The Cafe 101: The 2nd Course

Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant is the Cafe 101. As the name suggests there are only 101 tables, each reserved for the greatest to don that number.

Imagine there’s a sports heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
Where sports’ greatest legends
Depart to when they die.

Imagine all the athletes, of past and present day.

Now imagine a Cafe;
It’s not that hard to do.
There’s only 101 tables;
It’s open to a select few.

Imagine all the athletes, hoping to get a seat.

You may say I’m a dreamer;
But I’m not the only one.
Deciding the greatest athletes by number;
Who get to enter the Cafe 101.

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In our first course I took on the challenge of seating tables 7, 30, 59, and 88.  This week I take on two pretty difficult tasks as I have to take on Table #10, a number that is sacred to soccer and #80, a number donned by some of the greatest wide receivers of all time.  If you would like to read my previous Cafe 101 post please use the link above.  So without further ado, let’s look at four more tables at the Cafe 101.

TABLE

PELE

Forward, Brazil National Team, Santos, & New York Cosmos (1956-1977)
3x World Cup Champion, 2x Roca Cup Winner, 1958 FIFA Silver Boot, 1958 FIFA Silver Ball, 1970 FIFA Golden Ball,  FIFA Player of the Century – 1999, UNICEF Football Player of the Century – 1999

I was told that when I went with #10 I was going to have to choose a soccer player.  The #10 is sacred in the sport of soccer but the reason it’s so sacred is the only player to have 3 World Cup medals – Pele.  While my favorite #10 is Fran Tarkenton and a lot of great athletes have worn this number, Table #10 is about “Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?” and in my opinion that is Pele.   Aside from his championship pedigree, his 1281 goals in 1363 games is still a record for most all-time.  In baseball we often talk about the 5-tool baseball player as that rare guy who can do “EVERYTHING”, well Pele was a 5-tool soccer star.  He could dribble, he could pass, he could shoot, he could head, and he could score.  Not only was he named the soccer player of the century; he was named by the Athlete of the Century by Reuters and the International Olympic Committee.  While I thought for awhile about this table, when I think #10 I think Pele and I think most other sports fans do as well.   He is so well-respected that multiple countries around the world have depicted him on their postage stamps.  I’m no expert on the game of soccer and while some may consider Maradona, Zidane, or one day in the future Lionel Messi – I still believe Pele to be the greatest soccer player of all time.

RUNNER-UP: ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Midfielder, Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid, & French National Team (1988-2006)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Ron Santo, Phil Rizzuto, Mookie Blaylock (College), Andre Dawson, Michele Platini, Diego Maradona, Walt Frazier, Guy LaFleur, Wayne Rooney, Zico, Vince Young (College), Dennis Rodman, Maurice Cheeks, Fran Tarkenton, Michelle Akers, Tim Hardaway, Nancy Lieberman, Eli Manning, & Marti Vieria de Silva

TOO SOON TO TELL:  DeSean Jackson, Adam Jones, Santonio Holmes, Vernon Wells, Matt Flynn, Landon Donovan & Lionel Messi

TABLE

JENNIE FINCH

Starting Pitcher, Arizona Wildcats, USA National Team, & Chicago Bandits (1999-2010)
2004 Olympic Gold Medalist, 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist, Most Outstanding Player – 2001 College World Series,  2001 National Player of the Year, 3x All-American,  2001 College World Series National Champion, 2x World Cup Champion, National Pro-Fastpitch Co-Pitcher of the Year – 2005

There are many great athletes who have worn the #27.  Many immediately think of Carlton Fisk or Juan Marichal in baseball.  They think of Scott Niedermayer in hockey and Eddie George or Steve Atwater in football.  There are a lot of current stars in sports who don 27 but I feel like the greatest athlete to have worn 27 is Jennie Finch.  I understand that my knowledge of the sport of softball is limited and she is from my generation but the more I talk to those who follow the sport, watch highlights, and read, I am convinced that Jennie Finch is the greatest all-around softball player in the history of the game.   She’s always been a winner – she won one national championship in college, has two Olympic medals, and won two World Cups.

As a college pitcher she set an NCAA record with 60 straight wins shattering the previous mark of 50.   Over a four year college career she won 119 games and struck out 1,028 batters including going 32-0 in her junior year.    She had a 1.07 career ERA in college, and a 0.42 career ERA as a member of the USA National Team.  Her pitch was 71 mph (the equivalent of a 98 mph pitch in baseball) and she threw it consistently.  While I could not find an exact number of no-hitters and perfect games she pitched, I do still remember when she threw back-to-back-to-back no-hitters in the 2000 College World Series.   On top of her pitching prowess she was also great hitter,  batting over .300 each year of college and for the Chicago Bandits in 2005.    She even put together a 14-game hitting streak her sophomore year of college.  Yes, I feel pretty confident that Jennie deserves Table #27.

