April 17, 2014

10 Most Beloved Cleveland Sports Athletes

Shaq is coming to town. He’s a pretty popular guy. I was inspired by the trade and our friends at the Ghosts of Wayne Fontes. The idea here is the most beloved Cleveland sports athletes of my time. Figure a starting point of 1980. (I was 8, and really that is about the earliest I remember following the scene closely.) These are not my favorites, just the ones that I think the city embraced the most. Hence the most beloved.  So here we go-

1. Bernie Kosar- If LeBron James signed a 6 year contract extension tomorrow he could leap-frog Bernie I believe. But Bernie was the real deal. He wanted to play quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. It was his dream. He wasn’t a very graceful player, and he had terrible mechanics, but he was one of us. Much of that has come to light in the last few weeks with the attention he has gotten over his finances. Make no mistake- during the mid to late ’80s Cleveland was Bernie’s town. Songs were written. Boys were named for him. When he was unceremoniously dumped mid-season it cemented his place in our hearts. He never wanted to leave. He was run out of town by his coach.

2. LeBron James- Simply put the most talented athlete ever to wear Cleveland across his chest. The local boy turned a franchise around, and has the city closer to a title than ever before. Certainly there are some still trying to keep their distance from LeBron however, fearing heartbreak if he chooses to play elsewhere in 2010.

3. Omar Vizquel- His Tribe debut was an anomaly. He made three errors. From then on it seemed he never made another one. Omar made plays that we may never see again. And he made them look easy. Perhaps it was the playful toss to the pitcher while grinning from ear to ear after catches a pop-up in shallow left field with his back to the batter. Omar grabbed our attention with his defense, but was a pretty clutch hitter as well. The rock through the Tribe’s Jacob’s Field heyday, Omar received one of the most touching ovations I’ve ever seen when he returned to Cleveland as a member of the San Francisco Giants.

4. Ozzie Newsome- The Wizard is one of the top 10 Tight Ends in NFL history and a member of the Hall of Fame for his performances in the Orange and Brown. The three time pro-bowler was known for his consistency, catching at least one ball in 150 straight games. He played through pain and injury and was our iron-man.

5. Mark Price- Man, could he shoot. Automatic from the free throw line, and deadly behind the arc Mark ran the point for the Cavs during their most successful stretch pre-LeBron. Price was a 4 time all star, but couldn’t escape the shadow of Isaiah Thomas in the Eastern Conference. Mark wasn’t afraid to take the big shot, or to drive the lane and get to the free throw line.

6. Sandy Alomar- Sandy was the first piece of the rebuilding puzzle for the Indians. He won the rookie of the year award in 1990, and was a steady presence for the Tribe while young stars like Baerga, Belle, Thome and Ramirez settled in. His 1997 season is one for the Cleveland sports history books. If you were fortunate enough to be at the Jake for the all-star game that season you will surely never forget his home run to win the game for the A.L.

7. Clay Mathews- Consistency over time. #57 played for 15 years for the Browns at Linebacker. He played with everyone from Brian Sipe to Hanford Dixon to Tommy Vardell and Michael Jackson. Humble and fearless, Mathews always stuck his head in and made big plays. He wasn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the team, but he made 4 pro bowls. It seemed the Browns were always drafting his replacement, but he survived them all.

8. Kenny Lofton- The table setter. Kenny was Willie Mays-Hayes. He was exciting. Whenever he got on base you knew he could swipe a base. He was Rickey Henderson without the cocky attitude. He could have finished much higher on this list had he played his whole career here.

9. Doug Dieken- Dieken makes the cut here despite playing the majority of his career in the ’70s. A stabilizing force on the offensive line, Doug used every means necessary to win his individual assignment, even if that meant the occasional holding. He started 194 consecutive games. That’s mighty impressive for a lineman. He maintained his popularity by calling Browns games over the years.

