Saturday, August 15, 2015

A top-20 list that isn't legit

     This is the "I told you so" follow-up to my July 29 blog piece on The Shreveport Times' top 20 list of "greatest" athletes in Shreveport-Bossier history.
     In the best tradition of Jerry Byrd's two-cents-worth second-guessing (cue up the Byrd voice), to The Times sports staff: You ... blew ... it!
      The 12-member voting panel -- and I was one -- blew it. My opinion: This is not a legitimate top 20 list. I tried to tell you that some big names were not even made available for the voters: (
      Tommy Davis not among the top 20? It's not legit.
      Gary "Big Hands" Johnson not among the top 20? It's not legit.
      Bo Harris not among the top 20? Maybe it's not legit.
      Willard Brown not among the top 20? Definitely not legit.
      My friends at The Times did not do their homework before they sent out the nominations ballot. Davis wasn't listed. Big Hands wasn't listed. Bo Harris wasn't listed.

Willard Brown
     Willard Brown was listed ... but only after I suggested him. Here is what I said in my July 29 piece: ... You are not likely to guess who I voted for at No. 4. You might have never heard of him. But I will be surprised if he even makes The Times' top 20 list.
      Thank you.
      In my opinion, he is the best baseball player to come out of Shreveport-Bossier. He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. If he's good enough for Cooperstown, he's good enough for me.
      Much more on him later.
      Look, I can see the cases for the athletes who made the top 20 list. But I don't happen to agree they all belong; 14 of the ones I voted for made it. Doesn't mean you have to agree with my opinion.
      Six made the list that I did not vote for (I had my reasons): Joe Delaney, Rogers Hampton, Freddie Spencer, Josh Booty, Kathy Johnson-Clarke, Leo Sanford.
      Six I voted for who didn't make it: Willard Brown, Tommy Davis, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson, Bo Harris, Joe Reding, Roland Harper.
      If I had to vote again, maybe -- maybe -- I would drop Reding and vote for Hampton, or I'd give a nod to a fine man and terrific linebacker-center in his time (the '40s and '50s), Leo Sanford, over Troy Edwards.
      But about a re-vote, read on ...
      I made my case for Tommy Davis in my July 29 blog. I know Rogers Hampton was a great all-round athlete at Fair Park High School in the early 1950s, but Davis was the best player on the 1952 state championship football team -- the only one in school history.
      His LSU career, interrupted by a two-year U.S. Army stint, ended after the 1958 national-championship season when he was (1) the Go (offensive) team fullback and (2) as his sketch on the American Football Kicking Hall of Fame site said "his placekicks provided the winning margin in two games (10-7 over Florida and 7-6 over Mississippi State), and his booming punts assured great field position for the Tigers throughout the season—an essential ingredient in [coach] Paul Dietzel’s conservative style of play."
      Then he went to the NFL for 12 seasons, set a record for consecutive extra points (234), missed two PATs out of 350 in his career, and left with a career punting average of 44.7 yards, second then only to Sammy Baugh's 45.1.
      So I'll take Tommy Davis' whole career over what Hampton did. How was he not on The Times' ballot?
      Stan Humphries was a heckuva QB at Southwood High, Northeast Louisiana University and a good one for six seasons with the San Diego Chargers. Gary "Big Hands" Johnson was a great defensive tackle in high school (at Charlotte Mitchell in Bossier City, before integration) and certainly at Grambling State University, and I'm saying he was a better Chargers player than Humphries.
      From his obituary story in 2010: Johnson played with the Chargers from 1975 to '84, before being traded to San Francisco, where he won a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers. He was a first-team All-Pro for San Diego in 1980 and ’81 and made the Pro Bowl four times (’80, ’81, ’82 and ’83). In 1980, he recorded 17½ sacks, still a Chargers record.
      How was he not on The Times' ballot?

      Bo Harris, as a Captain Shreve end in 1970, was as good a defensive player as I saw in Shreveport-Bossier over my 25 years there. He was a starter at linebacker for three years at LSU, a third-round NFL draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, and a tough, enthusiastic regular for them for eight seasons, including one Super Bowl year.
      Maybe Bo is a marginal top 20 choice. But how was he not on The Times' ballot?
      Three baseball players made The Times' top 20 list: Albert "Joey" Belle, Todd Walker, Cecil Upshaw. I voted for all of them, but not until I had voted for Willard Brown.
      Now about Willard ...
      Of course, I never saw him play. He was "Home Run" Brown, one of the great sluggers in Negro League baseball in the 1930s and 1940s. He spent less than a month in the just-integrated major leagues in 1947 -- a couple of months after Jackie Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers -- but the intense racism he found as he played for the St. Louis Browns left him unhappy, and the Browns soon released him.
      One of the voters on The Times' panel questions Brown's credentials and notes that he made the Hall of Fame with an asterisk (the Negro Leagues selection committee picked him in 2006). Another question: How strong are his Shreveport ties?
      If you read this story (, a good biographical look at Brown, I'd say his Shreveport ties -- in his growing-up days -- are strong enough.
      I'd also say his credentials are strong enough. He is considered one of the great talents of Negro League baseball and a superstar in the Puerto Rico winter leagues, and the biggest knock on him was that he only played really well when he felt like it.
      As my fellow voter pointed out, it was difficult to compare athletes from different eras, and that's especially true for all-white baseball vs. all-Negro Leagues baseball.

