Current Sports Stars Who Might Make the All-GOAT Team

Scott Janovitz@@BrainTrain9Featured ColumnistOctober 15, 2014

Current Sports Stars Who Might Make the All-GOAT Team

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    LeBron James still has some work to do, but has the chance to be the greatest of all time.
    LeBron James still has some work to do, but has the chance to be the greatest of all time.Felipe Dana/Associated Press

    Though it’s sometimes hard to tell in the moment, sports fans today might be witnessing the GOAT (greatest of all time) in numerous sports.

    Sure, it’s too soon to know how everything will turn out, but guys like Mike Trout, LeBron James and Jimmie Johnson are on pace to have one-of-a-kind careers.

    If you grew up watching sports, you likely were taught as a kid to idolize stars of the past. As a result, it’s sometimes easy to underappreciate the present, and often hard to believe that some current athletes might be even better than the romanticized legends we grew to worship.

    With this in mind, we seek to celebrate today, compiling a list of current sports stars that might eventually make the All-GOAT Team.

    We know none of the athletes on our list are "the greatest" quite yet. But, if everything goes according to their plans, we fans may one day be lucky enough to say, “I saw the GOAT.”

Mike Trout

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    Mike Trout is on pace to do things we've never seen before.
    Mike Trout is on pace to do things we've never seen before.Travis Heying/Associated Press

    We wouldn’t be the first to make the “eventual-GOAT” case for Mike Trout. Simply google “Mike Trout best ever” and you’ll see what we mean. These days, it’s a topic frequently discussed, and with good reason.

    At just 22 years of age—with three full seasons under his belt—Trout is already among baseball’s top players. The Angels outfielder has made three All-Star appearances—he was the game’s MVP in 2014—has won two Silver Slugger awards (’12, ’13), and finished atop the AL RBI list in 2014.

    Of course, many would argue that it’s far too soon to include Trout in such a far-reaching discussion, and they might be right.

    It is precisely his youth, however, that more than anything gives voice to his general greatness and overall value.

    For example, Trout now ranks first all-time in wins above replacement (WAR) through the age of 22. His 28.2 WAR is nearly three full games better than Ty Cobb’s second-place total of 25.5. And it’s an impressive list for Trout to lead, with “ordinary” players such as Ted Williams (23.6), Mel Ott (23.5), Alex Rodriguez (22.9) and Ken Griffey Jr. (21.3) closing out the top six.

    Want more proof? Trout is also second all time in OPS+ (adjusted for ballpark and era) through the age of 22 (166), trailing only the aforementioned Williams (182). Again, Trout’s in good company, beating out an awfully impressive “next six”: Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Matthews, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle and Ott.

    As for the more traditional numbers, Trout has already surpassed 500 hits, 300 runs, 200 walks and 80 home runs. Only Williams, Mantle, Foxx, Ott, Al Kaline and Griffey Jr. accomplished all that before the age of 23. Yet none of those guys had stolen more than 60 bases. Trout, on the other hand, has stolen 102.

    And if the numbers alone haven’t convinced you of the youngster's place in history, just listen to the experts.

    "Obviously, he's only three years [into his career], but I think it's fair to say he's well on his way to being one of the greatest ever," said Angels third baseman David Freese.

    And Trout’s hitting coach, Dave Hansen, seems to agree:

    In 20-25 years, I think we'll be saying, 'That was probably one of the best athletes we've seen in the modern era,'" said Angels interim hitting coach Dave Hansen "We'll say, 'He was amazing. He could hit. He could run like you wouldn't believe. And how 'bout his baseball instincts? He covered so much ground in center field.' That's what we're going to be saying. And just his numbers. Look at his numbers. I mean, they compare with all the greats.

    Finally, when commissioner Bud Selig asked a longtime friend and scout to compare Trout to one player, the scout barely hesitated before putting it simply: “he has Mickey Mantle-type ability.” 

    So while it may be too soon to tell for sure, Trout’s clearly on pace to wrestle with baseball's GOAT, whomever that may be.

Serena Williams

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    Even at age 31, Serena Williams may be better than ever.
    Even at age 31, Serena Williams may be better than ever.Vincent Thian/Associated Press

    In women’s tennis, both Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf can claim GOAT status.

    In the department of career titles, Navratilova dwarfs Graf, 167 to 107. On the other hand, Graf’s 22 career Grand Slam Singles Titles is an all-time record in tennis and four more than the 18 Navratilova sports.

    Of course, both enjoyed tremendous periods of dominance, especially Graf, who also holds the all-time record for total weeks ranked No. 1 with 377.

