- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Jerry Koosman's 1968 rookie card in mint condition is now worth $1,500. While Koosman was a pretty good major league pitcher for 19 years, the card's value is actually based on the other pitcher on the card: Koosman's fellow New York Mets rookie, Ryan. "We pitched together on the 1967 Jacksonville Suns," says Koosman, now a minor league pitching coach with the Mets. "To tell you the truth, Nolan wasn't the hardest thrower in the Mets organization back then. Dick Selma was. I even have this picture in my mind of me and Nolan warming up together in the bullpen, trying to see which of our fastballs would get to the catcher first.
"He doesn't throw it as hard as he used to, but he still throws it harder than 90 percent of the pitchers in baseball. And when he finally decides to become a finesse pitcher, he'll still have another five years left. Nolan throwing slop—when you think about that, it's pretty funny."
Pretty frightening, from a goalie's point of view, is the sight of the 30-year-old Gretzky coming down ice. Just ask Mike Richter of the New York Rangers. "His threshold of panic is extremely high," says Richter. "He'll hold the puck so long that you'll think, God, he should've done something by now. So you'll go down, and he'll flip it over you or set somebody else up. I know there are only so many options a player has when he has the puck, but it seems like Wayne always has two or three more.
"The thing I most admire about him is his love and respect for the game. We're talking about the best hockey player ever, and he never acts like it. He has never taken his skills for granted."
To fully appreciate a great player like, say, Jordan, 28, you have to work with him day in and day out. John Bach, the Chicago Bulls' assistant coach, does just that. "What can I say about Michael that hasn't already been said?" asks Bach. "That the Hall of Fame should start etching his plaque right now? That he is the embodiment of perfection on the basketball court? That he stepped down from Mount Olympus to play in the NBA? Let me put it this way. He is the Neil Armstrong of basketball. He is the first one to walk on the moon."
Mike Holmgren is the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, and as such, he has seen more of Montana in his five years there—in person and on film—than any man alive. "You would think after all this time that Joe has ceased to amaze me, but he hasn't," says Holmgren. "He'll do something on the football field, and you think to yourself, That was special. The first time that happened to me was against the Cardinals my first year. In the second half, Joe threw a touchdown pass on his fourth read. Most quarterbacks make two, maybe three reads, but Joe did it on his fourth. When I got him on the phone, I asked him, 'How did you know to go there?' And he said, 'I noticed early in the game the way the safety was playing in that situation.' There aren't many guys who can file it away like that."
Tom Tellez has been Lewis's track coach since 1979, when he persuaded the 18-year-old Lewis to attend the University of Houston. "Carl has been around so long that maybe he's been taken for granted," Tellez says, "but to my mind, he is the greatest athlete we've ever had. Only Jesse Owens is in his class. To be among the very best long jumpers in the world for more than a decade is amazing enough, but to also be among the very best sprinters...it's incredible."
Moses is to the hurdles today what Harrison Dillard was in the 1940s and '50s. "The first time I saw Edwin run was at the '76 Olympics in Montreal," says Dillard. "Even then, I could see that combination of brains and talent and joy. It's pretty amazing that he has been able to maintain his level of excellence this long. I only had a few years at the top, but then, back in those days, we athletes had to work for a living. Still, I don't think I could have done what Edwin has. Imagine competing as a hurdler in the Olympics 16 years apart."
Game appearances must sometimes feel years apart for the understudy of a star who never misses a performance. For three seasons, 1988 to '90, Rene Gonzales was the backup shortstop to Ripken. "I was like a big joke, the backup who never played," says Gonzales. "But what are you going to do when you play behind a Hall of Famer? It's not just that he never missed a game. He never missed batting practice. He never missed infield. And when there was a rain delay, he never missed a game of tapeball. You'd think he would let me win at that since he never let me play my position, but Cal just hates to lose at anything.
"Sometimes I would put myself in his position. What if I was as big as he is, as talented, as intelligent a player? And do you know what? I would want to play every day, too."