Earlier this week, Sports Blog Nation launched a good new site called SBNation Cleveland. While checking out the place, I came across a post by John Bena that counted down Cleveland’s most popular athletes. Naturally, LeBron James was at the top of the list.
While reading Bena’s top 5 list, I couldn’t help but wonder what LeBron James’ proper place is among Cleveland’s all-time pro athletes (major sports only). Is he greater than Bob Feller? What about Otto Graham? Don’t tell me he’s ahead of Jim Brown…is he?
I think you know where this one is going. So without further adieu, here are my rankings of the top-5 Cleveland Pro Athletes of All-Time. Time to break it down, Rob Gordon style.
5. Tris Speaker – Indians – CF (1916-1926)
Wow, you know this is going to be a pretty loaded list when one of the greatest center fielders in the history of baseball barely cracks the top 5. I have to admit, I'm holding Speaker back a little due to fact that half of baseball's talent pool wasn't allowed to participate during the duration of his entire career due to segregation. Speaker is the owner of the fifth highest career batting average (.345) in MLB history and hit .354 in his eleven years with the Tribe. He’s a member of the 3,000 hit club and is also baseball’s career leader in doubles. Speaker was player-manager for the 1920 Indians team that won the franchise’s first World Series. Speaker entered the Hall of Fame in 1937.
4. LeBron James – Cavaliers – SF (2003-2010)
Admit it; you are a little bit surprised I have James at #4 on this list. To be fair, everyone else on this list has won a championship in their sport while also dominating their sport in their respective eras. So why do I have James ahead of Speaker then? Speaker won one MVP, but that was in 1912 with the Red Sox. James has two MVP’s and has such a high ceiling to accomplish so much more in his career. There is no doubt that LeBron James is without question Cleveland's top athlete of the last half-decate. It's not even close. It just goes to show how much James has already accomplished in Cleveland, while also showing how much of an impact on his legacy an NBA title here would mean on his career. If James can win one championship in this town, he will immediately climb this list ahead of Feller. He also looks to be on his way to being in the discussion of the greatest to play his sport period...just like the guys that occupy top two slots.
3. Bob Feller – Indians – SP (1936-1956)
1. Otto Graham – Browns – QB (1946-1955)
Where do we start with Otto Graham? Is it the 5 total MVP awards in both the AAFC and NFL? What about the 9 combined All-Pro selections? For as impressive as those accomplishments are, Graham’s greatest achievement is winning. Hey, that's a rare acheivement in this town. Graham led the Browns to the championship game ten times in ten years and won seven of those games. Oh, and he also led the league in passing in seven of those ten years to boot. Graham’s all-time record as QB for the Browns is 105-17-4. I don't care how many years were in the AAFC compared to the NFL. A winner is a winner and Otto Graham dominated both leagues. The Hall of Famer’s #14 (he wore #60 as an AAFC player) is retired by the Browns.