Monday, January 30, 2017

Serena and other GOATS

Many constantly wish to debate which was the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) in any particular sport. If nothing else, it serves as bar room talk and/or fodder for the talking heads on a slow news day.

Recently, we saw the Australian tennis Open conclude. As we know, Serena Williams claimed the ladies' championship and Roger Federer the gentlemen's. Along with their past accomplishments, does that make either of them the GOAT? Maybe.

As the #1 player in the world, Serena was expected to win. Not so for Federer as the #17 seed. Both are roughly the same age, so that's a push, but there's been a huge difference over the years.

On the women's side, Serena has faced far less brutal competition than Federer. In recent times, there has been no lasting figure in women's tennis, other than her sister, to regularly challenge Serena. Not a Martina Navratilova, nor a Monica Seles, or even a Chris Evert from further back to constantly rival her. Look at the Top Ten in women's tennis right now. Besides Serena, 6 spots are taken by Russians or those from former Soviet Republics, two go to Serbs, and the last one is Venus.

Of those non-Williams, none stand out as being top notch good for any length of time. Yes, they and others have had moments of greatness, but always fall back into the pack. They come and they go. In America, few even know their names.

On the other hand, Federer has had to wade through a formidable gauntlet of contenders every time he entered a tournament. Among others, consider Brit Andy Murray, currently #1. Throw in Serb Novac Djokovic, and Canadian Milos Raonic. And we certainly can't discount the presence of Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who has defeated Federer twice as many times as vice versa over the years. These guys have all been out on tour for quite a while.

In short, Federer's had a much tougher row to hoe than Williams has over the years. For him to come roaring back at his age to win yet another major, something he hadn't done in almost five years, was truly astounding. Most had given him up for all but finished. It was reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at the ripe old age of 46. Nobody saw that coming either.

So are Federer and Williams the GOATS in tennis? After all, they've both won as many major titles as anybody else ever has, but the criteria has been different over the years.

Elsewhere, who are the GOATS indeed? Is it Babe Ruth as a baseball hitter? Ty Cobb maybe? Ted Williams or Pete Rose? Arguments could be made for a lot of guys in different respects. And pitching opens up another whole can of worms.

Many will claim Wayne Gretzky was the GOAT in hockey. But the Great One himself has long maintained it was Gordie Howe. Though Gretzky not only broke, but shattered all Howe's scoring records, their styles of play were vastly different. Each brought something to the table that was better than the other.

How about NASCAR? Is it Jimmie Johnson, seven time Cup champion? Maybe. Then again, it could be Dale Earnhart Sr., who won it as many times, or Richard Petty before him. Truly a tough call.

Golf will forever have the Tiger vs. Jack debate, but Nicklaus appears to have outlasted him in the end. Woods had the greatest decade professional golf has even seen, or likely ever will. But Jack bore the standard of excellence for a quarter century and Tiger's chase for his major record is all but finished. He's not going to get there. And what of Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, and Sam Snead of yesteryear? Just because they came before the times of most of us shouldn't detract from their greatness in their eras. Those who would use money winnings as a measure of greatness miss the obvious point of how large the purses were (and weren't) in different times. For that matter, Jones never won a dime. He was a life-long amateur never wishing to turn professional. Go figure.

Is the GOAT quarterback Tom Brady? Joe Montana? Somebody else? Should Super Bowl wins matter that much to an individual in a team sport? Dan Marino put up outrageous passing statistics for a very long time but never got a ring. And let's face it. Put Brady or Montana on, say, the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions over all those years, and just how good would they have been anyway?

Michael Jordan as the GOAT in basketball? Perhaps. But everything he could do, Lebron James can do today, maybe better. Or was it Wilt Chamberlain? Nobody dominated the game like he did. Bill Russell and all those Boston Celtics titles, anyone?

One thing I know for sure -- my two little toy Yorkie boys are the GOAT of the canine world. At least until I start remembering the ones I had in years past, RIP, who dwell in urns on the mantel above the fireplace. At the time, THEY were the GOAT.

And so it seems to be in the world of sports. Every day we see a new record set of some sort. This is due to the stat geeks looking up things that no sane person would consider. I mean, how earth-shattering is it that this girl here became the first 24 year old from Billings, Montana with a boyfriend named Whozit to hole a 20 foot putt after after eating a 6 egg bacon and cheese omelet for lunch? Or that guy there that ran a sub-four minute mile while whistling Dixie with his shorts on backward, who, BTW, has a great-aunt that once knitted two sweaters in a single day? But dammit, they're both records, which makes them some kind of GOAT.

Even my ex was the GOAT, at least in the early years of our marriage. Then things happened and, well, let's just say I no longer refer to her as such in capital letters.

That GOAT stuff can turn out to be tricky business indeed....

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