Friday, October 31, 2014

What makes someone a legend in sports?

In the wake of Madison Bumgarner's legendary 2014 post season, this gif went around the web (original link)

It actually got me thinking about the question of what makes a player legendary and memorable.

Obviously, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw's careers are far from over.  But when you look at their careers so far, what you see is.

Madison Bumgarner, 2 time All Star, 3 time World Series champion, 1 time NLCS MVP, 1 time World Series MVP

Clayton Kershaw, 4 time All star, 2 3 time Cy Young winner, and possibly 1 time MVP after 2014.

So who will be more remembered assuming nothing particular special happens to both players for the rest of their careers?

So what makes a legend?  I think it's a combination of many things, such as:
  • Are you a Hall of Famer?
  • Are you an award winner?  Multiple time award winner?
  • Do you hold any records?
  • Do you have any defining career moments? (e.g. perfect game, no hitters)
  • Do you have any defining career totals? (e.g. 3000 hits, 300 wins, etc.)
  • Do you have any post season accomplishments?
Without multiple of these, it's hard for people to remember you over time.

Lets take the example of Bob Gibson.
  • Hall of Famer
  • 2 x Cy Young winner
  • MVP winner
  • Legendary World Series Performance - 1967, 3-0, 3 CG, 1.00 ERA
  • World Series Records - 1968, 17K in one game
  • Legendary / Record Holding Regular Season - 1968 w/ 1.12 ERA
  • 1 career no hitter
My subjective belief is Gibson is known most for that 1.12 ERA in 1968 and the dual Cy Young/MVP award that year.  It's just brought up way to many times in discussions and conversation.  But the combination of all of the above keeps him known in the public eye and remembered for a long time.  Gibson only lacks a few of the "defining" career totals, such as 300 wins.

As a comparison, take Jack Morris, who even has more career wins than Bob Gibson.  With only his World Series legend in 1991, it's not quite enough to keep him well known in the public eye beyond the most serious baseball fans.

So I was trying to think of a pitcher who was a Hall of Famer but didn't quite have all of the other accomplishments such as Bob Gibson, so perhaps wasn't quite as well known in the public.  It didn't take me long when I looked at recent Hall of Fame inductions ... Bert Blyleven.
  • Hall of Famer
  • No Cy Young Awards, no MVP
  • Only 2 All Star appearances
  • Didn't crack 300 win barrier
  • Good post season performances, but nothing particularly legendary
  • 1 career no-hitter

So who will be more of the legend by the time their career is over?  Bumgarner or Kershaw?  We'll wait and see.

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