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To mark the conclusion of the first decade of the 21st century, Sports of Boston is rolling out its new Hall of Fame. We will induct one retired Boston sports athlete, coach, or figure per year. This year is perhaps the most special, because we will elect one person out of a collection of some of the greatest athletes in sports history.
In our nomination round, we shrunk an endless list of Boston sports legends down to four names, with one each from the city’s four major sports teams. We begin with a rather obvious choice:
With so many players to choose from in Celtics history, why not choose Bill Russell or Bob Cousy? Why Bird? Why not? He carried on the Celtics legacy in the 1980’s, winning three NBA crowns (1981, 1984, 1986). During his career, he averaged 24.3 points and 10.0 rebounds, and was a terrific shooter. Bird was remarkably accurate from the free throw line (88.6%), the field (49.6%), and from beyond the arc (37.6%).
In an era that featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bird won three consecutive NBA MVPs from 1984-1986. It’s an incredible accomplishment considering his supporting cast: fellow NBA Hall-of Famers Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale, and also Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Bill Walton, among others.
Unfortunately, Bird’s career ended prematurely in 1993 when he was 35 years old due to chronic back issues. He still accomplished enough to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. Did he do enough to become Sports of Boston’s first annual Hall of Fame inductee?
He’s clearly the team’s best quarterback not named Tom Brady, but is he really one of the best Patriots in team history? Numbers don’t lie: 2 4,000-yard seasons with the Patriots, seven straight 3,000-yard seasons, and a 3-0 record at home in the playoffs.
In his second season, he led the NFL with 400 completions for 4,555 yards. Despte his league-leading 27 interceptions, Bledsoe led a normally sorry Patriots team to a 10-6 record. In his fourth season in 1996, Bledsoe finished with 4,086 yards and 27 touchdowns to led the Pats to a Super Bowl berth for the first time since after the 1985 season.
In the 1998 season, Bledsoe only started 14 games, but he finished 8-6 as a starter, including two incredible comeback wins in a row late in the season against the Dolphins and Bills. He became the first NFL QB with game-winning touchdown passes in the final 30 seconds of two straight games, and he did it all with a broken index finger in his throwing hand.
Also worth noting is his tumultuous final season with the Patriots, which saw him take a life-threatening hit at the hands of Jets linebacker Mo Lewis in Week 2 of the 2001 season. Tom Brady took over, and from that day forward, the Patriots never looked back. Bledsoe relieved Brady in the AFC Championship game that season against the Steelers, going 10-21 for 101 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions, to help the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. Brady started the Big Game, and the rest, as they say…is history.
When people discuss the greatest hockey players of all time, Orr’s name is always mentioned, along with Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe. There’s good reason, too. Despite playing just 12 seasons, Orr is widely credited with revolutionizing his position as a defenseman. He won a record eight straight Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defensemen. He’s the only defenseman to lead the league in scoring, and he did it twice (in 1970-71 and 1974-75). Orr also holds the single-season record for most assists and points by a defensman (102 assists, 139 points in 1970-71).
He’s easily the greatest Bruin of all time, and was the star on the last Bruins squad to win a Stanley Cup in 1972. He won the Conn Smythe Trophies in 1970 and 1972 (given to the Playoff MVP), and three league MVP awards overall.
Orr is famous for the image of him flying through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues in 1970. The image is iconic in Boston sports lore, and no story about Bruins history is complete without mentioning “The Goal.”
If you’re often referred to as the “Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” I think it’s appropriate you’re vying for Sports of Boston’s first Hall of Fame nod. A simple look at the statistics show Williams truly was the greatest hitter in modern baseball history, assuming Barry Bonds cheated and used steroids, of course.
Williams was the last hitter to bat .400 in a single season, hitting .406 in 1941 with a ridiculous .553 on-base percentage and .735 slugging percentage to go with 37 home runs and 120 RBIs. In 143 games in 1941, he had 147 walks against just 27 strikeouts, displaying his superhuman plate discipline. Can you imagine that season in fantasy baseball? Extrapolate those statistics over his entire 19-year career, and the numbers are jaw-dropping, especially considering he missed years in his prime while serving his country in World War II from 1943-1945.
In all, the “Splendid Splinter” finished with 521 home runs, 1,839 RBIs, and a .344 career batting average. He holds the major league career record with a .482 on-base percentage, and is second all-time (to Babe Ruth) with a .634 career slugging percentage.
Playing alongside fellow superstar Joe DiMaggio, Williams managed to win only two MVP awards in 1946 and 1949. Yes, that means he did NOT win in his .406 season in 1941, as Joe DiMaggio managed to have a 56-game hitting streak that year to win the award.
So, there you have it. Stay tuned to Sports of Boston next week for the final vote for our first Hall of Famer, and for our annual Awards Show.