RUNNER-UP (TIE): CARLTON FISK, Catcher, Boston Red Sox & Chicago White Sox (1969, 1971 – 1993) & SCOTT NIEDERMAYER, Defenceman, New Jersey Devils & Anaheim Ducks (1991-2010)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Scott Niedermayer, Juan Marichal, “Catfish” Hunter, Jeremy Roenick, Vladimir Guerrero, Eddie George, Jack Twyman, Fred McGriff, & Steve Atwater

TOO SOON TO TELL: Ray Rice, Lagarette Blount, Placido Polanco, & Brandon Jacobs

TABLE

JACK HAM

Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers (1971-1982)
4x Super Bowl Champion, 8x Pro Bowler, 6x 1st Team All-Pro, 2x 2nd team All-Pro, NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, Hall of Fame – 1988

I’ve had a number of my readers ask how I decide what four numbers I am going to do for each article.  It’s simple really, I use a Random Number Generator to select one number between 00 and 23, 24 and 48, 49 and 74, and 75 and 99.  When I was given these four numbers I didn’t realize that #59 would be so tough.  I immediately thought of Jack Ham but then I was reminded of London Fletcher – a largely underrated linebacker who has better stats than the much-heralded Ray Lewis with more Super Bowl appearances meanwhile collecting more tackles than any other player between 2000 and 2009.  But when I compared the two, I had to go with Jack Ham who is considered by many to be the greatest outside linebacker the NFL has ever seen.

During his career, Ham had 25 career sacks (unofficially), 32 interceptions, and 21 fumble recoveries.  He was a leader of the famed “Steel Curtain” defense and was known for his speed and ferocious tackling ability.  What he’s most remembered for though is being a highly intelligent football player who rarely missed an assignment or was out of place.  Many players in his time often noted how “you couldn’t trick Jack [Ham]”.  He is one of the greatest defensive players the NFL has ever seen and deserves Table #59.

RUNNER-UP: LONDON FLETCHER, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, & Washington Redskins (1998 – Present)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Seth Joyner, Alex Agase, Chad LaRose, & Todd Jones

TOO SOON TO TELL: John Axford, DeMeco Ryans, Aaron Curry, & Felix Hernandez

TABLE

JERRY RICE

Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, & Seattle Seahawks (1985 – 2004)
3x Super Bowl Champion, 13x Pro-Bowl Selection, 12x All-Pro Selection, 2x AP Offensive Player of the Year, 3x NFC Offensive Player of the Year, NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team, NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team, Hall of Fame – 2010

There have been a number of great athletes who have worn #80 but this was without a doubt going to Jerry Rice, not only the greatest wide receiver of all-time but to many – he’s the greatest football player of all time.   He holds the record for career receptions with 1,549 (445 ahead of Tony Gonzalez), as well as receiving yards with 22,895 and total non-passing touchdowns with 208.  From 1985 – 1999 he had 1000 yards receiving each season and holds nearly every receiving record of significance.  Jerry Rice is such an obvious choice for this number that there really isn’t much to say here.

RUNNER-UP: CRIS CARTER, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, & Miami Dolphins (1987-2002)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Steve Largent, Henry Ellard, Kellen Winslow, Rick Bryan, Andre Johnson, Isaac Bruce, Nik Antropov, Ronaldinho, & Donald Driver

TOO SOON TO TELL: Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Jr., Jimmy Graham, & Victor Cruz

Click photo to enlarge the seating chart for Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant

Will your favorite athletes be able to get a table at the Cafe 101? Keep reading to find out!  If you have any questions, comments, or snide remarks please comment below or tweet them to @can_of_corn!

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Where does David Freese’s walk-off HR rank historically?

This morning on Twitter the MLB posed the question of whether or not David Freese’s walk-off homerun last night was the greatest of all time?  My initial response was “not even close”.  I feel that in the “ESPN era” we often act like nothing happened in sports prior to 1980 (a thought similar to one that Mike Wilbon has expressed numerous times) and one of my biggest pet peeve’s with our 24 hour sports news cycle is the tendency that we have to confuse the “latest” with the “greatest”.   However as I watch the clip over and over and over again I do understand how special this series has been and how amazing that shot was.  So while in my mind there were a few that jumped to mind immediately I wanted to really think about where Freese’s walk-off does rank among all-time walk-off home runs.  I wanted to be weary as to not give it so much credit because it is happening now but in all reality, this has been a great postseason full of great moments.  So without further ado, my top 11 postseason walk-off homeruns.

