Doug Wolter: It's the greatest sports column of all time
Our Minnesota springs are as unpredictable as my 2-year-old grandson's temper tantrums. A month ago, it was a good bet that the start of the high school spring sports season would be delayed several weeks. By the start of April, however, we rejoi...
Our Minnesota springs are as unpredictable as my 2-year-old grandson’s temper tantrums. A month ago, it was a good bet that the start of the high school spring sports season would be delayed several weeks. By the start of April, however, we rejoiced: the spring melt was proceeding faster than anyone expected.
Now we’re looking outside our windows at another winter scene, and a busy schedule of outdoor activities are wiped out like a Minnesota Vikings playoff celebration.
I must do something. Aha, I’ve got to write a column. Gotta fill that sports section with something, you know.
So I was thinking back to last week, where I came across a piece by a Twin Cities sports writer who stated that Paige Bueckers is the best Minnesota girls basketball player ever. It got me to thinking some more.
I’ve never seen Bueckers play. But I saw some online footage of her in action, and yeah, she’s something special. She won a state championship this year at Hopkins and has scored 2,288 points. She’s a three-time Team USA gold medalist, and she’s set to play her college hoops at UConn.
I wince a little bit though, to be honest, when sports writers or fans say “best ever” to the exclusion of everybody else. It’s a subjective choice, an opinion, and there’s really no way to ever settle the question when you’ve got one person from one era being compared to other persons from other eras.
Lots of people say Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, including many of them who argue (like global warming buffs) that the case is closed. But what if I was to say it’s actually Wilt Chamberlain? Now there are some who say it might be LeBron James.
I’ve said for most of my lifetime that Ty Cobb was a better ballplayer than Babe Ruth, but if you disagree how can I prove it? Jerry Rice the greatest football player? OK, but could he stuff a running back like Dick Butkus?
When I was a young sports writer with a full head of hair in Long Prairie, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch a couple of truly great girls basketball players Janet Karvonen of New York Mills and Kelly Skalicky of Albany. Skalicky was an energetic guard who could run circles around everybody else. Karvonen, on the other hand, was a 6-foot pure shooter whose jump shot was literally a thing of beauty. She scored 3,129 points in her prep career while leading her team to two state titles, then started her college career at Old Dominion.
It’s fair to say that Karvonen, who graduated from Mills in 1979, did more for Minnesota high school girls basketball than anyone before or since. She was its ambassador.
She did it at a time when Minnesota high school girls basketball was still getting its legs. The state, as a whole, could not compete with the best prep programs around the country. And to be fair, her college career was underwhelming. She had the prettiest jump shot anywhere around, but the rest of her game wasn’t top college material.
I’m guessing that the 2019 Paige Bueckers is better than the 1979 Janet Karvonen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Karvonen’s place in history should be any less secure. Athletes of any era should be judged, first and foremost, against other athletes from the same era.
After all, should Jim Brown take a back seat just because, 50 years later, somebody breaks one of his records?
Here’s another example: Los Angeles Angels baseball star Mike Trout. Now in his ninth year, he is already being touted as the greatest ever.
So let’s look at his stats: a .308 lifetime batting average, 245 home runs, only two seasons driving in 100 runs. Not bad. In fact, pretty good. But greatest ever?
Now check out Babe Ruth’s lifetime statistics. Or Ted Williams’ stats. Right.