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Stop With The Lists Already!

May 31, 2008 - John Whittaker

I don’t mean to get off on a rant here - which actually means I do mean to get off a rant here - but I've had it with lists.

We're inundated with them - top 150 players in every sport, including curling and competitive house painting; biggest story of the day or Best Day Ever on VH1 to see which celebrity is the biggest dunce today. We get our news in lists from Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.

Are we all junior high girls? Are we unable to make up our own minds?  

Usually, I can dismiss any list - sports lists, pop culture lists, whatever - immediately. It's the subjective opinion of people who aren't as smart as me - a comforting thought that gives me warm fuzzies.

The Petty Example

ESPN's latest ranking of the greatest race car drivers is ridiculous. I don't have a NASCAR driver's number tattoed anywhere on my body. I have no idea what the hell Daryl Waltrip is saying most of the time. I've only been south of the Mason-Dixon line twice in my life.

NASCAR's poster child I am not.

My dad and I watch racing together on weekends. And, in a summer spent at his house when I was in high school, we watched ESPN coverage of every race for two months.

That's part of the reason why, when ESPN put together its list and I saw Richard Petty didn’t even make the top 5, I should have been able to dismiss it.

But, I can't. It's insane. In the hundreds of races I've watched, do you want to know how many times I got chills?


That's right, one, and I get chills watching Hoosiers, The Rookie, American Wedding (the first dance scene gets me every time), the final episode of MASH and Jimmy Valvano's famous ESPY speech in 1993.

The all-time best family crier award goes to my sister, Becky, who cried at the end of Jaws 3 because they killed the shark. Poor Jaws, she cried. It was hillarious. But, I digress.

In  Petty's final season, during the 1992 Firecracker 400 at Daytona, in a burst of glory reminiscent of the old days, days I was too young to remember, Petty burst to the front of the field, leading five laps. He eventually faded and gave way to a replacement driver.

I got goosebumps watching the 43 STP Dodge run at the front of the field, even if I didn't know why. It took my dad explaining how dominant Petty had been, and what he meant to the sport, to know why.

Now, he's not even in the top 5 all-time? Really? Who doesn't love the King? Whoever it is needs to turn in his driver's license and never drive again. Ever.

Are you kidding me?

I don't remember much of his heyday, and I can tell you Petty is at the very least the best stock car racer ever, and has to be in the top three drivers of any vehicle ever created.

I can understand A.J. Foyt as the best driver ever - the guy won everything there is to win. But, frankly, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher are better drivers than Petty? Mario Andretti won an F1 title, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, but I'm not sure that makes him better than Petty, a guy who won 200 races.

It's hard to argue with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the top 5, but I’m not sure he was better than Petty either. In fact, many would argue Earnhardt Sr. filled a void left by Petty, and Earnhadt said Petty was the best driver who ever lived. Yeah, his opinion shouldn't count. He obviously knew nothing at all about racing. Yeah, sure.  

The Problem With Lists

These lists, and they're all over the place, tend to underemphasize the contributions of the generation that built the foundation of sports for the stars now. Just because Barry Bonds hit more home runs than Hank Aaron, does that make him a better ballplayer? Probably not. Just because Dale Earnhardt won seven championships, does that make him better than Richard Petty. Coming from an Earnhardt fan, no way does it make the Intimidator a better driver. Just because LeBron James scores a lot of points and wears number 23, does that make him better, in any way, shape or form, than Michael Jordan.

And that's the problem, my friends.

You can't make such comparisons across generations. I don't care what statistical regression Bill James comes up with. I don't care what the next smartypants Harvard statistician says he can do to compare athletes from the 1950s or 1970s to today's athletes. (By the way, in a side rant, Mr. Harvard, rather than wasting our time coming up with another formula to tell us how batting average is overrated as a statistic or how 74 different statistics can be weighted to show Derek Jeter is a bad defensive shortstop, why don't we work on, in this order, a workable alternative energy, cures for cancer and AIDS, a cure for male pattern baldness (high on my list), cars that fly, balancing the federal budget, tax laws that make sense, a way to end world hunger and a statistical formula that tells us war is dumb. Can you do that, smart guy? Thanks.)

I know Jordan was the best player in his era because I saw him dominate his competition. I know Dale Earnhardt was the best driver in his generation, because guys had a damn tough time beating him. My dad will tell you Petty was the best driver in his day, because hardly anyone could beat him.

Is there anything wrong with leaving some things up to people's memory? Aren't these lists just a waste of time? Do these lists do anything but tick people off? Do I take it too seriously? Why is this blog creating more questions than it answers? Why am I so dizzy all of a sudden?

Honey? Why are you carrying that piece of wood? Baby?


Sorry, that was the sound of the News Gal smacking me in the head with a 2-by-4 and my head hitting the keyboard. I think she may have heard enough.

Okay. I'm done now. I feel better with that off my chest, though the lump on my head might be sore for a while. For my next blog post, a top 10 list of …. Whoops, forgot that whole no list thing. I think I might be concussed.


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Blog Photos

Richard Petty in victory lane after winning one of his 200 races. No one has been in victory lane more than The King.