    Tennis’ title of GOAT may be up for grabs, however, as current world No. 1 Serena Williams continues to get better, even at the age of 31. Defying the odds, Williams is the oldest world No. 1 in WTA history.

    Even if she retired today, Williams would sit second all-time with 18 Grand Slam Singles Titles to her name. She, however, is far from done, winning three major titles in the last two years alone and an Olympic singles gold in 2012.

    Williams is the highest earning women’s athlete of all time, regardless of sport, and only the second player ever to win a grand slam singles title in three different decades (Navratilova’s the other). She’s also the only player ever, male or female, to capture a career Golden Slam (all four majors and an Olympic gold in one calendar year) in both singles and doubles.

    Some are ready to call Serena Williams the GOAT in women’s tennis, but even if she isn’t quite there yet, the American star still has plenty left in her tank.

Rafael Nadal

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    If Rafael Nadal can stay healthy, he will likely go down as tennis' GOAT.
    If Rafael Nadal can stay healthy, he will likely go down as tennis' GOAT.Vincent Thian/Associated Press

    This discussion is a bit unique from the rest, considering Tennis’ GOAT—Roger Federer—is still active and winning.

    And some may argue whether the Swiss star is really the best ever, though it seems pretty clear at this point—he has more Grand Slam titles (17) than any man ever, has spent more weeks ranked No. 1 (302) than any man ever, and has reached every Grand Slam Final at least five times, which is just one more of his many all-time records.

    This brings us to Nadal, who is five years younger than Federer, but still right on his heels.

    In a more competitive era off tennis—their careers haven’t entirely overlapped, and tennis was relatively down before Rafa’s arrival—Nadal has managed to collect 14 Grand Slam Singles Titles, including at least one on every surface, as well as an Olympic gold medal.

    And although Rafa has been prone to injury over the last few years, he has won at least one major title in each of the last 10 seasons, including his fifth-straight French Open in 2014.

    Federer, in contrast, hasn’t won a major since 2012 and isn’t getting any younger (he’s currently 33). Should Rafa, then, avoid major injury and stay even the slightest bit healthy, he will have a great look at Fed’s record for career majors.

    Of course, it’s not all about majors.

    When a sport’s top-two players of all time happen to share an era, head-to-head battles must be considered. And, for the most part, Rafa has owned Federer, holding a 23-10 advantage over his primary rival and an even more impressive 9-2 mark in Grand Slam matches. 

    With that kind of dominance over the GOAT himself, Nadal is just a few major tittles away from taking over the top spot.

Usain Bolt

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    Usain Bolt is the fastest person to ever live.
    Usain Bolt is the fastest person to ever live.Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Many still consider Carl Lewis the GOAT in track. From 1979-1996, Lewis won an amazing 10 Olympic medalsincluding nine goldand 10 World Championship medals, eight of the gold fashion.

    Lewis’s spot at the top of track and field is in serious jeopardy, however, as Jamaica’s Usain Bolt is doing his best to chase him down.

    Quite simply, Bolt is the fastest person to ever live, running the 100-meter sprint in a record time of 9.58 seconds. He is the first man ever to simultaneously hold the world records in the 100 and 200-meter sprints and is also the first sprinter to win both races at consecutive Olympics (2008 and 2012).

    Throw in his teammates, and Bolt holds the world record in the 4x100-meter relay, too. And, as one would guess, he’s the reigning Olympic champion in all three of the aforementioned events.

    Of course, with a name like Bolt, how is anyone surprised?

    Like Lewis, Bolt has 10 World Championship medals—eight gold—but he also has six Olympic gold medals in sprinting, a feat no other many has accomplished (as previously mentioned, Lewis has nine Olympic golds, but four came in the long jump).

    Off the track, Lightning Bolt is the highest paid competitor in track and field history and has even been referred to as “the world’s most marketable athlete.” 

    There’s no doubt, Lewis had both versatility and longevity on his side. But he neither dominated nor electrified the sport quite like the Jamaican has. And for those who still think Bolt falls shy of GOAT status, don't forget: There’s always Rio 2016.

Jimmie Johnson

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    Jimmie Johnson has more season titles than any other racer.
    Jimmie Johnson has more season titles than any other racer.Terry Renna/Associated Press

    According to most, Dale Earnhardt is NASCAR's GOAT. And with 76 wins and seven Winston Cup Championships, it’s hard to argue.

    If anyone else can stake a claim, however, it’s Jimmie Johnson.

    At just 39 years of age, Johnson already has 69 wins to his name and an amazing six NASCAR Cup Series Championships, including five in a row from 2006-2010.