10. Tie between Brad Daugherty and Eric Metcalf- Call it a copout if you want. No question Metcalf was the more popular athlete during his prime, but became the butt of jokes because of Bill Belichick’s stubborn habit of running him straight up the middle and into the teeth of the defense. (I’m sure it wasn’t Eric’s idea.) Daugherty was kind of quiet, but very efficient. He was the best passing center of his time, and could score in the low post. He was a big part of those Cavalier teams that just couldn’t get a big win against the Bulls and Jordan.

So that’s the list. I’m sure you will debate them. You will probably even be right on a couple. Here are a few guys that I give an honorable mention to- Josh Cribbs, Matt Bahr, Larry Nance, Carlos Baerga and Charles Nagy. These guys were absolute locks until they bolted town for bigger deals- Brian Sipe, Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. Throw in Sabathia, and Earnest Byner. Byner not because of money, but because of, well you know.

  • MC

    vizquel? really? i know in your heart you think he was “clutch” or “clutchy” or had a certain “clutchness” in his smile – but when you look at his numbers, he was pretty average in “clutch” situations. he lifetime b.a. is .270 ish and ops around .700 and his “clutchyness” b.a. is .270 ish and ops around .700.

    he received a lot of gold gloves – which is sweet, but so has derek jeter. i don’t know, i was just never a huge omar fan.

    i would say since the 80′s:

    1- bernie
    2- lbj
    3- price
    4- brennan
    5- thome
    6- manny
    7- paul sorrento
    8- clay rock
    9- brook jacoby
    10- cory snider/pat tabler/joe carter/ julio franco

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    MC, you can argue Omar’s ability or clutch-ness all you want, but there is no way he fails to make a list of MOST BELOVED Cleveland athletes.

  • MC

    you’re right, my b – women wanted him, and men wanted to be like him. you can squeeze omar in at 7…poor pauly, he just cried a single tear

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com RockKing

    “vizquel? really? i know in your heart you think he was “clutch” or “clutchy” or had a certain “clutchness” in his smile – but when you look at his numbers, he was pretty average in “clutch” situations. he lifetime b.a. is .270 ish and ops around .700 and his “clutchyness” b.a. is .270 ish and ops around .700.

    he received a lot of gold gloves – which is sweet, but so has derek jeter. i don’t know, i was just never a huge omar fan. ”

    Sorry, but probably among the most bizarre things I have ever read. Comparing Omar Vizquel’s defense to Derek Jeter’s? Wow. Just wow.

  • Scotty

    Hey Rick, what about Jim Brown? haha

    @ #51, really, Julio Franco made your top ten? He wasn’t even here that long and I can think of about 10 other guys who played for the tribe during our golden years of the mid 90′s that were bigger fan favorites than him.

  • Harv 21

    Rick: congrats on getting so many responses on the same day the Cavs get a hall of famer. Found myself parsing your requirements, getting annoyed when you claimed that reaction by fans after a player left Cleveland counted, and sneering “pppfffft” when someone doesn’t get the difference between “beloved” and “good player.” Now that’s a post.
    BTW, during his relatively brief career, NO ONE was more “beloved” than Sipe. He had it all: underdog status because of his size and being a 14th round pick, magic in games, the leadership, looks, charisma, commercials. He was the league MVP and the town’s hero. WFNY readers are gemerally just too young to remember. And he didn’t “abandon” the Browns. He had gotten the snot beaten out of him, skills had started to diminish, but he wanted a new multi-year contract while the Browns were ready for the great Paul McDonald.

  • The Other Tim

    Harv, wasn’t Sipe a 17th rounder? I thought that was the reason for his number.
    He was beloved enough that the current #17 sickens me to see him with the same number.

  • Scotty P

    @17 We are all just tired of Jim Brown and his wife beating, mumbling, NARCing on Stallworth antics.

    No Thome on the list? I remember goin to the Jake the first year it was open and he hit a homerun in the 13th to end the game. Everyone was chanting.

  • KLEM

    Lived and grew up next to Clay & family when he played in Cleveland. Class act all the way and still have great memories of his family and even teammates coming over. Clay Jr. should have been picked up by us to continue the great legacy. IMO

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    Thanks Harv. I loved Sipe at the time, and I was a little young to remember the circumstances surrounding his departure. I just remember that one year he was a Brown and the next year he was playing for the Generals.

