate how like a player is to be elected to the Hall of Fame (not deserving, necessarily, but likely). Anything above 100 is a likely HOF career, and anything over 130 is a virtual lock. Sutton’s score is 133. Every pitcher in the history of the game who’s played since 1900 and amassed a HOF Monitor score of 120 or higher is either in the Hall or is not yet eligible. (FWIW, the active or recently retired candidates above 120 are Clemens at 255, Randy Johnson at 233, Greg Maddux at 204, Eckersley at 166, Pedro Martinez at 138, Lee Smith at 136, and Tom Glavine at 122).

James specifically deals with the question of Sutton’s HOF credentials in his book on how HOF players are selected, The Politics of Glory (pp. 131-2). Essentially, his argument for Sutton’s canidacy (at the time, Sutton wasn’t yet in) was that there was no pitcher with stats comparable to Sutton’s that wasn’t in the hall, and that keeping Sutton out would effectively set an impossible standard for future selections: if Sutton wasn’t in with his numbers, how could pitchers with lesser numbers (but better reputations) be enshrined?

World Eater: Let me guess - you’re a Piston’s fan?

While Grant Hill did have some very unreasonable expectations heaped upon him (no one deserves to be annointed “the Next Jordan” during their rookie year), he is by no means as overrated as you appear to think.

Let’s look at his career stats:
21.4 points per game
7.9 rebounds per game
6.2 assists per game
1.6 steals per game
0.6 blocks per game

(source: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=2626)

These lend at least a little bit of credence to the idea that he is one of the most complete players in the game. And let’s not forget that he pretty much single-handedly led a couple of under-talented Pistons squads to 50-win seasons and the playoffs in his early years in the league.

Just like Kyuzo said, give me that overrated player any day of the week.