When you're raised in a town that has all four major major sports teams, it's not hard to determine a list of the best athletes of all-time.
The Detroit area has produced its share of great players and breaking down the best isn't easy to do, but I'm going to produce a list that will be hard to debate.
1) Gordie Howe is the only player to have a hat trick named after him. "Mr. Hockey's" version is a goal, assist and a fight in the same game. When he retired in 1980 as the NHL's all-time leading scorer with 801 goals, 1049 assists, and 1,850 points, it looked like his records were sacred and would never be broken. But Wayne Gretzky took care of that. But I've always wondered whether Gretzky would have amassed 894 goals, 1963 assists and 2,857 points playing in the "Original Six" team era where teams knew every move he'd make. Gretzky had only 577 regular season penalty minutes while Howe had 1,685 penalty minutes. Howe won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, but with all of Gretzky's accomplishments, he has won only four championships in the 1980's and appeared in the finals six times. Howe is the oldest player to play in the NHL at 52 years and 11 days and is a 23-time NHL All-Star.
2) Al Kaline is another player who would be a rarity these days. He spent his entire 21-year playing career with the Detroit Tigers. On any other list, "Mr Tiger" would be number one. But compared to Howe, Kaline did one won championship in 1968, and is an 18-time All-Star. Nonetheless, a career .297 average with 3007 hits and 399 homers plus reaching the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 88.3% of the vote is nothing to be ashamed of. Kaline once told me that the only regret that he had in his career was not reaching the 400 homer milestone. But let that be the least of his problems. He's truly one of the nicest and classiest people you could ever meet.
3) Steve Yzerman is no stranger to challenges as his recent decision to assume the general managers role with the Tampa Bay Lightning indicates that. But lets face the reality that Detroit wouldn't be called "Hockeytown" if Yzerman's stellar 22-year career didn't lead to three Stanley Cup Championships as a player plus another in the front office. He scored 692 goals, had 1,063 assists, 1,755 points. The captain even managed to serve 924 penalty minutes. Yzerman's team scoring totals rank him second behind Howe, who compiled 786 goals, 1,023 assists and 1,809 points wearing the Red & White Winged Wheel.
4) Barry Sanders, who played his entire 10-year career with the Lions, is the one player that I feel sorry for on this list. The only team accomplishment that he can feel good about is leading the Detroit Lions to one NFC Championship game appearance. The Hall of Fame running back still remains third in rushing with 15, 269 yards and who knows how many more yards he would have gained with a better offensive line. To this day, I know Sanders would have continued his career if he had a chance to win a championship with a contender therefore, the Lions losing atmosphere by not retaining key players, led to him burning out faster. He still holds 10 Lions team records. Had Sanders have kept playing, he'd be the All-Time leading rusher and not Emmitt Smith.
5) Isiah Thomas made the Detroit Pistons relevant by leading the Bad Boys to a pair of NBA titles in 1989, 1990 in a 13-year career that saw him 18,822 points, amass 9,061 assists and 1,861 steals. Thomas, a 12-time All-Star, also played his entire career for one pro team and his No.11 is retired at the Palace.
6) Alan Trammell & Lou Whitaker were paired up on the baseball diamond and they'll be paired up on this list playing their entire careers all with one team leading the Tigers to a World Championship in 1984. They are known as the longest running "double play" combination in major league baseball history. Trammell was a six time All-Star who finished with a lifetime batting average of .285 with 185 home runs, 1,003 RBI and 2,365 hits from 1977-1996. This year, he remains on the Hall of Fame ballot as he received 22.4 % of the vote. For a second baseman, Whitaker showed power as be belted 244 home runs and 1,089 RBI. The lifetime .276 hitter who had 2,369 hits and was a five-time All-Star played for the Tigers from 1977-95.
7) Jack Morris will eventually end up in the Hall of Fame and why he's not there is any one's guess. This year he received 52.3 % of the vote. He finished his career with a 254-186 record with a 3.90 ERA and 2,478 strikeouts winning four championships with the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays playing his entire career in the American League. The five-time All-Star led Detroit to a 1984 World Series title and won 198 games for the franchise in 14 seasons. Morris will be best known for pitching 10 shutout innings and winning the 1991 World Series MVP as his Minnesota Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves 1-0 capturing the championship for his hometown team. Morris also threw a no-hitter for the Tigers on the NBC Game of the Week on April 7, 1984 against the Chicago White Sox at old Comiskey Park.
8) If Mickey Lolich ever reaches the Hall of Fame, it will be through the veterans committee. But that will never stop people from remembering the fact that he won three games leading the Detroit Tigers to a World Championship in 1968 over the St. Louis Cardinals. Lolich finished with a career record of 217-191 but he still holds Tiger records for strikeouts with 2,679, 39 shutouts, 459 games started and is third in wins with 207.
9) Dennis Rodman's number will probably never get retired at the Palace because of his off the wall and off the court antics. But say what you want about the guy however, all he did was play an important role in the Pistons winning their two championships with his stellar defense and rebounding. After Rodman left Detroit, the Pistons started losing. The best way to summarize Rodman's career is through the numbers. He won three more championships with the Chicago Bulls adding to Michael Jordan's legacy. Without Rodman, Jordan doesn't win three more championships. He is two time NBA All-Star, two time Defensive Player Of The Year, seven time NBA All Defensive First Team selection and seven time NBA Rebounding Champion. He scored 6,683 points, grabbed 11,954 rebounds and his energy produced 1,600 assists. I'd say five championships for two different dynasties deserves Hall of Fame consideration. Not bad for a 1986 second round draft choice, 27 overall from Southeastern Oklahoma State. Pistons President Joe Dumars needs another Rodman in this years draft badly.
10) Nicklas Lidstrom will be the only player that I refuse to use final statistics for on this list because he's an active player and the final chapter of his career is incomplete. But I will say this, he's the first European born captain to win a Stanley Cup, and he followed Yzerman. He's played on four Stanley Cup Championships and has played all 17 of his seasons for the same team. Add six Norris Trophy's and being an 11-time NHL All-Star, plus the first European Player to win a Playoff MVP, he will eventually have his No.5 jersey retired when his career is over.
In the modern day of free agency, it's amazing that most of these players stayed with their teams for their entire careers. The only sad part about this list is that Sanders was the only one of this group that is considered the "Black Sheep" because he has no championship in his career.
But that will never take away from Sanders place in Michigan Sports History let alone the legacy and excitement he gave sports fans all over the country. All of these players have their own legacies and the numbers don't lie. They may not all be Hall of Fame Players but their performances will always have a place in any Hall of Fame Museum.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his blog can be read at www.scottsports33.com.