I get the sense that we are drawing a more and more distinct line between the players you can win with and the players who just compile nice individual careers. Everything has to black and white. I think players fall in a few different spots along this spectrum. I’m going to use Philadelphia examples, because that is what I am most familiar with, but I am sure you can fill in names from your own hometown team.
Clear Winners: These are the guys everyone wants. Jeter. Brady. Martin Brodeur (cringe). There’s no question about their talent level, or about their priorities. They are win first guys, and they’ve done it numerous times. In Philadelphia, it is hard to come up with a concrete example of this, because we have one title in the last 25+ years, and I think the best example we have in the city is probably someone who won elsewhere, and that’s Chris Pronger. I’d say Chase Utley is very close, but if I am thinking of one guy in town who is no questions asked a winner and a leader, I’d say Chris Pronger.
After the clear-cut top of the line guys I think there are a couple of other categories you can fall into. Guys can walk the line here, and sometimes you don’t know until they change teams, or sometimes you may never know. I’d call this the unlucky stars vs. the non-winners.
Unlucky Stars: These are the guys that never really had a chance to prove themselves. Their teams were that bad, they were up against a dynasty, whatever it may be. I think the best example of this in Philadelphia is probably Charles Barkley. I think you could have won with Barkley. He was simply surrounded by garbage for many years in Philly, and had the misfortune of playing during the Pistons into Bulls dynasty years. Maybe the best example of this ever is Ray Bourque, who did finally win the Stanley Cup, but his Bruins career sums up this category perfectly. Interestingly enough, being a city that doesn’t win much, Philly has a lot of decisions to make here. Other guys I’d put in here would be Eric Lindros, and Brian Dawkins.
Non-Winners: These are the players you want to avoid at all costs. People are quick to label, too. If you remember the John Wall video I posted last week…there were some serious reactions to that video. Colin Cowherd went through the roof and said John Wall would never win a title in his NBA career. Just from that video of Wall doing “The Dougie,” Cowherd decided he wasn’t a winner. We’ve seen plenty of non-winners in Philadelphia. Guys like Bobby Abreu come to mind. Randall Cunningham is perhaps another example. Allen Iverson? It’s a hard call sometimes, and I think there could be some good debates over guys like A.I. and Donovan McNabb. In a couple of years we could be talking about Jeff Carter here.
The final distinction I want to make, and the one that applies to Jayson Werth as he heads into free agency is players you can win with, and guys that were along for the ride. They have a ring, but these are the 1a type guys. Just below that top-tier of talent. It doesn’t all fall on their lap, but they still have a big impact. I think the names up for debate between these two categories would be dominated by the less than star QBs who have won Super Bowls.
Guys You Can Win With: As I said, these aren’t the guys that are the biggest stars on the team. Maybe an example that resonates these days is Pat Burrell. I’m sure some would quickly throw Burrell into the along for the ride camp, but I actually think Burrell is a guy you can win with. If we are looking for a current example, how about Pau Gasol in basketball? A historical one, perhaps Mark Recchi in hockey. Dennis Rodman? These guys aren’t going to pile up MVPs, but they consistently appear on winning teams and contribute.
Guys Along for the Ride: These guys are the opposite of the unlucky stars. They are right place/right time guys. As I said before, the Super Bowl quarterback is a great example for this category. Trent Dilfer. Right place, right time. I know at least one person who comes to this blog that would like to throw Eli Manning into this category as well. Eli is kind of in that unknown Jayson Werth category for me right now. We often don’t know about this until guys get a second chance, move on to another team, or something along those lines. Was Manny Ramirez an along for the ride guy?
So, even though it is a made up term, “winning player,” it is something that people think about and is important. It’s also great fodder for debate. Do you think if Werth goes to Boston that he can be a contributor to a team that wins there, or will he not handle the change and get exposed as a borderline coattails type player? That’s the decision these GMs have to make. Anyway, it’s fun to put people in categories:
LeBron?, Karl Malone?, A-Rod?, Randy Moss?, Barry Bonds?, Cole Hamels?