Like every other American on July 4th, I was scrolling on Instagram and came across a list of the top 10 athletes in sports (I unfortunately could not find the post and no give credit to the maker of the list), and let’s just say it was interesting! It ranked Connor McDavid as the best athlete in sports, with Patrick Mahomes right behind him, Shohei Ohtani at No. 3, Nikola Jokic at No. 4 and Aaron Judge at No. 5. Safe to say I disagree with the list. And it’s not so much the player pool. I could agree with those five being in the top five (or around that range). It’s more where certain players rank inside of that top five list. And if someone could say with a straight face that Shohei Ohtani is the 3rd best athlete in baseball, I would expect them to receive a Tony Award in the foreseeable future! Because, what some may not realize yet, is that it’s Shohei Ohtani…and then everyone else!
Ranking the top athletes in sports is so complicated. Because like ranking every list, you need a formula, or criteria, a way you rank players. Do rank them based on how athletic they are? How fast they can run and how high they can jump? Those favors improvisers like Lamar Jackson, slashers like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo and speedsters in hockey like Johnny Gaudreau and Dylan Larkin. But that leaves off guys like Tom Brady, Nikola Jokic and others that aren’t known for their pure athleticism, but are still unbelievable athletes due to their ability to use a variety of other skills to dominate the competition. So, when I hear best athletes, I don’t think who’s the most athletic. I’m thinking, who dominates? Who simply are the best sports players? So with that out of the way, the top of this list isn’t that hard to make.
So let’s make my list. Let’s see who I think are the top athletes sports produces. My top three is very easy to make, and will have only one player from each sport. So the sport and the players from that sport that are left out in the top three is the NBA. Because when I think of dominance, the NBA no longer has one player as the best in the world. For years, it was LeBron James. You’d have the occasional Kevin Durant talk, then Steph Curry, and then MVP’s in their primes like James Harden and Russell Westbrook. But it would always come back to LeBron. Because, he was simply the best in the game, and it wasn’t even close. The NBA we see today is very different. Not only do we have a different best player year-by-year, but we have multiple in the same season!
Take this season as an example. Going into the 2022-23 NBA season, it seemed to be people were either siding with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Stephen Curry as the best player in the world. During the season, some were sticking with Giannis, some were with Luka Doncic after video game type performances, and then some were back to Jokic, averaging a triple double as a center. Some were with Kevin Durant because of his uncanny efficiency. And then a lot of people were saying Joel Embiid after an MVP season. And now, after a playoff run from a big man that makes Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain statistics look like the normal, Nikola Jokic is consensus best player in the world! How in the world could I rank any of these players as a top three athlete, when we don’t even know if they’re No. 1 in their own sport?! Call me crazy, but no NBA players make the cut!
So that leaves us with three major big four sports leagues, the MLB, NFL and NHL. And it’s pretty obvious who the best player is in all three of those leagues! The NFL’s best player is obviously Patrick Mahomes. The NHL’s best player is obviously Connor McDavid after a top 20 statistical season in NHL history! And the best player in baseball is obviously Shohei Ohtani. But there is a difference between all three of these players. While they are all amazing, they’re amazing in their own ways. But only one stands out over the rest.
Patrick Mahomes is by far the best quarterback in the NFL, and probably a top five quarterback of all time. Coming off of an MVP regular season where he threw for over 5200 yards and 41 touchdowns, Mahomes threw for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the postseason, leading Kansas City to a double digit point comeback in the Super Bowl, and securing his 2nd Super Bowl MVP. There are very rare circumstances where a player seems to be so much better than everyone else, where there is simply no answer to containing their game. Mahomes is that kind of player.
And it seems to be similar in the regular season for NHL teams against Connor McDavid. McDavid has been the best player in hockey, if not very close to it, for seven seasons now. He’s led the league assists three times, and led the league in points four times. He’s also a 5x Art Ross winner and 3x Hart winner. And he added his 3rd Hart trophy this season by having one of the greatest statistical seasons in NHL history! McDavid became the 5th player in NHL history to lead the league in goals (64) and assists (89). He also accumulated 153 points this past season, ranking 15th all time, and is only the 4th player in NHL history to accumulate this point total. Despite a lack of winning, McDavid is one of the most unstoppable players in the game!
And then there is Shohei Ohtani. Where would you like me to start? Think about this concept, Ohtani is making history as a hitter, and is at the top of significantly important pitching categories. There is probably nobody in baseball that can hit the ball better than Shohei Ohtani! Ohtani leads the MLB in triples, home runs, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and TB (with 13 TB more than any other batter!!!). He has hit 31 home runs this year–which if Ohtani’s injury he just recently suffered doesn’t leave him out a significant amount of time–and that will put him on pace to be in the discussion to break Aaron Judge’s AL record in home runs! He may have just had the greatest month in MLB history, proving he is just such an incredible batter!
He is also an incredible pitcher. He has a 3.22 ERA, and has pitched 100 innings. He’s on pace to almost break Judge’s home run record, and he’s pitched 100 innings at a high level! He leads the MLB in Hits per 9 IP, Wins Above Replacement by a long shot (pitching and batting including), is third in the MLB in K/9 and is 2nd in the MLB in opponent batting average. This is uncanny, unrealistic, and you’d think impossible. But Shohei Ohtani is defying the odds!
So you may think, ‘Okay, they all dominate. Why is Ohtani that much better?’ And that would be a fair question to ask. But think about the players I mentioned. As good as Mahomes his, and even though it seems impossible to win against him, we’ve seen this before. In fact, we just saw it for TWENTY years from Tom Brady. Even though it’s uncommon, it has happened. What Connor McDavid is doing is just a slightly lesser version of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Again, high standards, but it has happened. What Shohei Ohtani is doing, dominating as a pitcher, and a batter, is unbelievable. It is something that has never been done at the same time before!
And some say, ‘If he’s that good than why doesn’t his team win?’ And I’d say that is not a good question. Baseball is the only sport where it’s physically impossible for a player to take over a game. They only bat once every nine batters, and only play on of nine positions in the field. Heck, starters only pitch once every five days. Compare that to basketball, football and hockey, where an individual player has a chance to get the ball or the puck every single time, and take the game into his own hands. Take this year’s Western Conference Finals, where LeBron James played every second but four to try to will the Lakers to a victory. Ohtani can’t have the same effect on his team. So his goose egg in playoff appearances does not take away the fact that Ohtani is the best athlete in sports!
What Ohtani is doing is unheard of. Some may say it is actually impossible. How could a player be this dominant at two completely different styles of play in baseball? And even if he were good at it, how could he have the durability to keep going and staying healthy to make sure he plays at that high level? Your guess is as good as mine to those questions. All I know is Ohtani is answering them really well, and proving that in this game of sports, it’s Shohei Ohtani…and then everyone else!
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