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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Sporting News: The 50 Greatest Seasons in Sports History

With this ranking, we looked through The Sporting News’ long history — we were founded in 1886 — to find the greatest individual seasons in sports history. They might sometimes lack the drama of the moments, but they showcase the level of dominance needed to succeed over the grind of a season.

1. Shohei Ohtani, 2021
Numbers (as a hitter):
46 homers, 100 RBI, 26 SB, 158 OPS+, 4.9 bWAR
Numbers (as a pitcher): 3.18 ERA, 23 GS, 130 1/3 IP, 98 H, 156 K, 4.1 bWAR

Day by day throughout his unprecedented 2021 season, Shohei Ohtani changed the way we evaluate great baseball seasons. Ohtani slugged 46 home runs as the American League’s best designated hitter and struck out 156 opposing batters as a Cy Young candidate and the Angels’ best pitcher. Imagine Patrick Mahomes picking off passes as a safety or Alex Ovechkin putting on the big pads and posting shutouts as a goalie once a week. It’s silly to even think about. But Ohtani didn’t just compete at these two skills on the baseball field, he excelled. “The only comparison is Babe Ruth, and it’s a weak comparison, actually,” Angels manager Joe Maddon told Sporting News.

villageidiom Posted: December 21, 2021 at 05:03 PM | 41 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: babe ruth, barry bonds, bo jackson, bob gibson, deion sanders, josh gibson, pedro martinez, sandy koufax, shohei ohtani, sports, ted williams, walter johnson

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   1. villageidiom Posted: December 21, 2021 at 05:25 PM (#6058265)
Top 10:
1. Shohei Ohtani, 2021
2. Wilt Chamberlain, 1961-62
3. Wayne Gretzky, 1981-82
4. Tiger Woods, 2000
5. Michael Jordan, 1990-91
6. Barry Sanders, 1988 <--- highest ranked amateur performance
7. Bo Jackson, 1989
8. Tom Brady, 2007
9. Lionel Messi, 2014-15
10. Steffi Graf, 1988

Baseball-related:
1. Shohei Ohtani, 2021
7. Bo Jackson, 1989 (MLB/NFL combined)
11. Babe Ruth, 1921
12. Barry Bonds, 2001
14. Bob Gibson, 1968
17. Ted Williams, 1941
18. Pedro Martinez, 2000
22. Deion Sanders, 1992 (MLB/NFL combined)
26. Sandy Koufax, 1965
29. Josh Gibson, 1943
50. Walter Johnson, 1913

The whole list is inclusive only of sports covered by the Sporting News, and only considered one season per athlete. So, like, if you think Pedro's 1999 should also be in the top 50, or some cricketer should be #15, that's not how they made the list.
   2. villageidiom Posted: December 21, 2021 at 05:28 PM (#6058266)
Also, they considered entire seasons and not simply events. They consider the Olympics an event, so they didn't bother with primarily-Olympic athletes. (Steffi Graf gets points for her Olympic gold medal, but she won every major tournament that year outside of the Olympics, and the Olympics are a trifle compared to that.)
   3. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: December 21, 2021 at 05:48 PM (#6058270)
On a related note, SI named Tom Brady "Sportsman of the Year" over Ohtani.
   4. cardsfanboy Posted: December 21, 2021 at 06:24 PM (#6058279)
I saw this and thought it was going to be the 50 best "seasons" for a sports league (you know compelling pennant races, or a homerun chase of epic proportions or something like that ) and I'm thinking 50 might be a tough find (although with the parameters, that is less than 5 per league)

