Saturday, October 25, 2014

How Do We Track the New York Athlete Championship Belt? (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1 of the New York Athlete Championship BeltSorry it took me a little while to finish Part 2. Still, I hope you enjoy!

1971: Tom Seaver
If you go back to Part 1, you'll see that Seaver won the Belt in '67 and Frazier took it home in '70. Well, in the early '70s, those two traded the Belt back and forth like the U.S. and Russia traded nuclear threats. Seaver gets the nod for a '71 season in which he put up an absurd 1.76 ERA.*

*He somehow finished second in the Cy Young Voting to Fergie Jenkins, who had an ERA that was a full run higher but logged four more wins than Seaver. Yay, wins!

1972: Walt Frazier
A few readers got mad at me for awarding the Belt to "Clyde" in '70, arguing that league MVP and team captain Willis Reed was the best player for those Knicks. After watching ESPN's excellent When the Garden Was Eden this week, I have to agree with them. I think I gave Frazier the Belt based in large part on his star power and future career. Also, the point guard's 36-19-7 line in Game 7 in '70 was ridiculous. Still, let's call it a mulligan and give Willis the Belt in '70.

As far as '72 is concerned, Frazier beat out Rod Gilbert, who racked up 97 points for the Eastern Conference champion Rangers. If the Rangers had broken their Cup drought that year (stay tuned a few more decades), Gilbert would have captured the Belt. However, Frazier's Knicks won their second title in '72-73, and they were the kings of Madison Square Garden throughout this entire era.

1973-75: Tom Seaver
Seaver won the NL Cy Young in '73 and '75, bookended around a not-too-shabby '74 campaign in which he hurled 12 complete games but was out for part of the year with a pelvic injury. After getting healthy in '75, Seaver returned to form, as was described in a 1975 Sports Illustrated cover story. (God, I love the SI Vault.)

1976-79: Thurman Munson
Munson was named captain in 1976, the season he also won the MVP award. As the team's first captain since Lou Gehrig, he led the Yanks to back-to-back titles in '77-78. It's tempting to give the Belt to Reggie Jackson or Ron Guidry for one or more of these seasons, but Munson was the beating heart of those Yankees until his tragic death in '79.

1980: Mike Bossy
It's tough for an Islander to land the Belt, but Bossy was the star player for a team starting a dynasty. But even though the Isles' dynasty lasted until '84, Bossy simply served as a placeholder Belt-holder for some of the city's heaviest hitters.

1981-83: Chris Mullin 
Mullin was a Brooklyn kid who took St. John's to national prominence when the Redmen really mattered to the city. His midnight gym sessions were legendary, as were his late-night bar sessions. He was a true star in a hoops-crazy city. When old-timers lament the demise of the Big East, they're waxing nostalgic for the days of Mullin, Ewing, and the rest.

Mullin was an All-American in '84 and '85, but he still couldn't retain the Belt. Not when you consider the accomplishments of the next two Belt-winners...

1984: Don Mattingly
Donnie Baseball was an MVP candidate for a half-decade and even non-New York sports fans had to love him or respect him. In '84, he led the league in hitting and truly endeared himself to New Yorkers.

1985-86: Dwight Gooden
Holy shit, Gooden was a phenom. Whenever people talk about a pitcher's start being a must-see event, I think Doctor K's early career is the template. He was better in his Cy Young-winning '85 season, but the Mets took home a title in '86, allowing Gooden to retain the Belt. Or, at least a share of it...

1986: Lawrence Taylor (tie)
L.T. gets a share of the Belt for leading Big Blue to a Super Bowl XXI victory. He also swept the league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in one of the most dominant individual seasons ever.

I wonder how many lines of cocaine L.T. and Doc could have snorted off of their shared Championship Belt.

1987-92: Don Mattingly
Mattingly's best season was actually '86, but the surreal seasons by Gooden and Taylor would have trumped almost any other mortal's performance. From '87-92, Mattingly steadily declined, but there was no more beloved athlete in the city.

Mattingly gets bonus points for his unforgettable cameo on The Simpsons in '92.

1993: Patrick Ewing
Bill Simmons has posited an interesting theory that Knicks fans who also supported St. John's never fully warmed up to Ewing. (Yes, that is different than Simmons' famous Eming Theory.) Still, Ewing had two of his best seasons in '92-93 and '93-94. Years later, Knicks fans would at last fully appreciate the center's career, bittersweet as it was:

1994: Mark Messier
You might have noticed that New York's championship teams usually featured the player with the Championship Belt for that year. In the magical '94 season, Messier captained the Rangers to the Stanley Cup and joined immortal winners like Berra, Frazier, and Munson.

1995: Bernie Williams
In '94, Bernie was having a solid season when the strike taught Young FranT his first lesson about Greed in Sports. Thank goodness Messier's Rangers kept New York sports fans happy that year.

In '95, though, Bernie took the Belt. Sure, an aging Mattingly, young Pettitte, and prime David Cone were on the same team. But, more than anyone else, Bernie carried the Yanks to their first playoff appearance of my lifetime.

1996-2006: Derek Jeter
No, this is not just fatigue on my part. Remember, the Belt is awarded to the most dominant athlete in the city -- on and off the field. Can anyone match Prime Jeter? (Or even Over-the-Hill Jeter, as we recently experienced?)

I wrote plenty about Jeter's importance in the spring, and I'm confident in awarding him the Belt for a full decade.

2007-09: Eli Manning
Ordinarily, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback would be given retroactive custody of the Belt, starting at the beginning of the season. Not so with Eli. He didn't have a great campaign as he actually led the league in interceptions. But he shined in the '07 postseason. Eli truly came through on one of the best nights of my life.

Eli was probably the goofiest-looking Cinderalla ever. Well, almost ever...

In '08, Eli retained the Belt as he led the G-Men to a 12-4 record before the team captured the Super Bowl again the next season. Solid run.

2010: Mariano Rivera
There's not much that differentiates '10 from most other Mo seasons, but he gets the nod here because he had to wear the Belt at some point. The Yankees made the postseason for the 15th straight season, thanks in no small part to the closer.

2011: Darrelle Revis
Revis guided a Jets defense that carried the team to its second straight AFC Championship Game. With Mark Sanchez under center, the Jets had no business making it so far into the playoffs. But the defense shined, and Revis Island was the star.

Now, about The Sanchize...

2012: Mark Sanchez
Haha, just kidding...

2012: Derek Jeter
This was the last great statistical season of Jeter's career. The Captain posted a .316/.363/.429 line and finished seventh in the MVP voting.

2013: Henrik Lundqvist
Hank was the backbone of the '13-14 team as the Rangers made a magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Let's just hope he soon gets a ring to match his Belt. Not to mention those eyes...

Apologies to Rivera, who won just a single Belt despite dominating out of the bullpen for 18 seasons. I guess it's tough being on the same team as the man with the most Belt notches ever...

2014: Derek Jeter

Enough said.

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  1. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. All Jets are out, most Giants are eliminated, and the Knicks, Nets, and Islanders figure to be pretty mediocre. That narrows the field considerably. I think I'm giving the knock-on-wood nod to Matt Harvey. I can't even imagine the mix of excitement and dread that Mets fans must feel.

  2. I like it. I'd like to think Melo will have the belt at least one year in the near future once we get some players in but before he hits his decline.