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My not-up-for-debate list of the top 25 Boston athletes of the past 25 years

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 30, 2013 06:00 AM

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OK, I suppose it is up for debate. What fun would it be without a good argument?

You may have heard a couple of hosts on WEEI talking about this Monday. The Metro polled a few members of the local media, asking them to rank the top 25 Boston athletes of the past 25 years.

Great idea. Irresistible, actually.

I wasn't one of those polled, but you know I'm going to piggyback on this tremendous idea, which is way tougher than it seems on first glance.

You quickly realize in culling the list down to 25 great players who spent at least three years here (the Metro's guideline) how fortunate we have been around here to watch a wide variety of extraordinary athletes over that time.

So with apologies to Troy Brown, Zdeno Chara, Randy Moss, Robert Parish, Willie McGinest, Ben Coates and more very honorable mentions, here's my list of the top 25 from the four primary sports. Hit me with yours in the comments or on the Twitter address listed below:

* * *

25. Reggie Lewis
Because he's on my mind during this sad anniversary, and I don't want the memories to slip away.

martincurtisfinn729.JPG24. Curtis Martin
It was just three years before Bill Parcells stole him away. But the Patriots have never had a better running back save for maybe Corey Dillon in 2004. And they've never had one who was more fun to watch. If you want to put Troy Brown in this spot, I'm not going to argue with you.

23. Patrice Bergeron
If not for Jonathan Toews, he might be considered the best all-around forward in hockey. Scored a pair of goals in a clinching seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals on the road while doing pretty much everything else that night other than playing goalie. If you want to put Zdeno Chara in this spot, I'm not going to argue with you.

22. Drew Bledsoe
The second-best quarterback in franchise history gave way to the best. No shame in that. And he earned that ring. If you want to put Michael Bishop in this spot, I .. I am going to argue with you.

21. Tim Thomas
I can't recall a goalie ever playing better than he did during the Cup run three years ago. Loses points for bailing out on his team and the city, but, hey, Tuukka.

20. Wade Boggs
A force at the plate – he hit .366 with a .476 on-base percentage in '88 – and a Delta Force away from it.

garciaparranomarfinn729.JPG19. Nomar Garciaparra
Yeah, it ended badly. But from 1997-99, maybe longer, he was as beloved as Dustin Pedroia is now, played as hard, and was much more productive.

18. Tedy Bruschi
An emotional leader and a player who got the most out of his ability. Gotta admit, though, it was tempting to bump him for Mike Vrabel, a tremendous linebacker who also had eight regular-season receiving touchdowns, or as many as Ron Burton, Jabar Gaffney, and Michael Timpson.

17. Richard Seymour
When healthy, the most dominating defensive player the Patriots have had during the Belichick Era. Probably a better wide receiver than Koren Robinson and David Terrell, too.

16. Wes Welker
You've got a tough act to follow, Danny Amendola.

15. Dustin Pedroia
The rare case where fans appreciate what they have in the player, and the player appreciates what he has in the fans.

14. Curt Schilling
Came here to end an 86-year-old curse. Damned if he didn't do just that.

13. Roger Clemens
Clemens won his second of seven Cy Young awards in 1991, going 18-10 with a 2.62 ERA and 241 strikeouts. And you know what? He should have won in 1990, but the A's Bob Welch was rewarded for his 27 wins. And he should have won in 1992 – he led the AL, including hitters, in bWAR – but Dennis Eckersley won the MVP and Cy Young Award during his 80-inning, 51-save season. Clemens was pretty much excellent from 1988-95 with the Sox. Why is he 13th? For failing geography. Bet he still doesn't know Toronto is nowhere near Texas.

12. Kevin Garnett
Because anything was possible, including Banner 17.

lawtyfinn729.JPG11. Ty Law
I'm not sure a big-game cornerback is an actual thing, but if it is, I'm crediting Law as one of the inventors. Peyton Manning should be his Hall of Fame presenter – and that's his joke, not mine.

10. Cam Neely
Had 106 goals in 145 games from 1989-91, then scored 50 in 49 games with one decent leg in 1993-94. Could have ranked him as high as sixth,

9. Manny Ramirez
Insanely productive, insanely fun, and occasionally, just plain insane. Wish he was playing in Pawtucket right now, with the threat/possibility of a recall to Boston.

8. David Ortiz
Because he belongs back-to-back with Manny. Because he's actually been here longer than Manny. Because he has 89 more home runs and 287 more RBIs than Manny with the Red Sox. Because it seems too many are beginning to forget just how often he delivered when the moment demanded it, even as he continues to be a force today.

mchalekevinfinn729.JPG7. Kevin McHale
Can you imagine what Dwight Howard could be if absorbs 5 percent of what McHale knows about post play?

6. Adam Vinatieri
If one of the greatest clutch players in the history of the NFL doesn't get into Canton on the first try, there should be a hostile takeover of that room full of pretentious yeah-but-he's-just-a-kicker voters. Probably overdue, actually. Where's my pitchfork ...

5. Paul Pierce
He evolved into the quintessential Boston athlete – tough, confident, crafty, competitive as hell, and ultimately, a champion.

bourqueray729finn.jpg4. Ray Bourque
Won five Norris Trophies, had four seasons of at least 90 points, led the league in shots three times, played in two Cup Finals with the Bruins, but won his only Cup with the Avalanche. Can't imagine anyone coming closer to meeting the impossible standard for Bruins defensemen set by Bobby Orr.

3. Larry Bird
This was supposed to be a quick column. Should have known better. I spent about 20 minutes considering and reconsidering the top three, and I'm still not sure I have it right. If you want to put Larry Legend first, I'm not going to argue. I have him third because the two players ahead of him have had their extraordinary primes in the past 25 years; Bird peaked a little sooner, and it's still hard to fathom that his career spanned just 13 seasons. I don't want to talk about it anymore. Let's just watch some highlights, featuring music by The Outfield!

2. Pedro Martinez
A perfect combination of talent, charisma, and competitiveness. I still miss watching him pitch, and if you were here for the electric heyday, I know I don't have to explain why to you.

1. Tom Brady
What I've never understood is why some see two Super Bowl losses as a mark against his argument as the greatest quarterback of all-time. In both games, the defense gave up a lead – and didn't leave him enough time for a miracle – in the final minutes. Seems to me being the second-best team is a better claim to greatness than going unbeaten in the Super Bowl but being one-and-done in the playoffs multiple times. Either way, savor the brilliance. He's 36, and it's going to last, oh, only five more years, right? Don't bet against him.

Follow Chad Finn on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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