But 50 great individual seasons covering a myriad of sport leagues, doesn't seem like remotely enough. Even after you discount multiple seasons. And I have to ultimately agree with the number one pick, maybe not by war it was the greatest season ever, but it has to be the greatest season ever when you lump what it takes to perform at that level in a league.
   5. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: December 21, 2021 at 06:59 PM (#6058290)
Don Bradman - 1930
Secretariat - 1973
   6. JJ1986 Posted: December 21, 2021 at 07:38 PM (#6058294)
This is a silly list to complain about, but Doc Gooden had a better year than those other modern pitchers.
   7. John Northey Posted: December 21, 2021 at 07:47 PM (#6058295)
I suspect in 10 years few will put Ohtani's season at the top. His year was remarkable - 9.1 bWAR. But in terms of value to his team he wasn't even even close. #1 is Tim Keefe in 1883 (20.2 WAR - 68 games started, completed them all, 145 ERA+ 41-27 record, just a 78 OPS+ as a hitter but obviously his bat was secondary to his arm. Best in the 1900's was Walter Johnson in 1913 1.14 ERA, 259 ERA+ over 346 IP 36-7 record. 109 OPS+ as a hitter in 144 PA, playing one game in CF. Dwight Gooden in 1985 had the best post-WWII season (20th overall) with 13.3 WAR in his 24-4 season, 1.53 ERA 229 ERA+ over 276 IP as a 20 year old (!) - dang he was good. For the 21st century the best so far is Barry Bonds 2001 (11.9 WAR), then Pedro Martinez 2000 (11.7), Mookie Betts 2018 (10.7), and pick your favorite Mike Trout year (2012 & 16 both at 10.5).

Ohtani's season was remarkable for his diverse talents, but it ranks 312th in ML history. Yes pitching and hitting is fun to watch, but for value to a team I'll take Mike Trout or Barry Bonds (in 1993 he had 9.9 so even clean he was better). A 158 OPS+ and 141 ERA+ is quite impressive, but 130 IP and 639 PA as a DH (he did have 8 1/3 innings in RF/LF).

In 1918 Ruth had 166 IP with a 122 ERA+, vs a 192 OPS+ at bat over 382 PA (47 games in LF, 13 at 1B, 12 in CF - no DH then obviously) for a 7.1 WAR overall. His 1919 stats were more extreme hitting wise (9.1 WAR hitting alone) but not as good pitching (0.8 WAR).

I'd say Ohtani's is one of the most unique seasons ever, but not best. It isn't even close to the best in this century, let alone all time.
   8. McCoy Posted: December 21, 2021 at 09:06 PM (#6058305)
And the 1918 Red Sox only played 126 games.
   9. alilisd Posted: December 21, 2021 at 09:13 PM (#6058308)
Baseball-related:
1. Shohei Ohtani, 2021
7. Bo Jackson, 1989 (MLB/NFL combined)
11. Babe Ruth, 1921
12. Barry Bonds, 2001
14. Bob Gibson, 1968
17. Ted Williams, 1941
18. Pedro Martinez, 2000
22. Deion Sanders, 1992 (MLB/NFL combined)
26. Sandy Koufax, 1965
29. Josh Gibson, 1943
50. Walter Johnson, 1913


No DiMaggio 1941, interesting.
   10. BDC Posted: December 21, 2021 at 09:45 PM (#6058312)
Imagine Patrick Mahomes picking off passes as a safety

Things like that used to happen. In 1943, Sammy Baugh led the NFL in complete passes thrown and also in interceptions. In 1940, Don Hutson led the league in interceptions while placing second in receptions; two years later he led the league in receptions and was second in interceptions.

The context was greatly different, but then the list compares wildly different contexts in the first place; it's mostly just a fun way to remember remarkable seasons.
   11. HBO disappeared Oscar Posted: December 21, 2021 at 11:35 PM (#6058323)
Basketball was super different in early 60”s. So many more shots taken and missed. Wilt was a great player but think adjusting for context that changes the real value

1973 Secretariat great call. Still owns fastest Derby and Belmont records. Also won six other stakes races in 1973.
   12. Hombre Brotani Posted: December 22, 2021 at 01:14 AM (#6058326)
Shohei Ohtani is the world's most special boy.
   13. vortex of dissipation Posted: December 22, 2021 at 03:06 AM (#6058329)
Don Bradman - 1930
Secretariat - 1973


From the article - those two would be excluded for reasons given:

Also, humans only. Sorry, Secretariat.

We included, essentially, the sports we cover at The Sporting News: NFL, NBA/WNBA, MLB, NHL, college hoops, college football, soccer, golf, tennis and motor sports. No disrespect to other sports, but these are the ones we know best.