      But I base my Brown-at-No. 4 argument on this:
      -- He had to be as good as Belle, Walker and Upshaw, and probably was better.
      -- If he was as great as they say in the Negro Leagues, he was comparable to some of the Negro League stars who came to the majors in the late 1940s and early 1950s and were huge stars -- Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Satchel Paige, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc.
      -- From 1953 to '56, Willard Brown played in the Texas League, and those were his ages 38-41 years. He was still a productive .300-plus hitter with plenty of power, and the Texas League was a strong Class AA league.
       He played 535 Texas League games (for five different teams), and he must have played often against our Shreveport Sports. But, because of the Louisiana law prohibiting integrated games, he never played a game in his hometown.
      The times weren't right for him in the major leagues. But again: Willard Brown was one of Shreveport-Bossier's greats. Obviously, not many panel voters know that, or agree with me. He was a man before his time.
      The top-20 poll was a good idea, and the stories were well done. But I suggest we take a re-vote ... and this time do our homework and put all the names on the ballot. Make it a legit list.
      My ballot: 1, Terry Bradshaw; 2, Robert Parish; 3, Joe Ferguson; 4, Willard Brown; 5, Albert Belle; 6, Hollis Conway; 7, Alana Beard; 8, Hal Sutton; 9, Cecil Upshaw; 10, Tommy Davis; 11. Carlos Pennywell; 12, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson; 13, Tommy Bolt; 14, David Toms; 15. Todd Walker; 16. Bo Harris; 17, Joe Reding; 18, Roland Harper; 19, Troy Edwards; 20, Stan Humphries.
     The Times top 20: 1, Terry Bradshaw; 2, Robert Parish; 3. Albert Belle; 4, Joe Ferguson; 5, Hal Sutton; 6, Hollis Conway; 7, Alana Beard; 8, David Toms; 9, Joe Delaney; 10, Todd Walker; 11, Rogers Hampton; 12, Tommy Bolt; 13, Carlos Pennywell; 14, Stan Humphries; 15, Cecil Upshaw; 16, Freddie Spencer; 17, Josh Booty; 18, Troy Edwards; 19, Kathy Johnson-Clarke; 20, Leo Sanford.


  1. From Ross Montelbano: Nice of you to bring up Willard Brown. Most real baseball fans are aware of the fact that many great players from that era never had the opportunity to play on bigger stages. Otherwise, we all could argue the point of pretty much anyone being on the list or not being on the list or where on the list. For me, why Alana Beard would be considered in the top 10 is a mystery. For that matter, why Cecil Upshaw is in the top 20, let alone in the top 10, is a mystery. David Toms won a golf major and was in the top five all-time on the money list at one time. Then again, you can make a case for pretty much anyone and you made a really good one for Tommy Davis.

  2. From Scott Ferrell: For the record, Cecil Upshaw wasn't in the top 10. Alana Beard was a national Player of the Year. As for Willard Brown, we'll never know what he could do against the best players in the world. We know what Albert Belle and Todd Walker could do.

    1. I would say some of those players in the Negro Leagues were some of the best players in the world (and the white world never knew). Willard Brown was worthy of at least being in The Times' top 20.

    2. From Ross Montelbano: I was referring to Nico's Top 10 and Upshaw was his No. 9. As for of proving their accuracy, they're opinions. Nothing against you guys in the media and your opinions, one year Ted Williams wasn't the AL MVP and he won the Triple Crown. You can't possibly more wrong than that.

  3. From Jimmy Russell: This was good. You are certainly right about Tommy Daivs. There would have been no national championship at LSU [in 1958] if not for him. Nobody would remember the Chinese Bandits or the Go Team and Durel Matherne. Plus, what a pro career. I think younger people do not go back far enough. I read a lot in my younger days and it helped me to appreciate older athletes. I think your choices were good. All have their reasons for choices. Great for Cecil Upshaw -- a great athlete in two sports. Of course, he could really bring it as a pitcher.

  4. From David Wilkins: I liked your list (old school) better.

  5. From Teddy Allen: This was a really solid effort by you, and I have to, for the most part, “occur.” Fun talking about this. (And frustrating.)