Tap-In Question: Who is the 'Greatest Of All Time' in Baltimore sports? Why? - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Tap-In Question: Who is the ‘Greatest Of All Time’ in Baltimore sports? Why?

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

I admit your bartender is a bit cranky today. I’m getting a little old for hip language and trendy acronyms.

Like GOAT. Greatest Of All Time. It’s starting to get my goat, if you will.

To me, a goat in sports is the guy who blows his team’s chances of winning. Like Kyle Shanahan, for instance. But that goat is apparently lowercase.

I’m trying to adjust with this GOAT thing. I even used it once or twice. Hey, if I can write about game-winning homers as “walk-offs,” I guess I can get with the times on everything else, too.

The whole GOAT thing comes to mind because, of course, Tom Brady’s heroics Sunday night shoved the GOAT reference down America’s collective throat.

I know there are plenty of Johnny Unitas fans that will ho-hum Brady’s accomplishments. But it’s difficult not to give Brady his due after Sunday’s performance, and after his outstanding career.

It got me thinking, though. Who is the true GOAT of Baltimore sports? It’s an exceptionally difficult call because you need to compare baseball players and football players of different eras. And, potentially, throw in a couple basketball players and at least one Olympian.

You also have to decide what criteria you want to use to do determine Baltimore’s GOAT. What’s the primary requirement, having played the majority of one’s career in Baltimore? Or can the candidates simply be from the Baltimore area? What about Babe Ruth, who probably is the greatest baseball player of all time? He was from Baltimore. But, with the exception of his brief time with Jack Dunn’s minor league Orioles, his biggest accomplishments happened on brighter stages in New York and Boston.

And how about Michael Phelps? He’s the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time. He may be the greatest Olympian of all time. How does what he achieved compare to a Brooks Robinson or a Ray Lewis or a Unitas? And Towson area has to count as Baltimore, right? But what about Aberdeen? Because if Aberdeen counts, well then shouldn’t Baltimore’s GOAT be Cal Ripken Jr., who grew up here and became a Hall of Famer here? He checks both boxes.


Oh, so many questions and just one barkeep.

Several years ago, when I was at The Baltimore Sun, I asked a similar question about Baltimore’s Mount Rushmore. It was hard enough whittling down Baltimore’s greatest athletes to four. And now I’m asking you to give me just one. Up for the task? If so, make sure to explain your reasoning.

Tap-In Question: Who is Baltimore sports’ Greatest Of All Time? Why?



  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 7, 2017 at 7:12 am

    Really? Without question, unequivocally and without need for explanation, there can be only one. There IS only one.

    Drink chips for all those that agree.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 8:42 am

      You may end up paying for half the bar. The other half is under 45 or football fans.

    • Creatively_19

      February 7, 2017 at 10:28 am

      I’ll agree for a free Natty Boh, he’s a fine human being and Baltimore sports icon.

    • BBaby54

      February 7, 2017 at 10:39 am

      In my mind ,it has to be Johnny Unitas .
      He put the city on the map . He represented what “blue
      collar ” was and was easily identifiable .
      In turn , he put the NFL on an upward swing in
      popularity that has never looked back
      Long Live # 19 Johnny Unitas.

    • whiterose

      February 7, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      Is main question about being a good guy or athletic ability?

      • whiterose

        February 7, 2017 at 6:54 pm

        how do I post without directly replying to another poster?

      • Dan Connolly

        February 7, 2017 at 9:40 pm

        I’m assuming you figured it out. But at the top is this post a comment tab.

      • Dan Connolly

        February 7, 2017 at 9:46 pm

        If you have any other trouble with the site let us know. And to answer your first question. I’d say athletic achievement is first factor.

  2. cards97

    February 7, 2017 at 7:48 am

    Sorry Boog but I will have to buy my own. It has to be Cal. A local guy who spent his whole career in Baltimore and not only a great individual player but one that made an impact on the game. Cal embodies all that is right about baseball.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 8:43 am

      This is how I expected the debate to go — especially cuz we are a baseball place. Cal vs Brooks. The ultimate Balmer generational debate. We’ll see how many vote these lines.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 7, 2017 at 9:51 am

      Everything you just said about Cal can is true for Brooks as well. And Brooks had the nickname to boot! “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” .. how can you top that?

      Aw what the heck …. beertender … give this man a chip anyway!

  3. Bancells Moustache

    February 7, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Ruth. Its not even remotely close. The single greatest athlete of the 20th century. Completely revolutionized the game, and basically created the modern celebrity ballplayer from scratch.
    After him comes John Unitas. Sorry fellow O’s fans, but those two routinely come up in discussion of ‘the best who ever played’ in their respective sports. No member of the Orioles ever sniffs that discussion.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 8:58 am

      So you are ready to crown a Yankee the greatest of all time in Baltimore? Gutsy move, Stache. Come around to this side of the bar. I’ll protect you.

      • Bancells Moustache

        February 7, 2017 at 9:17 am

        Absolutely. Baltimore has every right to claim its share of the Ruth legend. The tale of the Pigtown juvenile delinquent learning from Brother Matthias to blast em over the St Mary’s wall is as much a part of Bambino lore as the called shot or ‘No No Nanette’. Plus its a testament to Ruths greatness that he transcends the Yankee stigma. People say they hate Derek Jeter. They hate Reggie Jackson, They hate A-Rod. NOONE says they hate Babe Ruth.’

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          February 7, 2017 at 10:02 am

          Does that mean that Oklahoma claim Brooks? Sorry Ritchie, I disagree, Ruth is a Yankee.