11. Ozzie Smith, St. Louis Cardinals – Game 5, 1985 NLCS

In the 1985 National League Championship Series, Ozzie Smith (who at the time had 12 career homeruns) hits a walk-off homerun down the right field line to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the series over the Dodgers.  This was the first time that Ozzie Smith ever hit a homerun while batting lefthanded.  The Cardinals would go on to win the NL pennant but would fall in the 1985 World Series 4 games to 3 to the Kansas City Royals.

10. Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers – Game 2, 2011 ALCS

In Game 2 of the 2011 ALCS after Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli all single to reach base safely, Nelson Cruz comes to the plate and hits the first ever  postseason walk-off grandslam to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the series (once again, my apologies on the poor video quality).

9. Kirk Gibson, Los Angeles Dodgers- Game 1, 1988 World Series

In the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Kirk Gibson (later named NL MVP) makes his only appearance of the Series due to injury.  He hobbles up and hits a tw0-run shot to give the Dodgers the first game of the Series.  Marks the first time a game-winning home run was hit in a World Series by a team that was trailing at the time.

8. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox – Game 4, 2004 ALCS

This was the homerun that started the rally.  This was the homerun that made the impossible possible.  This was the homerun that gave a glimmer of hope to a cursed fanbase.   In the bottom of the 12th inning in a game that was tied 4-4, Big Papi stepped up to the plate and crushed a 2 run shot to end the game and allow Boston to avoid the sweep.  Since the game ended after midnight you can hear Joe Buck’s call of “we’ll see you later tonight”.  Ortiz hit a game winning single in the 14th inning the following night as the Red Sox went on to become the first team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in postseason history.

7. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees – Game 4, 2001 World Series

In the first ever World Series at-bat by any player in the month of November, Derek Jeter stepped up to the plate in a 3-3 ballgame in the bottom of the 10th.  This homerun gave Jeter the nickname “Mr. November”.

6. Bobby Thompson, New York Giants – Game 3, 1951 National League Tiebreaker

At the end of the 1951, the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers were tied in the National League pennant race so it was determined that a three game series would be played.   The New York Giants had won the first game and the Dodgers the 2nd so it all came down to Game 3.  The Giants were down 4-1 entering the ninth inning.  The inning started off with 2 singles and then a double that scored one of the runners to make it 4-2.   Bobby Thompson stepped up to the plate and hit a 3 run homerun down the left field line in what later became known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”.

5. David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals – Game 6, 2011 World Series

You saw it last night.  The St. Louis hometown kid came through for the Cardinals to force Game 7 between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals with a solo home run in the bottom of the 11th. (The video below is for #5 and #4)

4. Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins – Game 6, 1991 World Series

Now of course this is my FAVORITE homerun of all-time but I really could not list it higher than 3 on the best postseason homeruns all-time list.   Puckett who had made a game-saving defensive play earlier in the game led off the 11th inning with a solo homerun to tie the series at 3-3 prompting Jack Buck (Joe Buck’s father and longtime St. Louis Cardinals announcer) to make the call, “And we’ll see you…. tomorrow night!”  Puckett finished the game with a homerun, triple, and two singles.   (On a sidenote, I will still say the 2011 World Series has a lot in common with the 1991 series).

3. Carlton Fisk, Boston Red Sox – Game 6, 1975 World Series

Fisk’s home run to lead off the 12th in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series tied the Series with the Reds at 3 games apiece.   Today there is a plate at the left field foul pole on top of the Green Monster designating it as the “Fisk Pole”.  This moment is more significant than anything because, due to a cameraman error, the camera was left focused on Fisk as opposed to the ball and his “jumping up and down” arguably led to television camera crews putting more focus on athlete reaction in sports broadcasting.

2. Joe Carter, Toronto Blue Jays – Game 6, 1993 World Series

In the ninth inning, Joe Carter stepped up to the plate with 2 runners on and the Blue Jays were down 6-5.  Carter hit a three run homerun that gave the Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series trophy (6:20 mark in video).

1. Bill Mazeroski, Pittsburgh Pirates – Game 7, 1960 World Series

In a game that was tied 9-9, Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the 9th with a walk-off solo home run that gave the Pittsburgh Pirates their first World Series in 35 years.  This is still the only walk-off home run in Game 7 of  World Series in MLB history and is considered by many the greatest home run of all time.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!