    Equally important, Johnson is also as consistent as they come. In fact, he’s the tour’s only driver to qualify for the Chase every year since its inception in 2004.

    Off the track, Johnson's equally prolific. He became the first driver to be named the AP Male Athlete of the Year (2009), has won Driver of the Year five times—most recently in 2013—and also topped Forbes.com’s Most Influential Athletes list in both 2011 and 2012.

    People still hold a soft spot for Earnhardt, and his legacy and influence may never be surpassed. But with time on his side, Jimmie Johnson is well on his way to becoming NASCAR's unrivaled GOAT.

Floyd Mayweather

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    Floyd Mayweather Jr. has never lost, a claim not many can make.
    Floyd Mayweather Jr. has never lost, a claim not many can make.John Locher/Associated Press

    It’s hard to officially declare a GOAT in boxing. Some would argue it’s Sugar Ray Robinson or Roberto Duran while others would reference Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali, to name a few.

    No matter who you think it is, though, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has to be a part of the discussion.

    He may not be the biggest or most powerful in the ring, and he’s certainly not the most likeable outside of it, but there’s no debating what Money Mayweather has accomplished.

    We should first acknowledge that boxing has changed to favor the modern fighter. Take Sugar Ray Robinson, for example, who between 1940 and 1965 took part in an astonishing 202 fights. In comparison, Mayweather Jr. has just 47 bouts to his name.

    Still, a boxer can only fight the guys put in front of him, and Mayweather has defeated every last one of them. Considering each of the all-time greats, only Rocky Marciano (49-0) can say the same thing. And that has to count for something, right?

    In fact, the five-division champion has really never even come close to losing, a true testament to his all-time great defense in the ring.

    Many have sought to discredit Mayweather, criticizing the talent in the era he has fought. And certainly his resume could use a little bolstering, which a fight with Manny Pacquiao would more than provide, even if the Pac-Man is pretty well past his prime.

    Even still, in a sport where many claim to be the best, Mayweather has already done enough to make a serious case.  

Tiger Woods

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    Tiger Woods has hit a dry spell, but still has time to get back on track.
    Tiger Woods has hit a dry spell, but still has time to get back on track.Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    This discussion, too, is unique from the rest, distinguished by an athlete who was well on his way to becoming golf's GOAT before completely falling off the tracks.

    Woods currently has 14 Major Titles, just four behind the all-time leader, Jack Nicklaus. But Tiger was also four back in 2008, when he last won a major championship. The six-year draught is perhaps more alarming when considering the golfer’s recent problems with injury, most notably his lingering back issues.

    With that said, at just 38 years of age, Woods still has plenty of time to rebound and reignite his winning ways. After all, Nicklaus himself was 46 when he won his 18th and final major title.

    And then there’s this all-important question: Even if he doesn’t get to 18, is Woods already the greatest of all time?

    He’s currently second all-time in career wins with 79, trailing only Sam Snead (82). He has the lowest career scoring average and the most career earnings of any player in PGA Tour history. He has spent the most consecutive and cumulative weeks atop the world rankings and he is the only player ever to have won all four major championships in a row (2000-2001).

    There’s no doubt Woods has lost some of his former luster, but his career in totality already rivals Nicklaus’s, and he still has more time to further lay claim to the title of Golf's GOAT.

Marta

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    Marta is among the greatest goal scorers in women's soccer history.
    Marta is among the greatest goal scorers in women's soccer history.Francisco Seco/Associated Press

    In the sport of women’s soccer, Mia Hamm is the unquestioned GOAT. She’s second all-time with 158 international goals and won the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award in both 2001 and 2002.

    More importantly, Hamm led the United States to World Cup glory in 1991 and 1999 and captained her nation to Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004.

    With all that said, if there’s a current player with any chance to surpass Hamm and all her accomplishments, it is Brazil’s Marta.

    The best goal scorer in the world, Marta averages close to a goal per game (71 goals in 73 caps) when playing for her native Brazil and scored better than a goal per game (111 goals in 103 caps) during her professional playing days in Sweden (‘04-‘08).

    Perhaps most impressive, Marta has won the FIFA World Player of the Year award more than any other female player, receiving the honor five consecutive times from 2006-2010.

    And though she hasn’t quite experienced Hamm’s international success from a team perspective, Marta led Brazil to second-place finishes at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics as well as to a second-place finish at the 2007 World Cup, where she won both the Golden Ball for best player and the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer.

    And speaking of scoring, the Brazilian is currently tied for the most World Cup goals scored with an impressive 14.

    All told, Marta is a long way from supplanting Hamm as the GOAT, but at the very least she’s put the world on notice.

