This will be First Score Boston’s third Titletown Ten post and it will focus on dominant players in Boston sports. It was a great week for Red Sox fans to remember the great career of Pedro Martinez. Pedro was the greatest pitcher of his era and he changed the baseball experience for Red Sox fans. If you haven’t already read it, feel free to read more about Pedro’s impact in our post from last week.
One word that comes to mind when we think of Pedro’s career is dominance. One of the joys of watching him was to see how outmatched his competition was when they faced him. There were times where you could just sense that the opposition had no chance against him and it was always intriguing to watch. He could single handedly win a baseball game. As Boston sports fans, we’ve had the joy of watching many dominant players. All four teams have won championships and there have been a lot of dominant players who have contributed. This Titletown Ten post will focus on the ten most dominant Boston players since 1980. Before we get to the list, I would like to note that I didn’t include any hitters from the Red Sox. The reason is because it’s very difficult to dominate a game when you are only involved in 5-10% of the plays in the game. A hitter normally gets 3-5 at bats and may be involved in a few plays in the field. It’s very difficult to take over a game in baseball unless you’re on the mound. This is not a knock against David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Wade Boggs. They were all elite players and they will surely wind up on plenty of Titletown Ten lists…just not this one. Here’s my list of the ten most dominant players in Boston sports since 1980.
#10 – Kevin McHale – Celtics
Most fans will remember another player on McHale’s team being the dominant one. We’ll get to that later. McHale has been debated as the player with the best low posts moves of all time in the NBA. The Celtics relied heavily on him to produce during their championship years and he delivered. When the ball went to McHale down low, it was as close as you can get to an automatic two points. His footwork and head fakes down low were, perhaps, the best of all time. In his peak years, McHale took over games and there was nothing the opponent could to do stop him. For example, he had a 56 point game against Detroit in 1985. His best year was 1986-87 where he averaged 26.1 points and 9.9 rebounds. He was the #2 player on a team that won three championships and he was elite at both ends of the floor.
#9 – Zdeno Chara – Bruins
When most people think of dominance, they think about big numbers on the offensive side. Chara has never had that. He has dominated the game in a different way, through intimidation and defensive play. During his prime years no offensive threat wanted to face Zdeno Chara. He took the very best players completely out of their games. The best example is what he did to Sidney Crosby in the 2013 playoffs during a four game sweep of the Penguins. Chara got in Crosby’s head with his physical play and Crosby was invisible for the majority of that series. The 2009 Norris Trophy winner also has been capable of putting the puck in the net with his rocket of a slap shot from the point. Chara has fit in perfectly to the Bruins defensive system and he has truly dominated the defensive side of the ice.
#8 – Paul Pierce – Celtics
Pierce proved that he could take over a game many times over the course of his 15 year career with the Celtics. He was an elite scorer who came through in the clutch during his peak years. Perhaps Pierce’s most impressive run of dominance was during the 2008 NBA Finals where he outplayed Kobe Bryant and led the Celtics to their 17th NBA Championship. Earlier in his career, the Celtics needed Pierce to dominate games with his scoring, Prior to the championship season, Pierce averaged over 25 points a game in five seasons. He had many games over this period where he would put the team on his back and the team benefited greatly from his isolation scoring ability.
#7 – Ray Bourque – Bruins
This is similar to the Chara justification. The only difference is that Bourque was the elite defenseman of his entire era and he also made much more of impact on the offensive end than Chara did. Bourque was a fundamentally sound player and he dominated the defensive end. He won five Norris trophies. He also was elite on offense. He scored over 80 points ten times in his Bruins career. He finished as a runner up for the Hart Trophy twice in his career. His physical presence was often underrated because he was not a fighter or a dirty player. However, he was a very strong player and won just about every puck battle during his prime years. He was a truly dominant defenseman in every sense of the word.
