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Wednesday, August 6, 2003
The List: Underrated all-time athletes

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

On the field, on the court, they were golden -- the best at what they did, or among the best. And to this day, they remain among the all-time greatest. Yet, for a variety of reasons, the tremendous talent and achievements of these athletes have been largely forgotten. Stan Musial ... Is he too modest? Too nice a guy? Rod Laver ... have we forgotten everyone who played before Borg? Ray Guy ... simply the best ever at what he did, but not Hall-of-Fame worthy?

Selecting only 10 underrated players for this list was much more difficult than we imagined. Ask 10 regular Page 2 contributors who's underrated, and you'll get about 200 different names. Guys who should be in the Hall, but aren't. Guys who were once noted for greatness, then forgotten. And so on. But we've got to try. So here's Page 2's Top 10 underrated athletes of all time.

Stan Musial
Stan the Man hit .331 with 475 home runs and 3,630 hits.

1. Stan Musial
Current MLB players didn't rank Stan the Man as among the top six living ballplayers in a recent SI survey. But they're not alone in their ignorance. In 1999, Musial, No. 4 all time in hits, seventh in slugging, and near the top of the all-time leaderboard in just about every major batting category, wasn't voted by fans onto MLB's all-century team (he was added as a special pick). In 22 Major League seasons, Musial was an All-Star 20 times, an MVP three times, a batting champ seven times.

So why, when fans lavish adoration on other aging greats, is Stan largely overlooked? Bernie Miklasz, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, recently wrote, "Musial didn't play for New York or Boston teams, so he wasn't romanticized by the hopelessly provincial baseball poets who transformed Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio into gods. And Musial wasn't a controversial figure. He just played the game. And even now, he doesn't manufacture fake 'mystique' to impress gullible writers and fans."

2. Lenny Moore
As Eddie Epstein, author of "Dominance, the Best Seasons of Pro Football's Greatest Teams" says about Moore, "He was Marshall Faulk before Marshall Faulk." And the numbers back it up. In 12 seasons with the Colts (1956-67), Moore ran for 5,174 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. That's all good. But add to that 6,039 receiving yards -- an average of 16.6 yards a catch. That's all great. Moore, who played both flanker and running back, scored 113 touchdowns, led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and 1959, was a seven-time Pro Bowler and once scored TDs in 18 straight games, still an NFL record.

PAGE 2's UNDERRATED WEEK
This week we're celebrating the underrated and unappreciated:

  • Underrated current athletes
  • All-underrated list
  • Underrated teams

  • Readers sound off
  • Chat wrap: Underrated athletes

    Coming up:
    Bill Simmons on underrated movies
    Page 2's underrated male and female "personalities"
  • Moore was quick, fast, and tough. Despite a cracking a rib in the 1958 championship game against the Giants, he played a crucial role, catching a 60-yard pass in the first quarter and then, taped up, decoying the rest of the game and setting things up for the Unitas-Berry connection (and ending the game with 5 receptions for 99 yards). "Unlike today when they announce everything, we didn't say a word to anyone," said Moore in 1999. "We just taped it up and I went back in to occupy some people and open things up on the other side for Raymond Berry."

    3. Arky Vaughan
    Approach any baseball fan, and chances are that if they've heard of Vaughan, they don't know anything about him. Here's the first thing you need to know: he was one of the greatest shortstops of all time, playing from 1932-43 with the Pirates and then in 1947-48 for the Dodgers. He was an NL All- Star nine straight years. In 1935, he set Pirates team records with a .385 batting average and .607 slugging average, records that still stand. And he led the NL in on-base percentage for three straight years, from 1934-36.

    Bill James ranks Vaughan as the second best shortstop of all time, ahead of such greats as Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, and Ernie Banks. But, as James admits, the top shortstops are very close in talent. So drop Arky Vaughan down to 10th-best shortstop ever, and still ... his name just never comes up.

    Rod Laver
    Laver, not Pete Sampras, may have had the most Grand Slams wins if he'd been allowed to compete.

    4. Rod Laver
    Rocket Rod is the only tennis player to sweep all grand slams twice (1962 and 1969), and won 11 Grand Slam tourneys in all, tied for third on the all-time list. If he hadn't been barred from 21 Slam tourneys after turning pro (before the Open era began), he would have won even more. Powerful and fast, Laver won a remarkable 17 singles titles in 1969.