  • JM

    Why not have Z as at least honorable mention? I also wouldl ove to see a top 10 hated list.

  • Carol

    I loved the list Rick, I would have had to put in Jose Mesa somewhere though. Just the confidence he created to ‘close’ out our games during the tremendous games we won. You brought back some awesome memories to mind. I especially remember Sipe town and was so mad at him when he left that I shreaded his poster and stuffed it into a mayonnaise jar, and proudly kept it on my desk at work. yeah, I was also hurt when he left us. Great post!!

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    I’m not going to do a top ten hated list. I have a few reasons-
    1. This list was limited to Cleveland players. You can find a hundred lists out there that name John Elway and players from outside of Cleveland that killed us. There is no need for another list like that.

    2. A list of just Cleveland players would be dominated by guys that left for more money or failed to reach potential because of injury or they just weren’t good enough. Seriously, why ridicule the latter group? Plenty of guys tried their hardest but were considered ‘failures’ by the media and fans. Seems harsh to include them on a list like that.

    Then there’s Carlos Boozer.

  • http://serandez.blogspot.com Ezzie

    Born in 1983, first football memory is the Fumble, first basketball is The Shot, soo….

    Browns: Bernie, Ozzie
    Cavs: LeBron, Price, Daugherty/Nance/Hot Rod (as a group), Big Z
    Indians: Lofton, Vizquel, Nagy, S. Alomar Jr.

    Guys who fell off the love (whether their own fault or not):
    Browns: Metcalf, Byner, Mack, Slaughter/Langhorne/Brennan (as a group)
    Cavs: Ehlo
    Indians: Baerga, Thome, Ramirez, CC

    If I had to order them:

    1) Bernie
    2) Price
    3) LeBron – unless he re-signs, then he challenges Bernie
    4) Lofton
    5) Vizquel
    6) Nagy
    7) Ozzie
    8 ) Alomar, Jr.
    9) Daughtery/Nance/Hot Rod
    10) Big Z – he’ll fall off this list though, especially to Sizemore, Victor if they stay a while

  • http://serandez.blogspot.com Ezzie

    I think the 10 most Hated is easier. Off the top of my head:

    1) Jordan
    2) Elway
    3) Modell
    4) Mesa
    5) Belichik
    6) Anything New York
    7) Cleveland itself (admit it, it’s true)
    8 ) Phil Jackson
    9) Kobe
    10) Byner

  • TampaBrett

    Eddie Murray!

  • humboldt

    @Rockking – good K2 placement. He was one of my favorite ever Browns players…shame he had a dysfunctional organization surrounding him during his time here

  • Scotty

    @#62: If we agree that Earnest Byner isn’t on the list for his famous screw up, then it’s only fair that Senor Smoke is left off too.

    (Just for the record, and before everyone corrects me, I understand that it was more than Mesa that lost that game, but he’s the one that put the nail in the Indians-glory-days coffin. He actually blew 3 saves that postseason, the famous game 7 vs the Marlins and two vs the Orioles in the ALCS.)

  • BeenThere

    Kenny Lofton would no doubt be on the list if Joel Skinner wasn’t coaching third base in the Red Sox playoff game. Why was he not fired on the spot? Joel is right behind Jose Mesa on my most hated list.

  • Cjz

    @65 you made a typo there. #3 should be in the first spot.

  • MrCleaveland

    Good list, but I’d dump Lofton and add Brian Sipe.

  • JPS3

    I think you have to put Frank/Hanford together at a number on the list. They started the Dawg Pound and the fans took to it. That is the greatest indication of how much the fans liked them.

  • Omega King

    Where’s John Adams?

  • brwnsgrl

    I was also 8 in 1980, so I agree with most of the list. I would have to put Sipe in there somewhere though, just because of my early childhood memories of my dad yelling at the tv “Don’t hit the quarterback! He’s just a little guy…”

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ Jack

    I am a big fan of Shaq and hope that he doesn’t suffer ill effects from being cursed by this trade.

