That’s a bold proclamation, but I’m a bold individual.
It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports. I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me. But, a blogger’s job is never done! Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam. Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.
We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right? Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of 80’s Heavy Metal Bands? Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue, and come at me bro if you think I’m wrong because I’ll fight this whole fucking town!
Today, it’s all on my shoulders to select the Mount Rushmore for Seattle sports. It’s a daunting task, to say the least. Am I man enough for it? I dunno, probably not, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.
So, I suppose to do this right, there have to be some parameters. Obviously, they have to be great at their sport; Hall of Fame level. There’s an element beyond that, though; one that transcends their own personal greatness. Popularity is certainly a part of it, not just in Seattle, but across America and around the world, but I’d be remiss if I put too much emphasis on their notoriety. I think it matters not just that they were great on their respective teams, but great when compared to others in the history of the game and position they played.
For instance, Steve Largent is my favorite football player of all time, and at the time of his retirement he was the best the game had ever seen. But, now? Largent is 18th in the NFL in total yards, surpassed by the likes of Henry Ellard (played 2 more seasons, is not in the HOF), Andre Johnson (who is good, but does he strike you as transcendant?), and Reggie Wayne (who had one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Peyton Manning throwing to him; of COURSE he has more yards!). I’m just saying that the greatness of the wide receiver position has been deminished in the wake of the NFL turning into a passing league. I mean, Terrell Owens has the second-most receiving yards of all time (behind the great Jerry Rice) and he’s still struggling to make it into the HOF! I don’t care about his reputation or his attitude or whatever; 20 years ago, if he’d retired with the most yards in NFL history, he would’ve been a first ballot enshrinee.
Also, look at someone like Felix Hernandez; my favorite player of all time. Yeah, he’s great, and he’s in my Mariners Mount Rushmore, but compared to some of the greatest pitchers of all time, Felix is just another guy. Maybe in another era, with the stuff he has, he would’ve put up numbers commensurate to some of the all timers, but he’s in the era he’s in, and it knocks him back accordingly. You have to go above and beyond in these situations if you want to make my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.
In an effort to make this easier on myself, let’s knock out a couple of really obvious ones.
At the top, in the pole position of my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore, I have Ken Griffey Jr.
Absolute no-brainer. 22 years in Major League Baseball, 13 years in Seattle, at the absolute peak of his powers and popularity. #1 overall draft pick by the Mariners in 1987, in his first 11 years with the organization he made the All Star team 10 times. 10 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and was the American League MVP in 1997. He hit 417 of his 630 home runs with the Mariners. He took the team to its first two playoff appearances in the history of the franchise. He led the A.L. in homers 4 times and in RBI once. He’s in the Mariners’ Hall of Fame, is the only actual Mariner to have his number retired, was a member of the MLB All-Century Team, and was the highest vote-getter in MLB Hall of Fame history in his first year of eligibility. HE WAS THE MOST POPULAR ATHLETE ON THE PLANET! He’s 6th on the all time home run list, and if you discount the cheaters that are Bonds and A-Rod, he’s truly in rare company (Aaron, Ruth, and Mays, are you KIDDING me?).
That’s what I mean. Ken Griffey Jr. is the definition of a Mount Rushmore-type player. He’s the greatest athlete the city of Seattle has ever seen and might be the greatest we will EVER see. Anyone alive who got to see him play in his prime should thank their lucky stars.
At my #2 spot in my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore, I have Gary Payton.
Again, I think this one is a no-brainer. 18 seasons in the NBA, 13 seasons in Seattle, again at the absolute peak of his powers and popularity. #2 overall draft pick by the Supersonics in 1990, in his Seattle years he made the All Star team 9 times. 2 All-NBA first teams, 5 second teams, and 2 third teams. He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, as well as the steals leader the same year. He is 4th all time in NBA history in steals with 2,445 (behind Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, and a million miles behind John Stockton). He’s also 8th all time in NBA history in assists with 8,966 (among the likes of Stockton, Kidd, Nash, Mark Jackson, Magic, Oscar, and Isiah). When you’re talking true point guards, you’re talking the best of the best, and GP is right there. He was always a defensive force, but his offense didn’t really start to take off until his fifth season in the league; yet he still managed to score 21,813 points, which is good for 31st all time, just ahead of Larry Bird, and just behind Clyde Drexler.
Again, we’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever put on a jersey and play the game of basketball! I don’t know if people necessarily think of GP the way they think of Griffey, because Griffey might be the best or second-best centerfielder of all time; whereas there are a bunch of great point guards who are as good or even better. But, I’m here to tell you that there really aren’t that many.
