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Ranking Boston's Best Athletes

Boston's 35 Best Athletes of all-time

In a city with as rich a sports history as Boston’s, sometimes being great is not good enough. Considering the collection of sporting talent that have called the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots home, determining which superstar is the best of the best isn’t an easy task. Where do recent Red Sox defectors like Pedro, Nomar and Clemens rank? Does Adam Vinatieri, a kicker, deserve to be on the list? How much does Ted Williams’ lack of a championship matter?

We have the answers for you. Barstool has ranked the 35 greatest athletes of the modern era. We pitted superstar against superstar until only one was left standing.
How did we do it?

There is only one requirement for eligibility: the athlete must have competed within the past 60-years. In the years prior to World War II, the entire American sports’ scene was vastly different. Most importantly, it was very, very, very white and really not representative of the country’s true sporting ability. All competitors of the past 60-years, both team sport and individual, are eligible.

In terms of the rankings, team athletes were evaluated for only what they accomplished during their time with the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots. Our simple reasoning is that any player having a great season outside of Boston is just depriving that Boston team of the quality performance. Roger Clemens is the most ready example of this rule. Clemens is arguably the greatest pitcher in baseball history but his last eight seasons might as well have not even happened as far as Boston sports fans are concerned because his success did nothing to help the Red Sox.

In the end, two major criterions were deemed the most important. The first is championship pedigree and contribution. Simply being on a championship team isn’t enough. What is more important is the quality of the player’s contribution. Would the team have even sniffed the trophy without this player suiting up? Did this player raise his performance to a legendary level? Was this player the only reason the team was even in contention?

Second, how impressive was the player’s individual performance versus his peers. For a myriad of reasons, comparing statistics over decades gets tricky. Expansion, better training methods, better performance enhancing drugs, and better medical treatment are just some of the issues that make comparing statistics over 60-years a problem. Instead, we spent time considering how the player stacked up against his contemporaries. Was he considered the best player at his position? Did he redefine the way a position was played?

No personal issues were taken into effect but a hard to quantify “character” component was considered. Basically, you couldn’t lose points for being a douchebag but you could gain some if you were considered a team leader.

We ended up with 35-athletes, overwhelmingly team players. We ranked them in eight tiers. The lower the tier number, the better the players. Each player is ranked within each tier. Without further ado, here are Barstool’s ranking of Boston’s greatest athletes of the past 60-years.

Tier 7
35- Dwight Evans- “Dewey” flawlessly played the unique angles of Fenway’s right field. With a batting stance that every guy between the ages of 25 and 55 can imitate on a moment’s notice, Evans remains a fan favorite for his relentless play and steady career.

34- Reggie Lewis- Before his tragic death, Lewis was well on his way to being the link from the great Celtics’ teams of the 80’s to a 1990’s championship contender. It’s still hard to believe that he somehow ended up at Northeastern.

33- Luis Tiant- Boston’s first great Latin player was a big-game pitcher extraordinaire and ranks near the top of all of the Red Sox’s pitching records.

32- Bobby Doerr- If Ted Williams was still alive he would probably kick my ass for ranking his buddy, Doerr, this low. But the Hall of Fame second baseman had the misfortune of playing for the Red Sox at a time when they rarely sniffed the World Championship.

31- Terry O’Reilly- O’Reilly may be the least talented athlete on the list but his grit and toughness were a perfect match for the Boston Garden.

30- Curt Schilling- After only one season on the Red Sox, it is impressive that Schilling even makes the list. His 2004 season was extraordinary even before the whole bloody sock incident but he still has a long way to go to catch up to the twenty nine guys ahead of him.

29- Nomar Garciaparra- Before he was sullen Nomar, he was No-Mah! More than one Bostonian got into a bar fight trying to educate New Yorkers about why Nomar was better than Derek Jeter. And until he got hurt, we may have been right.

28- Jason Varitek- As the Red Sox’s undisputable leader, Varitek had a huge hand in molding their championship pitching staff. Also, in a league bereft of quality catchers, Varitek is a rare combination of defensive and offensive talent.

Tier 6

27- Fred Lynn- For a five year period, Lynn was simply phenomenal. But his short tenure with the Sox and failure to bring home a championship with the great Sox teams of the 1970’s hurts his ranking.

26- Wade Boggs- His on-the-field achievement is actually very modern. His on-base percentage would have made Theo hard but he lacks a defining moment in a Sox uniform.

25- John Bucyk- The B’s captain was the ultimate leader on the Big Bad Bruins and put together a Hall of Fame career.

24- Cam Neely- Before Ulf Samuelsson butchered his knee, Neely was the NFL’s best forward. Though he never won a Stanley Cup, the Bruins never missed the playoffs with him in uniform.

23- Tedy Bruschi- Whether or not Bruschi plays another game for the Patriots, his on-the-field performance has been excellent. Heady, instinctive and relentless, he was the heart and soul of three Super Bowl champion defenses.

22- Dave Cowens- Cowens was the link between the Russell and Bird eras and a solid Hall of Fame player but he was never considered an elite, unrivaled talent when he played.

