Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Most Irreplaceable Player in Sports

On PTI yesterday, (or maybe it was that weird thing where PTI ends, goes to Sportscenter and then for some reason Sportscenter goes BACK to PTI) Wilbon and Kornheiser were arguing about who was the most irreplaceable player in sports. The Peyton Manning injury status undoubtedly is what brought the question up, and my first thought was that yes, Peyton Manning was the most irreplaceable player. Wilbon seemed to waffle on his idea, as first he said it wasn't Manning, then he said Manning is right up there, then he said it might be Manning... and I was annoyed. But then I thought about it, and I went from thinking it was Manning for sure, to thinking maybe it could be somebody else... to this:

The most irreplaceable player. It's a pretty fascinating concept, because from generation to generation it will change greatly. Some generations it's not even debatable. Michael Jordan in the 90's, I think, is an obvious example. Sure, that one year without Jordan the Bulls went to the Eastern Conference Finals, but Scottie Pippen cried like a little bitch and they couldn't close the deal. Jordan came back and subsequently won three more championships before retiring for the second time. This generation? Much more open to discussion. Let's start by eliminating some fringe candidates.

Sticking with basketball, it can't be Kobe Bryant. Being second fiddle on any championship team means you are not irreplaceable. Sorry. That means goodbye to Dwyane Wade as well. However, LeBron James doesn't get dismissed yet because you don't need to actually win a championship to be the most irreplaceable palyer, in my opinion.

In football, it obviously has to be a quarterback and only a quarterback. Sorry AP, Polamalu, Revis and Asomugha, but you're not QBs. Tom Brady already proved he was replaceable when the Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel. Aaron Rodgers? Maybe. But Packers fans keep telling me how good Matt Flynn is, so, I guess he's closer to Brady than Manning. Drew Brees? He has to be up there, but to me Manning is in a different tier than Brees and his team would miss him even more.

In both hockey and baseball, it's very difficult for one player to make such a difference they are irreplaceable. Gretzky in his prime was irreplaceable, but there isn't a current hockey player that lives up to that billing. Some may argue an elite pitcher in baseball can be irreplaceable, but the truth is they are only pitching 30-35 games a year out of 162; they are certainly replaceable.

To me, it comes down to two players. LeBron James and Peyton Manning. Manning has never missed a game in his career, the Colts have always had inexperienced and below average quarterbacks backing Manning up, so it's hard to know how irreplaceable he is. Even without an injury, it's pretty clear if the Colts switched Manning with, say, Curtis Painter, the team would go from a likely 10 or 11 win team into a 2 or 3 win team. I think that makes Manning pretty damn irreplaceable.

However, Manning being irreplaceable is entirely hypothetical at this point. Common sense suggests he'd be greatly missed, but we can't know for sure. LeBron James, on the other hand, swung the entire balance of power in the league when he left Cleveland for Miami. The Cavs went from a team with the best record in basketball to the league's worst team in one season. Miami went from a fringe playoff team to the Eastern Conference Champions. As great as Manning has been and as difficult as it would likely be for the Colts to win without him, we know how difficult it was for Cleveland to win without LeBron James. Going from a 60 win team to a 17 win team because your best player leaves is the epitome of irreplaceable, and without a doubt LeBron James has to be considered the most irreplaceable player in sports.