    5. Lefty Grove
    Maybe the best pitcher ever, Grove, who spent the first half of his career with some great Philadelphia A's clubs, won 20 games seven years in a row, led the league in ERA nine times (most of any pitcher in history), retired with a 300-141 record and 3.06 ERA in a hitter's era. Everybody knew how great he was when he was playing, but he has absolutely no name recognition among today's fans.

    Here's Charlie Gehringer, quoted in the book Cobb Would Have Caught It, by Richard Bak. "He could throw so hard. Rarely would you get a curve from him. He'd just fire the ball and defy you to hit it. I always said that by the time you made up your mind whether it was going to be a strike or not, it was too late to swing. He just poured them in. They used him as a relief pitcher, too. He'd come in when it was a little dark -- in those days they didn't have lights -- and, gee whiz, that was a disaster! Lucky to foul one off."

    6. Bob Hayes
    The world's fastest human -- Hayes won the Olympic 100 meters title in 1964 while tying the world record -- made himself into one of the NFL's best wide receivers. Hayes remains, to this day, the only man to win both Olympic gold and a Super Bowl ring, which he picked up when the Cowboys won it all in 1972. He has HOF stats, HOF respect from his peers, and practically created the zone defense on his own, because nobody could cover him man-on.

    "Like pitchers fear Barry Bonds today, defenses feared Bob Hayes then," wrote Page 2's Ralph Wiley shortly after Hayes died last September. "They knew they couldn't handle him one-on-one, not unless they were on a motorcycle, or in a jet pack. Even today, a former Cowboys receiver like [Peter] Gent, who watched him in the passing line, in practice, and in games, says nobody was like Bob Hayes."

    7. Jim Marshall and Carl Eller
    Half of the famed Vikings "Purple People Eaters" defensive line of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Eller was a five-time All Pro who played 225 games during his 15-year career. During his great career, he recovered 23 fumbles and had 130 sacks. He was also named the NFL's top defensive player in 1971.

    Marshall, the Vikings co-captain throughout his career, started a remarkable 282 straight regular-season games, an NFL record, even taking the field after accidentally shooting himself while cleaning his gun. A defensive end, he racked up 133 sacks, recovered an NFL record 29 fumbles, and gained notoriety for his infamous 66-yard wrong-way run, the longest safety in NFL history. Marshall's No. 70 was recently retired by the Vikings, yet he, like Eller, is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    Rich Gossage
    Even late in his career, the Goose could bring the heat.

    8. Goose Gossage
    Between 1975 and 1985 he was the best relief pitcher in baseball (making the All-Star team nine times during that stretch), and certainly ranks among the greatest relievers of all time. He pitched for 22 years, was the saves leader three times and among the top six in saves nine times. Five times he was also among the top six vote-getters for the Cy Young award. 124 wins, 310 career saves (during a time when saves meant a whole lot more than they do today), but still, Goose isn't in the Hall of Fame. That's an injustice.

    9. Adrian Dantley
    Maybe it's because he never got a ring. Maybe it's because he played for seven teams during his 15-year career. For some reason, Dantley, twice an All-American at Notre Dame, an Olympic gold medalist, the NBA rookie of the year in 1977, a six-time All-Star during the 1980s, one of the NBA's all-time leading scorers (his 24.3 points per game is 14th on the all-time list), rarely gets mentioned when folks talk about the greatest of all time, or even of his time.

    10. Ray Guy
    The NFL named Guy the punter on its all-time team, for good reason: he was a key to Oakland's Super Bowl winning teams of 1976, 1980, and 1983. In 14 seasons (1973-86), he punted 1,049 times and averaged 42.4 yards with lots of super hang time (one of his punts hit the video screen on the Superdome's ceiling). He didn't have a single punt blocked. And Guy was noted for being an excellent all-around athlete (he was the Raiders' emergency QB), a player who could have done more than punt if he hadn't been so valuable as a punter.

    But Ray Guy is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "I don't understand why a punter who was superior and excellent, set a standard for everyone and still does, isn't there," said Al Davis. Neither do we.

    Also receiving votes:
    Art Monk
    Paul Coffey
    Roger Brown
    Artis Gilmore
    Dave Krieg
    Bobby Grich
    Steve Largent
    Marcel Dionne
    Bobby Jones (NBA player)
    Marion Motley