Sunday, July 7, 2019

A Fun Exercise

A few weeks back someone on Net54 started a thread asking folks to name the best player they saw in person.... 1) in the first game they attended and 2) ever (in a game you attended). High school and college games were OK. 'Best player in the first game' meant 'best guy on the field', not necessarily the one who had the best game that day. You were supposed to answer for the Big Four sports but, as is usually the case with internet things, not everyone followed directions. And some replies stated they had never seen a game in a certain sport in person, etc. A few dolts, like me for instance, tossed in an extra sport or two.

I thought it was interesting and it wasn't as easy as it sounded at first.  There were certainly no wrong answers. I was entertained by some of the responses and I also immediately thought it would make a fun blog post if I could find cards of each player I named. Turns out I could. So here it goes.

Best player, first game attended, baseball.

July of 1960 at Yankee Stadium, Yanks vs White Sox. Mickey Mantle

It was a doubleheader and Mantle batted fifth. He whiffed, doubled and singled off Billy Pierce and hit a sac fly in the ninth off Frank Bauman in a 6-3 Sox win. The Yanks were loaded, of course, and the Sox had some big-name stars but Mickey obviously wins as 'best guy to play' in that game. He'd be close to being the best player I saw live, ever. But after some internal debate I have to go with this guy:

Best player, ever seen live, baseball.

Willie Mays

I considered Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, and some others but Willie was Willie. There wasn't anything he couldn't do on a ballfield. I was fortunate enough to have seen him while he was still in his prime in the early 60s. Interestingly one of the responders had these same two guys but in the opposite category. I know there are no 'wrong' answers here but ...whatever.

Best player, first game attended, football.

Circa 1961 Nutley N.J. High School games. Ben Hawkins

My original answer was Keith Lincoln. I was thinking of pro sports exclusively at first and he was likely the best player in the first pro game I saw, an Oilers-Chargers affair in 1967.

Then I remembered that I had seen plenty of football in the Nutley Park Oval growing up. I can't specifically recall seeing him but Ben Hawkins was the star at Nutley High in those days. He went on to glory at Arizona Stae and had some great days in the NFL with the Eagles. He led the NFL in yards in 1967.

Best player, ever seen live, football.

John Unitas

I wouldn't even venture a guess as to how many football games I've witnessed. From high school (even disregarding coaching), University of Houston games since 1970, Giants game with my Dad, Oilers, and Texans as a season ticket holder, etc.. I've seen plenty. I never saw Jim Brown play in person but I have seen about everyone else in the modern game, Brady, Gale Sayers, Manning, Marino, Lawrence Taylor, Earl Campbell and so on. None of them tops Johnny Unitas. I don't care how many rings any of them wear. Unitas is the best I've ever seen at imposing his will on a game. Are there better quarterbacks? Maybe. Better FOOTBALL PLAYERS? Nope.

Best player, first game attended, basketball.

Circa 1965 NBA doubleheader, old Madison Square Garden at 49th and 8th. Wilt Chamberlain

 My uncle, the Secaucus pharmacist, used to get tickets to everything through his connections. But he wasn't a sports fan at all and those tickets got passed to my father and so I saw plenty of games I ordinarily wouldn't have. Lots of Knicks games, for example. They used to have NBA doubleheaders at the Garden in the early/mid-60s. You'd see Pistons-Sixers and then the Knicks and Hawks or someone.

I wouldn't want to guess what year I saw the game but I remember Wilt and his Philadelphia crew playing in that old, dank' dingy Garden.

Best player, ever seen live, basketball.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Here's why: "Abdul-Jabbar was Rookie of the Year, a member of six NBA championship teams, a six-time NBA MVP, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, a 19-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champion and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams."

That's not even considering that he was clearly the best high school player and best college player prior to his pro career. His skyhook was unstoppable. You want Jordan? I'll take Jabbar.

Best player, first game attended, hockey.

1959-60/1960-61 Leafs-Rangers at the old MSG. Dave Keon

I'm not sure which Leafs-Rangers game I attended. I remember the Rangers lost. Davey Keon was a Leafs legend. I looked at the rosters for both teams during those seasons. Keon was no doubt the best player on either team.

Best player, ever seen live, hockey.

Gordie Howe.

