- - Sunday, June 17, 2018

Now that things have calmed down a bit in the aftermath of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup championship celebration, perhaps we can now clean up some of the mess that was left behind — some of the foolishness perpetuated in the local pom-pom waving media on an unsuspecting public already confused by fake news.

Look, Alex Ovechkin is great, but suddenly he’s the GOAT? The greatest athlete, all-time in the history of Washington sports?

C’mon. If you believe that, have another keg stand.

NBC Sports Washington tried to foist this ridiculous notion upon on with a slide show on its website — one without any particular author attached to it. I can certainly understand why.

Besides naming Ovechkin as the greatest D.C. athlete of all time, the list included Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken.



Did I say Baltimore Orioles?

How could you possibly include one of Baltimore’s greatest athletes of all time on a Washington list? Could you seriously not come up with a list of 10 Washington-based athletes? I know Max Scherzer has only been here for four years, but he has already pitched two no-hitters and won two Cy Young awards since he arrived. That puts him on the list.

But what is more egregious is the absence anywhere on the list of the top two greatest D.C. athletes of all time — Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh and Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.

Sammy Baugh is typically named as one of the top two or three greatest players in NFL history on nearly every list of note. He came here as a rookie in 1937 and immediately led the Redskins to their first of two NFL championships during his career. He was a six-time All-Pro who, as was the practice in his day, played both ways and excelled as a defensive back (he led the league in interceptions in 1943) and as a punter (averaged 45.3 yards per punt in his career, second all-time).

But more importantly, he built the foundation that went on to make the Redskins one of the premier franchises in football. He put the sport on the map in this town. The Redskins had just moved here from Boston, after failing there in five seasons — a town where the game of football was popular. There was a very real possibility that the NFL could have easily failed in Washington then as well. Baugh made it successful.

I can’t believe I have to type this to explain why Walter Johnson should be on the list of greatest Washington sports athletes. He was only the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball — at the very least, the greatest right-handed hurler of all time. The Senators great had an incomparable career record of 417-279 with a 2.17 ERA with 3,508 strikeouts over 21 seasons in a Senators uniform — a two-time American League Most Valuable Player.

To fail to recognize this is to simply be a child.

Ovechkin is one of the all-time greats, and we are lucky to have witnessed his career. The Stanley Cup championship allows his greatness to be defined by what he has accomplished — three NHL MVP awards and seven scoring titles to date — instead of what he had not accomplished.

After that, it is all debatable.

If you are not going to qualify your list as greatest Washington team sports athletes — and simply list the greatest athletes of all time — you have to include Katie Ledecky on the list. She is a five-time Olympic gold medal winner, a 14-time world champion, and may wind up being the second greatest swimmer in American history when all is said and done.

Also on that list would be Sugar Ray Leonard — an Olympic gold medal boxer who went on to win world championships in five different weight classes and historic wins over Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler.

My friend and Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone argued that neither Baugh nor Johnson could be at the top because neither played in an era when African-American athletes were not permitted to compete in their respective games — a practice that neither Baugh or Johnson were responsible for.

That argument would suggest that we conclude neither athlete would have been as great against African-American players. But then let’s take the Negro League players that we consider to be great — players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, both in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Because they played in Negro Leagues without great players like Johnson and others, do we conclude that their accomplishments would have been lessened if they had competed in major league baseball?

I get the reality that players like Gibson and Paige were denied the opportunity to play major league baseball. But that’s not the argument. The case is that Baugh and Johnson would not have been as great if they competed against African-American players. You could reverse that and say the same about Negro League greats who we celebrate. It’s a road filled with potholes, and does everyone a disservice when you travel it.

I mean, are Wayne Gretzky’s career accomplishments — and his four Stanley Cups — diminished because that half of his career he didn’t compete against Russian and Eastern European players? How far do you want to travel down this bumpy road?

The road to the greatest athletes in Washington sports history should be a smooth start — Sammy Baugh, Walter Johnson and Alex Ovechkin — in that order.

Thom Loverro’s weekly “Cigars & Curveballs” is available Wednesdays on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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