Don Bradman 1930 was one of the first two that came to mind for me. The other would be Jim Clark 1965 - the only driver to win both the Formula One World Driver's Championship and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. And he won the F1 Championship with a perfect score - back in those days, only your top six results counted, and Clark won the first six Grand Prix of that year that he entered. He missed Monaco to run (and win) the Indy 500...
   14. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: December 22, 2021 at 05:16 AM (#6058330)

Dwight Gooden in 1985 had the best post-WWII season (20th overall) with 13.3 WAR in his 24-4 season, 1.53 ERA 229 ERA+ over 276 IP as a 20 year old (!) - dang he was good.

Gooden at ages 19-20: 41-13, 544 Ks, a 2.00 ERA and 1.93 FIP in 494.2 IP.
   15. shoelesjoe Posted: December 22, 2021 at 05:55 AM (#6058331)
Alex Ovechkin putting on the big pads and posting shutouts as a goalie once a week


That’s not a stretch at all. With a little practice time under his belt AO would probably be one of the top NHL players wherever he was on the ice.
   16. McCoy Posted: December 22, 2021 at 08:37 AM (#6058334)
Sid Luckman in 1943. Led the league in passing yards and had something like 5 interceptions on defense.
   17. bachslunch Posted: December 22, 2021 at 09:24 AM (#6058337)
@10: Baugh was also a world class punter, and in 1943 he led the NFL in total punting yards.
   18. Mr. Hotfoot Jackson (gef, talking mongoose) Posted: December 22, 2021 at 09:37 AM (#6058340)
we were founded in 1886


Two years too late for Old Hoss Radbourn's 60-win campaign to qualify. Drat!
   19. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: December 22, 2021 at 09:52 AM (#6058342)

I've said before that what Ohtani did was akin to being a two-sport star, given the difficulty involved in both pitching and hitting, and how different a skill each one is.

I don't know if it was the greatest performance of all time, but it was pretty freakin' impressive.
   20. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 22, 2021 at 10:54 AM (#6058354)
Lou Boudreau's 1948: Player-Manager of the World Champion Indians. .355 BA, 166 OPS+, 10.4 WAR with 3.0 DWAR as a shortstop. 98 walks and only 9 strikeouts. Went 4-for-4 with 2 home runs in a pennant playoff in Boston. Unanimous MVP selection.

Steve Carlton's 1972: With Carlton, the Phillies were better than the 1927 Yankees. Without Carlton, they were slightly better than the 1962 Mets.
   21. Hombre Brotani Posted: December 22, 2021 at 12:09 PM (#6058368)
I've said before that what Ohtani did was akin to being a two-sport star, given the difficulty involved in both pitching and hitting, and how different a skill each one is.
We've all watched an unholy amount of baseball. What Ohtani did this year was closer to a magic trick than it was to baseball. It was what we all wanted to see, but I don't think I ever believed he could actually do what he did, and I'm almost certain he won't be able to do it again. It'll almost certainly be the most astonishing season I've ever had the pleasure to watch.
   22. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: December 22, 2021 at 12:55 PM (#6058376)
and I'm almost certain he won't be able to do it again


I kinda wonder about this. The conventional wisdom, that one cannot be both a pitcher and a hitter, was developed back in the stone ages before the DH, where a pitcher would not be available except perhaps for pinch-hitting for 1-3 days after each start. In that context, it would make sense for the team to invest in a full-time outfielder, and eventually pitchers just learned to concentrate on pitching.

But pitching every five days and hitting every day isn't that much more mentally taxing, I think, than hitting everyday and playing, say, shortstop every day? Physically I assume it's less taxing than catching every day, and mentally catchers have to review both the opposing pitchers AND hitters each day. In the context of the DH, I just don't see how it couldn't work for more players than just Shoehei.

Shohei may be opening the door for many more pitcher/hitter combos in the future.
   23. Rally Posted: December 22, 2021 at 01:40 PM (#6058379)
I think the problem with say, pitcher/SS, is that you don’t want a pitcher recovering from throwing 100 pitches yesterday to have to try and throw a guy out from the hole.

As an Angel fan, I think having Ohtani #1 on this list is crazy. An amazing season, and win value can sometimes take a backseat to amazing and unique, but there are just too many more valuable baseball seasons to take this seriously.

