Blast From the Past: Top Former Athletes Who Would Still Thrive Today

Brad ZakSenior Analyst IJuly 3, 2008

It's a time honored tradition in sports to compare our heroes of today to heroes past. Often times our memories fade quickly and the newest flash in the pan immediately becomes the greatest to ever play the game.

However, there are MANY former athletes who dominated their sports at one time and would only be better in today's formats.  We usually feel that today's athletes are stronger, faster, and athletically superior to the competitors of yesteryear, but a lot of that could be attributed to HD televisions and revisionist sports history.

Here are two athletes who would not only thrive in today's sport scene, but possibly even be better in their respective domains. 

"Pistol" Pete Maravich

It's a shame the lack of credit this man receives from sports historians and fans alike.  The Pistol was showtime before showtime even existed; he was a magician more talented than Houdini (or Poohdini, for that matter). 

Many of today's best ballhandlers model their games after Pistol Pete, and his incredible ballhandling talents still are mostly unmatched.  There is a tendency to make him more myth than legend because his skills were so spectacular.

For instance, he could make half-court shots on the bounce, bank shots in off his head, throw full-court behind the back passes and handle the ball as if gravity was a non-factor.

Statistically, the Pistol was an absolute freak, averaging 44.2 points a game as a collegiate and 24.2 ppg as a professional; all without the three-point line!  The tough part is translating that amount over with a three point line. 

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Maravich would have conservatively averaged 50 points a game during his college career and probably closer to 30 a game in the pros.  Some may argue that his three-point shot would be defended more if there was a line, but that would only provide more opportunities for Maravich to attack the basket, where he was arguably more comfortable.

If one were to argue that Pete played against inferior competition he/she should take this story to heart. In his final pro exhibition ever, Pistol Pete dropped 38 points in the Celtics' Green and White scrimmage on the likes of McHale, Bird, Parrish, Ford, and Maxwell. 

Babe Ruth

The Great Bambino's "performance-enhancers" of hot dogs and beer serve as a stark contrast to the syringe inflated numbers of this generation.  The Babe not only dominated baseball—he made it America's pastime. 

The Babe's statistics were mind-blowing, as he hit 714 career home runs while keeping a lifetime batting average of .342.  This doesn't even make mention of the fact that the Babe had a career ERA of 2.28. 

He was a star before there was sports stars.  If he were playing today he'd be hosting Saturday Night Live, have millions of dollars in endorsements, star in movies, and make Peyton Manning look like an unmotivated self-promoter. 

The greatest argument against the Babe could be that the level of competition was low back then and he got to repeatedly face the same pitchers.  However, the Babe played during the dead ball era, where he was swatting more home runs per year than some teams in the league. 

Also, many people falsely believe that pitchers threw a lot slower during that time period.  They may have not had radar guns but there is no evidence to suggest pitchers threw any slower than they do today.  Pitchers such as Walter Johnson threw pitches that even the Babe complained were hard to see passing by. 

The Babe's numbers would hold closely even in today's game, even if specialized pitching might affect them slightly.  However, longer seasons and much more hitter-friendly ballparks would greatly improve the Babe's stats.

Just think—Yankee stadium in 1923 was 490 feet to dead center and 425 to right center.  How many more home runs would the Babe have hit if those were reduced to 408 and 390? 

However, as is the case with most past sports comparisons, we are only left to wonder.