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The Deserving Dozen: Ranking Philly's Top 12 Pro Athletes

Matt GoldbergCorrespondent INovember 26, 2011

The Deserving Dozen: Ranking Philly's Top 12 Pro Athletes

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    So, who would you choose as Philadelphia's Top 12 pro athletes? Who is your No. 1?

    Indeed, how does one choose the best of the best who represent this sports-crazed town on our fields, rinks and courts? It is not an exact science, but I mostly considered the following three factors:

    1) Current performance level

    2) Overall contribution here

    3) Popularity and/or buzz generated

    After mulling it over, I decided on what I will call The Deserving Dozen—12 athletes who combine enough of the above criteria to compete for the title as Philly's best.

    In so doing, I was careful to have at least one representative of each of the four teams. Philadelphia Union fans, please accept my apologies.

    As this is not an exact science, I have not shown the "scores" I tabulated for each.

    So, feel free to similarly agree or disagree at its conclusion, even if you don't show your work.

    Let us begin.

    One note: The pitcher (pictured) above made the list, but how high does Cliff Lee rank?

Five Honorable Mentions

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    Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent Cole has been one of the better pass rushers in the NFL since his arrival in 2006. He has a total of 62 career sacks, and has made it to two Pro Bowls.

    Jeremy Maclin, the third year wideout from Missouri, contributed to the team as a rookie and has shown improvement the last two seasons. Just 23, many Eagles' fans believe that he is the team's best receiver—not flashier teammate, DeSean Jackson.

    Shane Victorino, the Phillies' mercurial center fielder, has already racked up five postseason appearances, one championship, three Gold Gloves and two All-Star game appearances. The Flyin' Hawaiian remains a great fan favorite.

    If the NBA was not in lockout mode, Andre Iguodala would be suiting up for his eighth season for the 76ers. Iggy has become, to many, the symbol of this franchise that has not achieved much in the last 10 years, but it should be said that the Arizona product has performed quite well, if not at a superstar level for his team. Career averages of 15.6 points, 5.8 boards, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals testify to his solid all-around game.

    Danny Briere is off to a good start in his fifth season for the Philadelphia Flyers. The free agent out of Buffalo has found the back of the net 109 times during the regular season and 29 additional times in the playoffs here. At age 34, he still appears to have a few productive years left.

    Now, on to the Deserving Dozen

12, Jrue Holiday, PG, 76ers

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    Jrue Holiday is only 21, but he has already completed two seasons as the Sixers' starting point guard.

    Last year, the 6-foot-3 UCLA product improved in every category, except for a slight dip in three-point shooting (from .390 to .365 percent). Not to worry, as Holiday drained a deadly 11-21 treys in last year's playoffs versus the heavily favored Miami Heat.

    It would not surprise NBA fans if Jrue becomes an all-star in the next couple seasons, even though point guard is a well-stocked position these days.

    He has already shown that he belongs on the same court with the elite, and at his young age should be on the upswing for many seasons to come.

    Once the lockout ends, of course.

11. Chris Pronger, D, Flyers

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    Defenseman Chris Pronger plays with such a snarl and edge that you would think that the orange-and-black was made to order for him. Yes, he's a good fit.

    It is hard to believe that Pronger played 16 seasons in the NHL before moving to Philly, where he is in the midst of his third campaign.

    The (likely) future Hall of Famer led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals two seasons ago, and the team noticeably plays with less confidence when he is sidelined.

    Still a terrific two-way defenseman, Pronger is a force that opponents are always aware of.

10. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies

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    Jimmy Rollins has played, often brilliantly, in South Philly since 2000.

    About to turn 33, it seems to be a 50/50 proposition as to whether he has played his last game in red pinstripes.

    Still among the elite defensive players in the game, Rollins' offense sometimes drives fans crazy, but on the whole he has been highly productive.

    The three-time Gold Glover and 2007 NL MVP has a .272 lifetime batting average with 1080 runs, 170 homers, 725 RBI and 373 stolen bases.

    He has also provided his hometown team with an infectious spirit and lots of colorful quotes—many of which have served as a positive inspiration to the denizens of Phillies Nation.

9. Claude Giroux, Rqw, Flyers

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    Claude Giroux is about to become a household name throughout the NHL and across the Delaware Valley all-sports landscape.

    When the Flyers (somewhat shockingly) traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in the offseason, it thrust the multi-talented 23-year-old center into the spotlight. He is thriving so far.

    Giroux made his first of what should be a boatload of All-Star games last season, and he currently ranks near the top of the NHL point leaders this year.

    Flyers' fans hope that the slightly built forward stays healthy, and remains clad in the orange-and-black for many more years. If so, he has a legitimate shot to finish atop many of the franchise's career scoring records.

    But yes, he's only 23, so enjoy this great talent for as long as he is in town!

8. Cole Hamels, P, Phillies

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    Cole Hamels is the youngest of the Phillies' Four Aces (spell it P-h-o-u-r, if you will) and the only homegrown product of the group.

    Hamels will be 28 when the 2012 season opens, and he is settling in as a veteran pitcher who is one of the very best southpaw hurlers in baseball.

    The presence of teammates Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee (and when healthy, Roy Oswalt) has allowed Hamels to slip just below the radar for a couple seasons, but it should not be forgotten that he was the team's lone ace when the Phillies won it all in 2008.