If he hit like he did while making 35 starts, 250 innings, and pitched the Angels to a playoff spot that might do the trick of passing Wilt, Jordan, Babe, Secretariat, etc.
   24. vortex of dissipation Posted: December 22, 2021 at 01:47 PM (#6058380)
It was what we all wanted to see, but I don't think I ever believed he could actually do what he did, and I'm almost certain he won't be able to do it again.


I agree that it would be unrealistic to expect him to do it every year, but I think he'll have another season at least reasonably like it sometime in the future. After all, he's done it twice now, if you count 2016 in NPB (.322/.416/.588 with 22 HR; 10-4, 1.86 with 174 K in 140 IP).
   25. Rally Posted: December 22, 2021 at 01:47 PM (#6058381)
Actually, if he took last year’s Angel team to the playoffs there’d be no maybe about it. Even with a 9 win season from Sho, they were 15 games short of the final playoff spot.

A 24 WAR season would have looked like:

Dwight Gooden 1985 on the mound

+ Barry Bonds 2001-04 at the plate

And if Ohtani was that good, the Angels would still only be tied for the right to play a 1 game playoff. They have a lot of work to do.
   26. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: December 22, 2021 at 02:33 PM (#6058391)
I think the problem with say, pitcher/SS, is that you don’t want a pitcher recovering from throwing 100 pitches yesterday to have to try and throw a guy out from the hole.


What I meant is that the "mental demands" on a combination pitcher/DH is perhaps the same as a hitter/SS, and probably less than that of a hitter/catcher, and the physical demands are definitely less than a hitter/catcher.

I cannot really see why if, say, Buster Posey can be successful long-term, Shoehei Ohtani (or another pitcher/DH ) couldn't
   27. pikepredator Posted: December 22, 2021 at 04:40 PM (#6058404)
Shohei may be opening the door for many more pitcher/hitter combos in the future.


Agreed. There is a very small, but also very real chance that Otani's accomplishment is going to lead to a previously unpredictable development. It's highly unlikely . . . but everything evolves and changes. Part of it may hinge on his ability to do this a few more times and thus inspire more youth/HS/college stars (as well as MiLB and by extension, MLB managers) to give players this opportunity.

I'm not an NBA expert in any way, but the drift towards positionless basketball has caught me off-guard as being something I never would have seen coming, while also striking me as (when I watch an NBA game) a very eye-pleasing development leading to more unpredictable ball movement than the game I grew up watching in the 80's.
   28. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: December 22, 2021 at 06:26 PM (#6058415)

Ohtani is all the more remarkable because baseball has been moving in the direction of increasing specialization in recent years.
   29. The Duke Posted: December 22, 2021 at 09:22 PM (#6058432)
20. Excellent choices
   30. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 22, 2021 at 11:09 PM (#6058445)
Yeah, in terms of determining the outcome of an impossibly tight pennant race, Boudreau's 1948 season is up there with Yaz's 1967, which was the most leveraged season I've ever witnessed since I first started following baseball. I'm old enough as it is, but there are times when I wish I'd been born 4 years earlier, so I could've savored those surreal pennant races that took place every year from 1948 through 1951.
   31. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: December 24, 2021 at 08:50 AM (#6058574)
As an Angel fan, I think having Ohtani #1 on this list is crazy. An amazing season, and win value can sometimes take a backseat to amazing and unique, but there are just too many more valuable baseball seasons to take this seriously.

This. How can the greatest season in sports history be for a 77-85 team?

I once compared Charles Schulz' 50-year run drawing Peanuts as being equivalent to Babe Ruth hitting 60 HR and winning 20 games a year, every year.
   32. Walt Davis Posted: December 26, 2021 at 05:01 PM (#6058692)
So where does that put Family Circus? :-)

What I meant is that the "mental demands" on a combination pitcher/DH is perhaps the same as a hitter/SS, and probably less than that of a hitter/catcher, and the physical demands are definitely less than a hitter/catcher.

So Cliff Johnson 1975 >> Ohtani :-)

For those not old or nerdy enough ... in 75, Johnson put up a 151 OPS+ while also C'ing about 1-2 times a week and the rest of his time at 1B. But, spoiling the analogy, Cliff could never find a full-time spot in the lineup even after moving to the AL to mostly DH. Still impressive in its way to be able to have such a long career as a part-time bat with no real defensive value. Cliff probably does have one of the larger platoon splits of a RHB -- 905/746 OPS with 2000/2600 PA.