  • cindy

    Kenny Lofton was the rudest, most obnoxious player that I have witnessed in my lifetime. Screaming profanities at LITTLE KIDS wanting autographs is simply unacceptable. I was there and I saw it. heck, the kids weren;t even my own and I was irate. NO WAY he belongs above Dieken or anyone else on this list.

  • LambBone

    How do you make this list without Jim Brown?

    And Ozzie Newsome left all my lists entirely when he agreed to stick with Modell rather than the fans of Cleveland.

    Sipe and Nagy both should be ahead of Lofton, Daugherty and Metcalf.
    Gomer Hodge rates above Metcalf for Christ sakes.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    (Sigh. I mean, I even put it in bold type.

    “The idea here is the most beloved Cleveland sports athletes of my time. Figure a starting point of 1980. “)

    A new link from the PD means new comments…but please don’t ask about Jim Brown or anyone before 1980….

  • WesterP

    I must be old….doesnt anyone remember Lou “the Toe” Groza, Don Cockroft, Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Tony Horton Sudden Sam McDowell, or even Paul Brown? Or do they have to all be players?

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    Note to Rick:

    People don’t read the highlighted parts, or the last comment before posting. They see no Jim Brown and go “durr durrr.. needs more Jim Brown!!” Maybe I can write another post about this?

  • http://yahoo Bill D

    I must be an old fart, but how about Rocky Colavito?

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “I must be an old fart, but how about Rocky Colavito?”

    Hi, Bill. Thanks for commenting. Now please read the part of the post where it says “from 1980″ on… Thank you.

  • http://jeffstellaphoto.com jeff


    let’s start a little earlier.

    Greg ” do it ” Pruitt arguably the most exciting runner in browns history and a Steeler killer

    Turkey Jones for slamming Bradshaw on his head and taking him out for more than a few games.

    Gaylord Perry 15 wins in a row and the spit ball

    Austin Carr because he is Austin Carr

    and who doesn’t love Webster Slaughter?

  • ello

    What no love for Carlos Boozer? I think it would be interesting if you made a list of the most hated Cleveland Sports figures.

    Also another thing to think about, IF LeBron bolts next year will he slip off this list completely and onto a top hated player? Much like Manny now.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    I have no beef with Manny. It’s been documented he was willing to stay in Cleveland for less, until the Sox went to another year. He speaks fondly of his time here. He went to get more money. Can’t blame him, really.

    And no, we’re not doing a most hated list.

  • http://www.888ppl4all.com Eric

    I can’t believe number 24 is not on that list! Or better yet, Juan Gonzalez for coming up lame “running” to 1st!!

  • Ryan C

    Clay Matthews was the man – 16 years in Cleveland – he was the glue to the Browns for all the good times from 1980 on. And all time great – #57.

    Love Omar – and yes he belongs on the list – in fact I will go one step further and say that the Indians need to fire Wedge and hire Vizquel to become the new Manager of the Indians – today!!!

    Jim Thome makes my list – even though he left. Yes it hurt – but I think it hurt Jimbo almost as much. I know I will be cheering when/if Thome goes into the Hall of Fame as an Indian.

    Here are some other names who deserve to be mentioned:

    Andre Thorton – He was the guy we loved on all those awful teams – and we cried when tragedy struck him. He was class personified and the ultimate “Good Guy”.

    Bob Golic – Golic was probobly the most important guy on those great defenses of the 80′s – manning the nose. He was also a great guy in the community.

    Michael Dean Perry – Everyone loved the fridge’s little bro – and he had a nice run with the Browns.

    World B Free – He was fun to watch while he was here.

    Phil Hubbard – Another classy guy, who played the right way. I was always a big Phil Hubbard fan – a great Cav.

  • Tom

    God you guys make me feel really OLD. Where’s Herb Score? If you can’t have him as a player how about as a sports broadcaster? 1980 really hamstrings a town that has a great sports past. Maybe only a sports past.

  • http://cleveland.com zeppelin1

    Herb Score was like a dad to me. Nev Chandler like an uncle,Tom Hamilton like a brother.

  • topdog

    Hanford Dixon has to be on the list. Founder of the dog pound, top dog, and a great player.