Tier 5

21- Adam Vinatieri- Only his position keeps him this low in the rankings. It’s hard to make an argument that a kicker is an indispensable member of a Super Bowl dynasty but there is no way Mike Vandejagt, David Akers or any other NFL kicker makes half of the big kicks Vinatieri has.

20- Jim Rice- His injury in the 1975 series may have been the difference that gave the Reds the championship. The best power hitter of his generation.

19- Robert Parish- The Chief put up with the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Laimbeer which would probably get him on the list even without his numerous All-Star selections.

18- Marvin Hagler- Brockton’s second best fighter ever, Hagler was a dominant puncher who was robbed by the judges in his biggest fight.

17- Phil Esposito- Espo was an electrifying scorer on two Bruins’ championship teams who benefited from all the attention paid to Bobby Orr.

16- Tom Heinsohn- The six-time All-Star helped the Celtics to eight championships in his nine years with the team.

15- Kevin McHale- At the time, he was the best power forward in NBA history and a member of three championship Celtics’ teams. His array of post moves is still every slow, white guy’s go-to moves at the gym.

Tier 4

14- Carlton Fisk- A Hall of Fame catcher who backstopped the great Sox teams of the 1970’s, he also just happened to hit the most famous homerun in Red Sox history. However, he was never considered the elite player at his position during his playing career, particularly when matched against the other great catcher of his generation, Johnny Bench.

13- John Hannah- When an offensive lineman is the best reason to watch a team, you know that your football team is in trouble. Hannah, generally considered one of the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history, played on some awful Patriots’ teams. The best at his position when he played, Hannah gets downgraded because his position limited his impact on the game’s outcome.

12- Ray Bourque- Best defenseman of his generation and the consummate professional, Bourque’s decision to leave Boston and leech onto a stacked Avalanche team is what keeps him from the Top 10. During his time in Boston, Bourque was always in championship contention but ran up against the greatest players of his generation, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, and never hoisted the Cup for the Bruins.

Tier 3

11- Carl Yastrzemski- It’s tough not have baseball’s last Triple Crown winner higher but Yaz was never a truly transcendent player. Consistently solid- absolutely. A player you would pay to see play- Probably not. However, he toiled in Ted Williams’ shadow, didn’t have a breakdown and still managed 3,000-hits and 400-homeruns back when those numbers actually meant something.

10- Roger Clemens- Falls just short of Martinez because his last four seasons with the Red Sox were so mediocre. During a seven year stretch from 1986 until 1992, Clemens was unbelievable. Put aside the MVP, Cy Youngs and All-Star Games and just consider that in that seven year span he threw 32- shutouts.

9- Pedro Martinez- One of the toughest calls was deciding between Martinez and Clemens. Two factors tilted the rankings Pedro’s way. First, there is the record of postseason excellence, even with the debacle in New York. Until last season, Martinez was the only difference maker the Sox could march out to the mound in the playoffs. Second, during Martinez’s time with the Red Sox, he was generally considered the greatest pitcher in the game; the same can not be said about Clemens during the whole of his Red Sox career.

8- John Havlicek- Hondo may be the most underappreciated superstar in Boston history. A superb athlete, Havlicek was a perennial first team All-NBA selection when the league was stocked with Hall of Famers. He made the All-Defensive team eight times, is the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer and second in assists.

Tier 2

7- Rocky Marciano- Any boxer who retires as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world makes the list. Marciano’s exploits are even more impressive when you consider the quality of the sport at the time he was competing. And unlike today where fighters take months to train for fights, Marciano fought all the time. In 1949 alone, he had 13-fights. He is also the highest ranked native born son on the list.

6- Bob Cousy- Cousy redefined the point guard position and was the floor general for the great Celtics’ teams of the 50’s and 60’s. He was a 10-time All-NBA selection when the league had multiple superstars on every roster.

Tier 1½

5- Tom Brady- If his next few years are anything like his first few, Brady will be a Tier 1 superstar by the time he ends his playing days with the Patriots. He may be the most important athlete in Boston history if only because he ensured that the Patriots part will remain part of the fabric of Boston sports. There will never be a move to St. Louis or Hartford or anywhere else for the franchise because of the way he played in three Super Bowls.

Tier 1

4- Larry Bird- Now it gets tough. Why does Bird end up fourth? Two reasons- Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Bird is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in NBA history but during his career a very compelling argument could be made that Johnson and Jordan were better players. The same cannot be said of the players to follow. They were the undisputed kings of their sports.

3- Ted Williams- Just imagine if he didn’t serve in two wars. Williams’ numbers are unbelievable, end of story. His lack of a championship is glaring considering the players surrounding him in the rankings but it must be taken into account that the Sox had several potentially great teams lost to World War II and Korea.

2- Bobby Orr- Scouted at 12, signed at 14 and divine at 18. The best player at his position in the history of the NHL, no debate. Changed the game forever with the way he played defense and turned Boston into a hockey town.

1- Bill Russell- During his time with the Celtics, Boston won eleven World Championships. He was the game’s most dominant player on the game’s most dominant team. The five time MVP retired as the Celtics’ all-time leading rebounder with a paltry 22.5 per game average. Take Russell out of those great Celtics’ teams of the 50’s and 60’s and they suddenly become the pretty good Celtics’ teams of the 50’s and 60’s.

Jamie Chisholm