Winning’s been doing a lot of losing lately. When Felix Hernandez wins the American League Cy Young Award despite a 13-12 record, it’s an indication that winning isn’t that important. When the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players list has Peyton Manning at number 8 and Tom Brady at number 21, it’s evident that winning wasn’t a priority in the selection process. And when LeBron James still gets referred to as the best player in the NBA despite Kobe Bryant’s five championships and continued excellence, then you know people aren’t giving serious attention to wins and losses.
And you know what? I’m okay with it.
King Felix was the best pitcher in the American League this year, and he deserved the Cy Young Award. He threw the most innings and had the lowest ERA. And according to the sabermetrics that I don’t pretend to understand, he had 8 “tough losses” and zero “cheap wins”. His record was a product of the team he plays for. Certainly, if he played for the Rays or Yankees like David Price and C.C. Sabathia, he could have won 19 or 21 games, respectively, as they did. But what team he pitches for has nothing to do with the quality of his pitching. It only impacts his number of wins, which is something he can’t control.
Likewise, for Tom Brady, and any other NFL quarterback. The only things a quarterback can really do are score points and protect the ball, and even that requires an awful lot of cooperation from his teammates. Wins and losses are determined by so many non-quarterback related factors that they can’t be used to accurately assess a quarterback’s excellence. To say Brady is the winningest quarterback isn’t the same as saying he’s the best quarterback (though I’m willing to listen to arguments that, in his case, he’s both.)
The long way to the point concludes with this: unless you’re talking about an individual sport like tennis or golf, an individual’s greatness shouldn’t be determined by his team’s wins and losses. We accept this as “mostly” true right up until it’s time to break a tie or defend our favorites. Is Brady better than Manning? First we look at touchdowns, turnovers and yards. Then we try to consider intangibles, and when the debate goes nowhere, we lazily fall back on the previously discarded idea that championships should be factored in. Case closed. But unless the argument starts with who has the most titles, and it shouldn’t, then it can’t end there either. Thank you Felix, NFL Network and LeBron. We’re finally starting to understand that winning teams don’t make individuals great, and the greatest individuals aren’t always found on the winningest teams.