Sidelines: MLB’s hot stove and the best dunker of all time

By Matt Barrett ‘17 and Brian O’Neill ‘16

Collaborative Writers

Zach LaVine put on a performance to remember in last week’s Slam Dunk contest during NBA All Star weekend. But LaVine is too young to be considered one of the best dunkers of all time. Who is the best dunker of all time?

M.B: The dunk has become such an integral part of basketball that, in 1984, the NBA decided to dedicate the entire contest to it. The pinnacle of All Star weekend, the dunk contest has been the stage for some of the most memorable dunks of all time.

Despite Zach LaVine’s performance this past weekend (scored a 50 on his first two dunks), I still wouldn’t consider him one of the top dunkers in the league and certainly nowhere near one of the best of all time.

The best dunker of all time still plays in the NBA and is best known for his performance in the 2000 Dunk Contest—Vince Carter. Carter will forever be remembered for his 360°-windmill dunk and in-between-the-legs slam. Not to mention Carter followed up both of those dunks with the elbow-hang dunk, a dunk that has only been seen once more in the NBA (Blake Griffin 2011).

Some might say that Carter only one the Dunk Contest once; Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Jason Richardson and Nate Robinson have all won at least twice (Robinson won in 2006, 2009 and 2010). But Carter’s performance in Oakland in 2002 is not what places him at the top of the list. Vince Carter is the best in-game dunker of all time. Any basketball fan can recall Carter’s jam in the 2000 Olympics over Frenchman Frédéric Weis. Carter literally cleared the seven foot two inch center on a dunk. Carter’s career puts him on the thrown of all time dunkers.

B.O: In the NBA’s long history, there have been many excellent dunkers who have graced the court with their inhuman jumping ability. Karim Abdul Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Vince Carter are some names that come to mind.

But one name that sticks above the rest is Nate Robinson.

Standing at five foot nine and weighing 180 pounds, it’s hard to believe that this guy can even reach the net. Yet somehow, his body found a way to get that frame soaring through the air for what feels like an eternity before he finishes it all off with the slam. One moment in particular will always stand out to me—in the 2009 Slam Dunk contest, Robinson lined up the seven foot Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard underneath the hoop. As the crowd watched in disbelief, Robinson managed to launch himself clean over Howard with a dunk that would ultimately earn him the 2009 title as the best dunker in the NBA. One year later, he would win the contest again, earning him his third title, as he had also won in 2006. Guys don’t come around like this too often. 

This season’s MLB hot stove has been filled with blockbuster signings. What deal has been the best so far?

M.B: The MLB offseason has been filled with big name acquisitions. The Padres added an all-star outfield to their roster including Silver Slugger Justin Upton, 2013 AL Rookie of the year Will Myers, and former Gold Glover Matt Kemp. This boosts a San Diego lineup that ranked last in the MLB last year in team batting average. Not to mention the Padres picked up pitcher James Shields off of waivers. But the Padres have grown through a number of signings, none being bigger than the next.

The Chicago White Sox even hit the lottery the offseason, signing all-star pitcher Jeff Samardzija. But it is the other Chicago team that gained the most through free agency, and it’s not even a player that will be the team’s difference maker this upcoming spring.

The Cubs were able to sign Lafayette alumni, manager Joe Maddon this season to a five-year/$5 million dollar contract. In just two years with the Tampa Bay Rays, Maddon was able to give the city of Tampa Bay the franchise’s first winning season and World Series appearance. In eight years, Maddon was able to turn one of the worst teams in the MLB into one of the best. Prior to last season, Maddon coached the Rays to six straight winning seasons and won the AL Coach of the Year award in 2008 and 2011.

Some may be skeptical of how much of an impact Maddon on the Cubs, who have not had a winning season since 2009. On top of the Cubs managerial acquisition, however, the Cubs signed ace Jon Lester and outfielder Dexter Fowler in the offseason. Along with young shortstop Stalin Castro, the Cubs haven’t looked better since 2009. We have seen in the past that Maddon is able to build teams from the ground up, and with these three stars behind him, Maddon will surely have a smoother transition than he did with the Rays.

Stats also show that new big name acquisitions tend to not live up to the offseason hype. FiveThirtyEight found that just 14 percent of all WAR in the MLB since 2001 has been due to offseason player acquisitions (WAR, or wins above replacement, measures how many wins approximately a player contributes to their team’s win total).

At the beginning of last season, Vegas gave the Cubs 65-1 odds to win the World Series. This season those odds are at 12-1. I’m not saying bet on the Cubs, but Maddon brings the team closer to winning its first World Series since 1908. 

B.O: I’m going to have to go with my hometown Boston Red Sox—both of their offseason signings have been equally noteworthy. The Sox have made headlines through the free agency market, with the acquisitions of third-baseman Pablo Sandoval and left-fielder Hanley Ramirez.

With a sub-par record of 71-91 in 2014 after winning the World Series the season before, it was clear that the Red Sox needed some pieces to get back to where they were. The Red Sox needed to upgrade their offense over the winter, for the team ranked 22nd in team batting average last season with a .244 average. The acquisition of Sandoval will help significantly in the batting department, as the infielder has managed to average a .294 batting average for his career, eclipsing Red Sox starting third-basemen last season, Will Middlebrooks who averaged just a .191 batting average.

Ramirez’s impact is going to be a little trickier to gauge, as the Red Sox plan to convert him to an outfielder after playing shortstop for almost his entire career. His performance at the plate, however, will be a huge asset to the Sox, as he has managed a .300 career batting average over the past ten seasons in the MLB. This offensive consistency could be exactly what the Red Sox need to get back to their winning ways for the 2015 season.

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