Guys like Stockton and Kidd played great defense and dished it out like no one else, but their offensive games were largely lacking. They couldn’t take over a game and back down an opposing guard like GP could. Nash and Iverson were awesome scorers, but they weren’t as suffocating on defense as GP would be. Honestly, I think the only people in Gary’s league are Magic, Isiah, and maybe Oscar (but, I’ll be honest here, all three of those guys were either a little or a lot before my time, and I didn’t get to see them play in their primes). Anyway, I’m talking about COMPLETE point guards, guys who played on both sides of the ball and did it damn well on both ends. Not to mention from 1995 through 2003, Gary averaged over 38 minutes per game.
The only shame of it all is that he played in the opposite conference from Michael Jordan, and only got to face off against MJ the one time in the NBA Finals. I think if those guys were in the same division and had to go against one another 4 times a year plus every year in the playoffs, it would’ve been one of the truly great rivalries in NBA history. As it stands, Gary really didn’t have anyone who was his direct rival. He was already established when Kobe was a young pup. Kidd and Stockton were never much to speak of on the offensive side of the ball, so they never really challenged him at that end. All the best scoring guards during Gary’s prime were in the East, or they were past their primes when Gary was in his. That Finals series in 1996 was one for the ages, though. It’s just too bad it was the first for that group in Seattle; I think the severity of the situation got to them mentally. For the Bulls, it was old hat; just another business trip. I think if the Sonics had gotten theirs in 1994 (like they SHOULD have), by 1996 it would’ve been like two equally fierce titans going against one another. What could have been.
With the easy half of our Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore out of the way, now we get to the more difficult decisions.
For starters, where are the Seahawks? I’m pretty sure you can’t have one of these without throwing a Seahawk on there, so let’s get cracking.
As I wrote about yesterday, there are currently 4 Seahawks in the NFL Hall of Fame (with this year’s induction of Kenny Easley). So, yeah, a lot to choose from here. At the top, I talked about Steve Largent a little bit, and I still stand behind that. I think his candidacy for this list is pretty lacking, when you consider his current place in NFL history, which I very much believe applies here.
When you look at the rest of the Hall of Famers, I think one name clearly stands out, and that name is Walter Jones, my third choice for the Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.
There aren’t really a ton of stats I can sit here and pull up to show Big Walt’s greatness; it’s not like the NFL keeps track of “pancakes” as an official stat (BTW tho, they absolutely SHOULD). Jones made 9 Pro Bowls, was First Team All Pro 4 times, and Second Team twice. He was on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and has had his #71 retired by the Seahawks.
If you want to get a little deeper, in trying to compare him to the other greats in NFL history, that’s a little trickier. Pro Football Reference has their “Approximate Value” stat that tries to equalize things across all positions, and gives your career a numerical value accordingly. Across all positions, in the entirety of NFL history, Jones is currently tied for 150th, which – when you think about how many players there have been – is pretty astounding. I did the research, and there are only 26 offensive linemen ahead of him on that list, but the vast majority of them are either guards or centers. Among just the left tackles, there are only 6 ahead of Walter Jones: Anthony Munoz, Lomas Brown, Willie Roaf, Mike Kenn, Gary Zimmerman, and Orlando Pace. Four of those guys are Hall of Famers, and the other two (Brown and Kenn) just played forever. So, yeah, I’d say that’s pretty good company.
Anecdotally, Walter Jones IS one of the greatest left tackles in NFL history. The combination of speed, size, technique, power, durability, raw talent; it’s something we probably will never see around here ever again. It’s ultimately the durability issue that cost him the end of his career, as injuries and surgeries became too much and cut it short, but he’s also a guy who was able to play through a lot of pain and injuries and keep up his high level of play. He may not be the force of nature, popularity-wise, that Griffey or even Payton were, but his talent and standing among the greats at his position relative to the history of the game more than makes up for it. As such, Big Walt is my #3.
Which leads us to our Abraham Lincoln spot on the mountain. Who is my #4?
The fact that this is far and away the most difficult choice for me ultimately leads me to believe that whoever I choose is not long for this spot. I’m a firm believer in the Smell Test, or the Eyeball Test, or whatever you want to call it. Is a guy a Hall of Famer? That should be obvious; it shouldn’t take much more than 10 seconds to decide. Either he is or he isn’t. Obviously, there are people on the bubble who need arguments in their favor (*cough* EDGAR *cough*), but for me it’s a lot more simple. Yes, Edgar is a Hall of Famer; NEXT!
But, I don’t really have a solid #4, which means my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore is sitting atop a pretty shaky foundation. There are certainly guys in the running. Edgar Martinez, for instance, would be a fine choice; but can I include a guy who’s not even in the MLB Hall of Fame (yet)? Same goes for someone like Jack Sikma (who absolutely should be a basketball hall of famer). There are plenty of former Sonics and Seahawks who ARE in their respective halls of fame, so it doesn’t seem totally fair. On top of that, can you rank any of these other guys as among the greatest at their positions all time?