But it does seem a fair point that, although Ohtani's combination is rarer, it's not clear it was that much more impressive a season than, say, Bench 1970 or 1972. The workload was pretty staggering -- 671 PA for a catcher! (130 starts at C, 17 OF, 5 1B) bWAR not really that impressed though -- it might want to rethink that one.
   33. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: December 26, 2021 at 06:01 PM (#6058697)
So where does that put Family Circus? :-)


If there were 5 generations of Michael Martinez …
   34. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 27, 2021 at 10:21 PM (#6058794)
But it does seem a fair point that, although Ohtani's combination is rarer, it's not clear it was that much more impressive a season than, say, Bench 1970 or 1972. The workload was pretty staggering -- 671 PA for a catcher! (130 starts at C, 17 OF, 5 1B) bWAR not really that impressed though -- it might want to rethink that one.

In 1954 the MVP Yogi Berra started 148 games at C, including 16 doubleheaders, and posted a 137 OPS+ while also throwing out 56% of attempted base stealers. Lots of variable conditions that favored one or the other, but Berra's feat is also worthy of recognition.
   35. John Northey Posted: December 27, 2021 at 10:32 PM (#6058797)
For catching I go to Mike Piazza - 1997 185 OPS+ 8.7 WAR, stole 5 bases (caught once), caught 139 games for a staff with a 107 ERA+, just 2 games out of the playoffs. His teams had great ERA's yet no one gave him an ounce of credit because he had a noodle arm. Sigh.
   36. bookbook Posted: December 29, 2021 at 08:10 AM (#6058902)
A bit surprising to see a woman’s tennis player make the top ten and it’s not Serena Williams. Similarly, I thought Trout might sneak one in there.
   37. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: December 29, 2021 at 12:28 PM (#6058917)
So Cliff Johnson 1975 >> Ohtani :-)


Really, it is possible - though since Cliff Johnson only caught 1-2 times per week, I assume he didn't catch very well. The thing about Ohtani was he was an all-star at both pitching and hitting. I think the better analogy is with Bench, Berra, Campanella or Fisk, as you pointed out with your Bench comparison.

Again, the main thing keeping someone historically from both pitching and hitting was the lack of the DH. Typical baseball community conservatism has been the only thing holding this development back, since the DH became pervasive in the lower levels in, when, say the 1980's? Ohtani has shown the way forward, I think.

There is still the following calculus, however - because of the increased injury risk for pitchers these days, one has to be both a superlative hitter and a superlative pitcher for the combination to make sense. If Ohtani's arm were to fall off, he would have value (at least for a few years) perhaps only as a DH, and so he would have to be a really good hitter to have any value at all. If he was just a so-so hitter, probably better to play someone else at DH, and if he was just a so-so pitcher, probably better to have him play the outfield and not risk a debilitating arm injury.
   38. Howie Menckel Posted: December 29, 2021 at 01:39 PM (#6058920)
very surprised that Chamberlain's great season doesn't mention that he also averaged more than 48 minutes per game!

Wilt played every minute of every game, except for the one he got ejected from with eight minutes left for his second 'T'. the OT minutes more than made up for the time missed from the ejection, so he averaged 48.5 minutes.

if you're surprised that he didn't foul out of any games that year, you shouldn't be - Wilt never fouled out of a game in his entire career (in fact, he was called for a smidge under 2 fouls per game).

   39. 185/456(GGC) Posted: December 31, 2021 at 11:34 AM (#6059102)
I was kinda expecting this to be about calendar years. I think that someone wrote a book about 1941 (DiMaggio, Williams, Joe Luis, Whirlaway...)
   40. John DiFool2 Posted: December 31, 2021 at 12:38 PM (#6059109)
So where does that put Family Circus? :-)


Not Me is on 1st, Ida Know on 2nd...

   41. John DiFool2 Posted: December 31, 2021 at 12:41 PM (#6059110)
Surprised nobody's called out putting Bo Jackson at 7 yet.

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