Saw him with the Wings and Aeros. He's Mr. Hockey. I could have put Bobby Orr here, he was astounding and changed the game. I never saw Gretzky live. But no's Gordie.

Best player, first game attended, soccer. 

At Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands w/the Cosmos circa 1975/76. Pele

I can't pin down which game it was I attended with my father and uncle but I remember that it rained a bit and Pele was a huge deal. LOL

Best player, ever seen live, soccer.


Like Gordie Howe, he's the all-time face of his sport, at least IMHO. I've seen Lionel Messi play, he's a magician on the pitch and maybe one day I will put him in this spot. But not yet.

That was kind of fun to put together. I dug up some fun memories for myself.


  1. You've seen some real Legends play for sure.

  2. Wowza. You've seen some serious legends play. I'd never be able to answer the first question for most sports... since I have no idea when my first baseball, basketball, or football games were. I probably could dig up some old Sharks ticket stubs and possibly come pretty close to figuring out my first Sharks game, but it still would be a guess.

    But the best players I've ever had the privilege of watching in person would be: Barry Bonds, Jerry Rice, Kobe Bryant (but there's a chance that I saw the Bulls play the Warriors back in the 90's... so maybe Michael Jordan), and Wayne Gretzky.

  3. Yup, kinda fun.

    I've never watched NBA or soccer live, so that would leave just 3 sports. But still might be interesting to do.

    1. Probably could do it for college basketball though although choices would still be limited.

  4. Those are some great cards and you've been lucky to see some legendary players. I like collecting vintage, too, and my blog is at if you are willing to add me to your blogroll.

  5. This should be a Blog Bat Around. I've never seen an NBA game live, and I can't remember who played in the first NFL game I ever saw..but I'll answer the rest:

    baseball: best player(1st game) Yankees-Blue Jays in '89, probably Don Mattingly
    best player(overall) Yankees-Mariners in '95 ALDS, Ken Griffey Jr.

    football: best player (overall) Jets-Colts, Peyton Manning. Jets-Packers and Giants-Packers, Brett Favre

    hockey: best player (1st game) Devils-Avalanche in 2001, Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur
    best player (overall) Devils-Penguins opening night 2005, Brodeur, Mario Lemieux, and it was Sidney Crosby's first ever NHL game.

  6. I can only do baseball and soccer.

    Baseball: 1st game Will Clark (Last game of the season 1986). Overall Barry Bonds.

    Soccer: 1st game Arnie Mausser (1989 National Pro Soccer Championship). Overall Romario.

  7. I've only been to one NFL game, and that was a Steelers game in the mid-1970s, so I will say Terry Bradshaw.

    I've only been to one NBA game, and that was a 76ers game in 1967, so I will say Wilt.

    I'be been to a few Flyers games just in the past 15 years, but I don't renember
    if any were while Eric Lindris was still on the team, and I don't remember who the opponents were.

    Baseball? Too many to remember between 1967 to the present, but all Phillues games, so I will say Mike Schmidt.

  8. This was a fun exercise! Here are my answers:
    (Short Version: Baseball, Rickey Henderson 1st game, Mariano Rivera all-time. My one football game: Michael Strahan. My one hockey game: John Tavares.)

  9. Baseball
    First Live Game: Ted Williams, 1959 vs. Cleveland
    Any Live Game: Williams. other contenders: Yaz, Mantle, Berra, Killebrew, Kaline, Clemons, Boggs, Mookie Betts (has potential to be a HoFer)

    First Live Game: Gino Cappelletti, 1964
    Any Live Game: OJ Simpson, several times, including 1973 when he rushed for a record 250 yds. vs. the Patriots at Foxboro.

    First Live Game: Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain, 1965 at Boston Garden. I pick Russell as best, but Wilt as a great one too.
    Any Live Game:

    First Live Game: Johnny Bucyk, 1964 or 1965
    Any Live Game: Bobby Orr, a few times in the 1970’s

    First Live Game: Margaret Court, 1973 Virginia Slims, Newport
    Any Live Game: Chris Evert, 1974 Virginia Slims, Newport

    Any Live Game: Eddie Feigner, Lowell MA, 2-3 times.

    Greatest Long Jumper: Bob Beamon, seen playing basketball for Adelphi U.