Lionel Messi

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    Lionel Messi is clearly the best player of his generation.
    Lionel Messi is clearly the best player of his generation.Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

    Comparing athletes across multiple generations can often be problematic, but if anyone justifies doing so it’s Lionel Messi.

    With a collection of world records that more closely resembles a Thanksgiving grocery list, the Argentine soccer star deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona.

    Messi is most often criticized for his relative lack of success on the international scene, but he took a large bight out of that argument in 2014 when he singlehandedly led Argentina to a World Cup Final. 

    And, on the club level, Messi has been virtually unstoppable.

    He is the first player in history to win four Golden Balls (given annually to Europe’s best player) as well as the first to win three European Golden Shoe awards.

    With Barcelona, Messi has won six La Ligas, two Copas del Rey, six Supercopas de Espana, three UEFA Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups.

    Messi is also the only player to rank first in scoring during four consecutive Champions League campaigns, and also holds the record for most hat-tricks scored (four). As one would guess, he also set the European record for most goals in a season, too (73). 

    Additionally, in 2012 Messi became the first player ever to score five goals in a Champions League match, inspiring the great Wayne Rooney to tweet the following:

    “Messi is a joke. For me the best ever.”

    Despite it all—and not surprisingly—Pele still thinks of himself as the best.

    When Messi's scored 1,283 goals like me, when he's won three World Cups, we'll talk about it," Pele told French newspaper Le Monde in 2012. "I like Messi a lot, he's a great player. Technically, we're practically at the same level. People always ask me: 'When is the new Pele going to be born?' Never. My father and mother have closed the factory.

    Many more, however, disagree, including AC Milan GM Adriano Galliani:

    "Messi is the best player ever. And this is said by someone who has seen Maradona and Pele play.”

    At just 27 years of age, Messi still has plenty left to accomplish. Based on what we’ve already seen, however, he’s sure to make a serous run at soccer's GOAT.

Peyton Manning

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    Peyton Manning is a title or two away from becoming football's GOAT.
    Peyton Manning is a title or two away from becoming football's GOAT.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The discussion of greatest football player ever includes numerous legends at multiple positions, with Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Jim Brown most frequently mentioned.

    The quarterback position, however, is by far the game’s most important, and Peyton Manning is on pace to become the best to ever play it.

    During regular-season action, there’s never been anyone quite like Manning. He’s changed the way the game is played—he was the first quarterback ever to truly call a game at the line of scrimmage—and has done so in historically prolific fashion.

    The 13-time Pro Bowler is a five-time NFL MVP and holds the records for most passing yards in a single season (5,477) and most TDs thrown in a season (55). And assuming he plays this season and next, Manning should easily pass Brett Favre atop the career passing list (he’s just 5,344 yards behind) as well as the career TD chart (he's just two scores back).

    Simply put, it's only a matter of time before Manning owns two more prestigious records.

    Now if there’s anything preventing Manning from GOAT status, it’s his relatively meager playoff history. His single Super Bowl compares less than favorably to Montana’s four titles, and his team’s 43-8 loss to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII did little to help his case.

    With that said, if Manning can add another title or two to his resume, he will have done more than enough to distinguish himself as the greatest football player of all time.

LeBron James

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    Back in Cleveland, LeBron James should have ample opportunity to add to his resume.
    Back in Cleveland, LeBron James should have ample opportunity to add to his resume.Felipe Dana/Associated Press

    Few players, if any, have been able to combine all-around basketball dominance with numerous championships quite like Michael Jordan managed. LeBron James, however, has the chance to do so.

    From a statistical standpoint, James is every bit Jordan’s peer.

    Over Jordan’s 15-year career, he averaged 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 5.3 APG while shooting 49.7% from the floor.

    In James’s first 11 years in the league, his numbers are startlingly similar: 27.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 6.9 APG while shooting 49.7% from the floor.

    On the all-time Player Efficiency (PER) front, Jordan’s best season of ’87-’88 (31.71) only narrowly edges James’s top output of ’08-‘09 (31.67).

    In the way of awards, Jordan was a five-time MVP, a 14-time All Star and a nine-time member of the All-Defensive First Team. In comparison—and over four less seasons—James is four-time MVP, a 10-time All Star and a five-time All-Defensive First Teamer.

    In fact, the only area in which Jordan truly has the edge is in championship rings, where His Airness has six, four more than James.

    Of course, at just 29 years of age—and playing alongside Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland—James is likely to get a few more cracks at the title.

    And should he manage to add a couple more rings to his mantle, King James could eventually become basketball’s legendary GOAT.

    Follow Janovitz on Twitter @BrainTrain9