My actual belief is that the #4 player on my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore is currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks. But, since his career hasn’t ended yet, is it really appropriate to put him on there now? Frankly, I think we’re another 7 years of quality play out of Earl Thomas from him being the guy. If he can keep it up, and manage to stay healthy, he will go down as one of the most talented and important free safeties in the history of the NFL, with this Seahawks defense going down as one of the elite defenses in the history of the NFL. As I wrote about yesterday, he’s the straw that stirs the drink; others may come and go, play or be injured, but the constant is Earl Thomas. And, most importantly, we got a clear and obvious look at what this defense is without him, in the final 5 regular season games and 2 playoff games last year: it’s not pretty.
So, I WANT to put Earl in here, but I just can’t. What if injuries plague him from here on out and cut his career short? Well, that opens the door for Richard Sherman, who is already the greatest cornerback in franchise history and already has made a name for himself among the greatest to ever play the game. He needs some longevity to go with that to be Mount Rushmore-worthy, and the biggest question here is: will he play out the duration of his career in Seattle? There are obvious, serious doubts there too.
Which takes me to Russell Wilson. What if he plays another 15 years for Seattle, and leads us to another 2-3 Super Bowls? Doesn’t he HAVE to be the #4 on my Mount Rushmore, simply for the fact that he’s the most popular, recognizable figure on this team, at its most important position?
So, you see the bind I’m in. All three of those guys are worthy, but all three of them need to put on some more years before they can be taken seriously among the top three on this list.
Where do I go from here? While I acknowledge all of the above is true, I refuse to put “Placeholder” as my #4, so I’ve gotta make a choice. To me, I think it has to come down to a couple of names: Cortez Kennedy and Ichiro.
The Tez falls a few points below Big Walt on the ol’ Approximate Value scale, but I’m not going to go through and count the number of defensive tackles ahead of him. Here’s what I’ve got: 11 year career, all with Seattle. First round draft pick, #3 overall. 8 Pro Bowls, 3 First Team All-Pros, 2 Second Teams. NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. NFL 1990s All-Decade Team. His number 96 is retired, and he’s in the NFL Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, he got saddled on a lot of bad and mediocre teams, so the 2-time College Football National Champion only made one NFL playoff appearance (losing in the Wild Card round). In my estimation, Tez ranks among the best all time at what he did, which was an all-around defensive tackle who could both rush the passer and defend against the run. His sack numbers are impressive – particularly when you consider the number of double-teams he had to face – but his total tackle numbers are even MORE impressive. I mean, he had 3 seasons where he averaged over 70 tackles per year! As a DT! Those are linebacker and safety numbers!
Then, there’s Ichiro. He’s not in the MLB Hall of Fame, but that’s only because he’s STILL playing, at the age of 43. Here’s a guy who spent 9 years in Japan before coming over to Seattle. From age 18-26 (where, for a lot of people, he’d be working his way through the minors and getting into his prime at the Major League level), his numbers are essentially rendered irrelevant by a lot of baseball fans. He nevertheless, as a pro starting at the age of 27, has managed to get over 3,000 hits, 2,533 of which were in a Mariners uniform.
Let’s get into it: he was with the Mariners for 12 seasons. An All Star his first 10 years (including All Star Game MVP in 2007). A Gold Glover his first 10 years. A Silver Slugger 3 times. A Fielding Bible Award winner 3 times. American League batting champion twice. In 2001, he was the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in the A.L. He also led the league in stolen bases that year. He also had over 200 hits in his first 10 years, and set the single-season record for hits with 262 in 2004. Like Tez, Ichiro was saddled with some pretty bad Mariners teams after the 2003 season. Yet, he stuck around and remained true to the organization long after he could’ve gone to any number of teams to play for a contender.
If you want to talk about popularity – particularly on a global scale – Ichiro sits up there with Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime. Even across America, he was the face of the Seattle Mariners for a decade! He was a dominant force at the top of the lineup, and he was equally as great at his defense in right field. He stole bases, he kept the opposing team’s running game in check, and if he were in a better-run organization, he could’ve done even MORE with his offensive numbers.
Is he among the greatest outfielders of all time? That’s a little tougher to nail down. He wasn’t like a Griffey or a Mays; Ichiro’s game is speed and singles (among other things). I think he ranks up there among the greats at his defense, and among the greatest all time leadoff hitters. I think he’s the greatest Japanese-born baseball player of all time, which is not an insignificant feat. And, I think when you tack on the fact that some of his prime years were spent in the inferior Japanese leagues, you have to wonder what could’ve been had he gotten to America sooner.
All of that considered, that’s why I’m making Ichiro my #4 on my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.
So, what do you think? Griffey, Payton, Jones, Ichiro. With a very strong likelihood that my future #4 will be someone on this current Seahawks team. Maybe in another decade I’ll come back and write a new one of these for shits and giggles.