    Cole is just hitting his peak now, even though he has already notched 74 regular season and seven postseason wins, two all-Star Game selections, two top six Cy Young finishes and those NLCS and World Series MVP awards.

7. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles

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    The man they call "Shady" has been one of very few Philadelphia Eagles who have lived up to, and even exceeded, expectations this season.

    Many felt that McCoy should have made the Pro Bowl last year; if he doesn't make it this season, there ought to be a Congressional investigation.

    To this point, McCoy leads all NFL running backs in rushing yards and is just one rushing touchdown behind the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson for the league lead. Plus, he is yet to fumble all season, despite 222 touches.

    He continues to be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield and seems to improve his blocking each week.

    Shady is only 23, and is (with some reluctance on my part) listed behind the next two Eagles because of "buzz" generated more so than current performance level. He is easily the team MVP through their first 10 games.

6. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles

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    Please complete this sentence.

    DeSean Jackson is:

    a) electrifying

    b) infuriating

    c) essential to the team's success

    d) possibly, if not probably, out of here after this season

    e) severely underpaid, at present

    f) all of the above

    You get the idea.

    How do you describe a not yet 25-year-old, skinny, blazing wide receiver who has already made two Pro Bowls (and he did it as a wideout and kick returner two seasons ago), topped 1,000 yards in receptions twice, taken four punts to the house, been suspended for missing team meetings and commits mindless penalties for taunting?

    The man is pure excitement and among the very best performers in town.

     

     

5. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

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    Michael Vick's career, and life, has had so many acts that it is hard to believe that he is only 31 years old.

    Life experience-wise, he is much older; as a player, that is hard to evaluate. He didn't get hit on the gridiron for those two lost seasons but his reckless playing style and relatively small frame results in him taking lots of hits on a game-by-game basis.

    Although he was not able to lead the team to a playoff victory last year—his first as the Eagles' starting quarterback—to most, he was a revelation last season.

    The drop-off in his, and his team's, play has been noticeable this year, mostly in those dreaded fourth quarters when defeat has been snatched out of the loose jaws of victory.

    The talent is still enormous, but it is not an act of cynicism to ask  for how many seasons we will see the Michael Vick who finished runner-up as league MVP last year.

4. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies

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    One sometimes forgets what this (just-turned) 32-year-old first baseman has already accomplished.

    Ryan Howard won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2005, and followed that with an MVP in his second season—which was his first full season in the bigs.

    Ryan Howard has topped 30 home runs and 100 RBI in each of those six full seasons, usually shattering those marks.  He has led the league in homers twice and ribbies three times and has been a Top-Ten MVP candidate  six times.

    While sometimes derided for his lack of clutch hitting in the postseason (and his career numbers sometimes agree) and his defense, he has often been a terrific playoff performer and his defense has come a long way.

    Phillies Nation now holds it collective breath for Howard to come back fully healthy on Opening Day, 2012—or very shortly thereafter.

3. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies

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    Chase Utley is still a terrific player, even if injuries have deprived him and his fans of witnessing the sheer brilliance that made him baseball's top all-around second baseman from 2005-2009.

    Utley is the ultimate no-nonsense blue-collar player, and to say that he has been a great fit in this town would be to underrate the admiration that Phillies fans have for him.

    Chase will be 33 when 2012 begins and "the Man" (as the great Harry Kalas once famously dubbed him) is coming off two injury-affected seasons.

    While his place in Phillies lore is secure, it will take a handful of very solid years to get his name into discussions for Cooperstown.

2. Cliff Lee, P, Phillies

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    Clifton Phifer Lee has only been a Phillie for the latter half of 2009 and last year, but he has made an amazingly indelible impression in that short time.

    His acquisition in the midseason of 2009 gave Phillies fans hope that they could repeat, even though the rest of the rotation was struggling. He did not disappoint whatsoever, as he was the best pitcher of that postseason, which he capped by beating the Yankees twice in the World Series. It was clearly not his fault that the Phils were 0-4 in the Fall Classic when he did not pitch.

    In the next offseason, millions of hearts were broken when General Manager Ruben Amaro shockingly traded him to Seattle for some relatively unknown prospects and suspects.

    He famously spurned the Yankees and Rangers to return here in 2011, and he immediately became the people's choice. It did not hurt that he pitched brilliantly (and with sometimes ungodly results) for most of the year, eventually finishing third in the NL Cy Young balloting, right behind...

1. Roy Halladay, P, Phillies

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    Of all of the athletes currently performing for Philadelphia teams, Roy "Doc" Halladay is probably the surest bet to make his sport's Hall of Fame.

    In his two seasons, Doc has substantiated his reputation as being perhaps the best pitcher on the planet. (This takes nothing away from 2011 Cy Young award-winners Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander, who both deserved their honors.)

    In his two seasons in Philly, Doc has won a Cy Young Award and finished runner-up the following year while compiling 40 regular season and three postseason wins. Among those victories was a perfect game and a no-hitter—the latter coming in his first-ever postseason contest.

    Doc is not one to mince words, but he is earnest, as hard-working as they come, and always praiseworthy of his teammates, manager and fans.

    He has yet to pitch in, let alone win, a World Series, but he is still in the prime of a Hall of Fame career, and tops this columnist's list of the Deserving Dozen, Philadlephia's Top 12 professional athletes.

    ...

    Agree? Disagree? Any bad snubs or generous placements. Please weigh in below.

     

    As always, thank you for reading. Please check out my site, tipofthegoldberg.com, and new fan page for more info.

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