TMR Sports: The Greatest of All Time

TMR Sports: The Greatest of All Time
June 8th, 2009
by Neil S. Velleman

Discussions will be popping up all over the county today, by water coolers, in cubicles, at the gym, on the subway, in the cafeteria. These particular discussions will not be whether US should invade North Korea and finally remove that psycho Kim Jong-Il. They will not be whether David Carradine committed suicide or died in some strange, sexual accident. They will not even be whether or not Speidy (don’t ask) should, or should not still be on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

While all of these are certainly interesting, worthy discussions, people will be talking about this: Is Roger Federer now the greatest tennis player to ever step on a court?

The reason people will be discussing this is very simple. It will lead to a much broader discussion of who is the greatest in each sport. People love talking about this. It has been a debate that has raged for decades. And, the more great players we get the privilege to watch, the more players we get to add to the argument.

Three years ago, we couldn’t add Sidney Crosby to the argument. Ten years ago, we couldn’t add Kobe Bryant to the argument. Five years from now, we may be adding Stephen Strassburg to the argument. You get the point.

As I was sitting in my living room on Sunday, watching Roger Federer beat Sweden’s Robin Soderling 6-1 7-6 6-4 in the French Open Finals. As the NBC team of Ted Robinson, John McEnroe and Mary Carillo discussed, several times, throughout the broadcast, this victory puts Federer alone atop Tennis Mountain.

As a side note, before I forget, as much as I loved watching McEnroe play in the 80’s, I love listening to him even more. He’s a great analyst. Terrific insight and very knowledgeable.

Anyway, after eleven attempts at the French Open, Federer was able to win the Championship. This victory makes him only the 6th man in tennis history to complete a career Grand Slam:

Player Total Slams

R. Federer 14
R. Emerson 12
R. Laver 11
A. Agassi 8
F. Perry 8
D. Budge 6

You may ask, if five other players have done this previously, why is he the best ever? Well, this victory also ties him with Pete Sampras with the most Grand Slam (Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open, French Open) victories all time at 14.

Also, only Federer and Andre Agassi are the only two men in history who have completed the career Grand Slam while playing on three surfaces, grass, clay and hard court. That certainly shows tremendous versatility.

I think there is little doubt at this point that Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time. And the best part is that he’s only 27. He has Wimbledon coming up in a few weeks.

With close friend and biggest rival (and current Wimbledon champ) Rafael Nadal probably not playing due to a knee injury, Federer is the odds-on favorite to win that too and overtake Sampras with 15 Grand Slam wins.

My guess is that he may have a few more wins in him after that. We may see him finish with 22 or 23 before he’s done. Let me remind you again that the current record is 14. Wow!!

So let’s look at some other “greatest of all time’s.

Let’s stay with tennis for a minute.


Martina Navratilova completely dominated women’s tennis for over 20 years. She beat the best, she became the best. She was ranked No. 1 in the world for seven years. We spent some time talking about Sampras and Federer winning 14 Grand Slams, Navratilova won 18 (Wimbledon 9 times), along with 41 doubles Grand Slams titles.

She not only completed a career Grand Slam, she is the only person in tennis history, men or women, to complete a career “boxed-set”, which is winning all four Grand Slams playing singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.

In 1983, Navratilova went 86-1, a record never matched before or since, and in 1984, she won a record 74 consecutive matches before suffering her first loss.

There can be little argument that Martina Navratilova is the greatest women’s tennis player of all time.


How about Wayne Gretzky? Hmmmm. They don’t call him “The Great One” for nothing. He appeared in 18 All-Star Games. He led the league in points 11 times. He is the all-time career leader in points. He led league in assists 16 times. He’s the all-time career leader in assists. He led league in goals five times. He is the all-time career leader in goals. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP) 9 times. I think he has a pretty good case.


I know you automatically want to put Muhammad Ali here, and so do I. To be honest, when I think of the word “Champion”, I actually think of Ali, nearly every time. He was the ultimate champion. But, there’s another boxer that’s better, and he’s not even a heavyweight.

Although very recent, it’s hard to not put newly crowned junior welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao at the top of this list. Here’s the argument:

On May 2nd, Manny Pacquiao beat Great Britain’s Ricky Hatton to claim the title. This gave Pacquiao a championship in his sixth weight class. He joins Oscar DeLahoya as only the 2nd boxer in history to do this. Pacquiao has now held a championship belt as a flyweight (112 lb), junior featherweight (122), featherweight (126), junior lightweight (130), lightweight (135), and now junior welterweight (140).

The difficulty of this cannot be underestimated. Consider the fact that a boxer has to gain weight to go into a different weight class, and that has the potential to slow them down and make them sluggish. They can’t get any taller, only heavier.

Pacquiao’s 2nd round knock-out over Hatton brought his career record to (49-3-2, 37 KOs). It was his 4th consecutive fight in a different weight class. Hopefully, his next fight will be against Shane Mosely, but there are no discussions in the works yet.


When I think of pure domination in this sport, Michael Jordan automatically comes to mind. I don’t think it would have mattered whether he was up against Bob Cousey, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, or Kobe Bryant. He would have dominated.

Five-time league MVP, Rookie of the Year. He led the league in points scored eleven times and is ranked 3rd overall in career points scored (32, 292). He led the league in point per game ten times and is ranked 1st overall with a ridiculous 30.1 points per game for a career. On the other side of the ball, he finished in the top five in steals per game nine times, ranking 3rd overall in career steals per game (2.3).

But what defines Jordan as the best NBA player of all time is the fear he struck in opponents as he came down the lane, or went in for a layup. No one in the history of the game ever clearly dominated the sport and everyone in it as much as Michael Jordan did. And the best part, he did it with such class.


In my mind, this is even harder than basketball. That’s why I saved it for last, to give me more time to think about it. Well, I still need more time. Oh, all right.

Which way are you supposed to go with this? Batter or pitcher? We certainly can’t go with Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. Alex Rodriguez is out. Sorry Philly Rob, I’m not putting in Steve Carlton. And, despite his own claims, Rickey Henderson is not the greatest.

So, where does that leave us? After some pretty decent analysis, I have to put Ted Williams right at the top of the list as the greatest baseball player of all time. Here’s why. He is one of only two people who is in the top 20 in HR, (521, 20th), batting average (.344, 7th), RBI (1839, 13th), and walks (2021, 2nd).

The only other guy is Babe Ruth. The only thing that stopped me from putting Ruth in instead of Williams is even though Ruth ranked higher than Williams in most of these categories, this isn’t about that. I really believe that head to head, Ted Williams would have been more dominant that Babe Ruth.

That aside, if you put back the three years that Ted Williams lost due to World War II (’43-’45, age 24-26, the prime of his career) and the two years that he lost to the Korean War (’52-’53, age 33-34), we can extrapolate about 37 HR and 130 RBI per year, for an additional 185 HR and 650 RBI. This gives him 706 HR and 2489 RBI.

Even if you don’t do this, I think that Williams was superior, that he very likely would have utterly dominated in any era that he played in. And this is the very essence of what make one the greatest of all time in their given sport.


Hall of Fame
Saying Federer is easily the GOAT is a bit of disrespect to Rod Laver....I think its safe to say Federer is the GOAT since lets say 1970 (open era - the Lavers and Rosewals)
But the fact that Laver won 2 true Grand Slams, 11 in total in around 4 season, and that he won numerous pro-majors makes him definitely in contention