#6 – Rob Gronkowski – Patriots
“Gronk” is just entering the prime of his NFL career at age 26 and he may very well move up on this list in years to come. “Dominant” is a word you frequently hear when discussing Gronkowski’s game. He’s simply unstoppable in the red zone. The opposing defenses focus on him, but he is too big, too quick, and he has great hands. Gronkowski already has 54 touchdowns in 65 career games. In addition to his ability to make big plays in the red zone, he is very difficult to tackle in the open field. He can dominate a game when he has the ball by gaining extra yards and making things very difficult to the defensive secondary. No one wants to tackle this guy.
#5 – Cam Neely – Bruins
Neely wouldn’t be included on a list of top five players in Boston in general. However, he certainly qualifies on a list of dominant players. Here’s another player who could take over a game. He was the original “power forward” in the NHL. He was tough, hard-nosed, and elite offensively. Neely scored over 50 goals four times in his career. He also was a “big game” player who raised his performance in the playoffs. Defenseman on the opposing teams were in for a long night when they faced the Bruins. Neely dominated in front of the net. Her created space for himself and scored the majority of his goals by overpowering the opposition in front of the net. Neely was a very rare player who could take over a game with his skill and his physical play. If only he had these same skills in the front office… Ouch!
#4 – Tom Brady – Patriots
Brady started his career by being a player who did everything in the best interest of the team. He didn’t need to take over and dominate games because the team’s defense did that for him. Later in his career, Brady was called upon to put the game in his hands and he delivered every step of the way. This was never more evident than in the Super Bowl against Seattle. Brady took over on the second half and the Patriots won because of his elite performance. Malcolm Butler…great play. The guy that won that game is Brady. Brady has had many elite seasons and has become a player who is being argued as the best of all time. The only question now is how much longer will it last.
#3 – Roger Clemens – Red Sox
Clemens pitched 13 seasons for the Red Sox and he was the elite pitcher in the American League during the majority of those years. The Red Sox were a mediocre team that became a playoff team in 4 of his 13 seasons because of Clemens’ dominance. He won the Cy Young Award three times during his Red Sox career and he was pretty much an automatic win from 1986-1992. During this span, he was 136-63 with a 2.66 ERA. He led the league in ERA in four of those seven seasons. Clemens would overpower his opponents. He had a competitive edge to him and a toughness that has only been matched by the next guy on this list. Roger Clemens’ dominance had a tremendous impact on the Red Sox success in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
#2 – Pedro Martinez – Red Sox
Pedro dominated the American League from the day he stepped on the field in a Red Sox uniform in 1998 until his last pitch in the 2004 World Series where he gave the Red Sox a 3-0 series lead. Pedro had a 117-37 record with the Red Sox over seven seasons. His impact was bigger than his dominance. He changed the way Red Sox fans viewed baseball. He gave us hope. When he was on the mound, the Red Sox were the best team in baseball. He actually could be argued very easily for the top spot on this list given how outmatched the opponents were when he pitched in his prime, particularly in 1999 and 2000. Pedro is much more than just a Hall of Famer. He is the best pitcher most of us have ever seen.
#1 – Larry Bird – Celtics
Larry Bird could dominate any game he played in his prime years. He always did it within the framework of the team. Bird could take 10 or 12 shots and still be the best player on the floor. This is what was most impressive about Bird. He could beat you in every phase of the game. He didn’t even need to shoot to beat you even though he is arguably the best shooter who has ever played the game. If someone was hurt and he needed to score more, he would burn you for 50 points. If the team didn’t need that, he would feed the ball to McHale and Parish for easy shots. From 1984-86, Bird was the best basketball player on the planet. He won the MVP all three years and won two of his three championships. James Worthy was quoted saying “I would much rather guard Michael Jordan than Larry Bird.” Big statement!
Pedro’s dominance has been brought back to life this past week. These players have all taken over games at various points in their careers and it’s been a lot of fun to watch. It will be interesting to see if any of the young stars will eventually make this list. Time will tell.