    • rebusgadfly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:07 am

      I have to throw my vote in with Cal. He made such a career for himself in Baltimore and shined but the most important and beneficial contribution he has given is to the spirit of the game post his career. While other retired players are making money selling autographs Cal is in the trenches of baseball working to grow the game from the inside out. Boog may have been the better player overall but Cal has done so much more for the game. (my apologizes to Boog Robinson Robinson)

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        February 7, 2017 at 9:49 am

        Rebus ! Where you been my friend? I have to admit, that Cal was literally “born” an Oriole, but Brooks will always come first in my mind.

        • rebusgadfly

          February 7, 2017 at 3:26 pm

          sorry, my friend has been busy but I snuck in to put up my two cents. I hear ya I have much respect for Brooks. Nothing but love.

  4. Dpsmith22

    February 7, 2017 at 9:37 am

    It would be Ruth but he made his mark as a Yankee.

    This is a tough one. I prefer Brooks, but I think it should be Cal. Grew up here, played his whole career here, epitomized athletes in general. Not to mention he changed the short stop position and its whole persona.

    Cal is Baltimore

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:56 am

      Assuming Aberdeen is Baltimore. But, yeah, I’m with your rationale.

  5. Joe Polek

    February 7, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Nationally or Internationally it is probably Michael Phelps.

    But inside the state, it is probably between Cal Ripken Jr and Ray Lewis. Cal being from MD makes me lean his way, but Ray brought to Titles to the city.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:57 am

      Ray did. But I don’t think he’d win the popular vote. The Phelps argument intrigues me, too.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 7, 2017 at 10:00 am

      Ray Lewis … really? I won’t even go there.

      As for Phelps … 25 years from now nobody will remember who he is. Nationally OR internationally. And if you refer to him on a first name basis, people will think you’re talking about Jordan.

      Johnny and Brooks and played 3 generations ago .. yet you know who they are. And there is only one Cal or Babe.

      Ray Lewis and Phelps? Really?

  6. Creatively_19

    February 7, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Dang Dan,

    I gotta give you credit for finally asking a tougher question than “What should the Orioles do….” type stuff. Lets break this down a little.
    GOAT – Greatest of All Time –
    Okay – Greatest of what? Of Baltimore Sports.
    When? ALL TIME.

    Okay, got it.

    I think you’ve immediately disqualified Michael Phelps, because he doesn’t really represent Maryland when he races, he’s known for representing the USA. If you’re looking for the GOAT Olympian or swimmer, then we have your guy right here, but that’s not what you’re looking for.

    Now we need to DQ Mr. Ruth. His powers were “Ruthian”, yes, unparalleled for the era he played in, absolutely. But he’s not a “Baltimore” sports legend, as nobody paid much attention to him when he played here.

    So we’re now limiting ourselves to Ray Lewis, Brooks, Cal, and Johnny U. Interesting that all 4 have statues, but Cal is enshrined only within the confines of the Orioles Legends Park. Brooks actually has 2 statues within a long fly ball distance of each other. Hmm.

    Each of these 4 have their merits:
    Ray Lewis helped the Baltimore Ravens franchise win BOTH of the Championships. Lewis, was not only the best defensive player to ever play for a Baltimore football team, but arguably the greatest middle linebacker to ever play in the history of the NFL. Has not been a mainstay in Baltimore since his retirement.
    Johnny Unitas, won the GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED, which was widely credited as helping football’s rise to national popularity in the 1960’s. Adopted Baltimore as his hometown and was a fan favorite and local celebrity until his death.
    Cal Ripken single-handedly saved baseball after the strike of 1994, was known for both his defensive and offensive abilities, which both. Born, raised, and still resides in the Baltimore Area, but is more reclusive and private in his post-baseball career.
    Brooks Robinson was the human vacuum cleaner, and 16 time gold glove winner. Played on two Orioles Championship teams, considers all his fans his friends, and is credited as being one of the nicest human beings in the world by many who know him.

    WAIT – WHAT ABOUT JIM PALMER? Oh yeah, he won THREE championships with the Baltimore Orioles, 3 time Cy Young, 3 time AL Wins Leader, 6 time All Star, prolific broadcaster, ages better than a fine wine, and out-pitched Sandy Koufax in the 1966 World Series.

    Can it just be a 5 way tie? All these guys are great. Just kidding, there’s no ties, Palmer is the GOAT!

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 7, 2017 at 10:13 am

      You make a fine point in a creative way. How can you argue against Cakes?

      Bartender … set this good man up please.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 10:39 am

      19: nice post. 2 drink chips. Palmer gets overlooked a tad because he played every fourth day. But no other Oriole played in all 6 World Series. And no other person has won WS games in three decades. He should be in the conversation, for sure.

  7. 4Bees

    February 7, 2017 at 10:05 am

    I have a very strong appreciation for Brooks, as indicated by my nickname remembering the 4Bees around the Oriole infield, which included him. But when you consider the total body of work, and how so much of that journal isn’t found on a stat sheet, Cal gets the call. Just THE STREAK puts him at the top of the list, but everything else also seconds the motion. Character, integrity, personality, stature within the organization as life long O’s both Brooks and Cal both have plenty of. but not even Marvel’s Iron Man can’t hold a candle to ours.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 10:40 am

      Good post. Drink chip. Curious as to your age. To me 45-50 is about the cutoff for this forever argument between Cal and Brooks.

      • 4Bees

        February 7, 2017 at 11:40 am

        Feel like I did back when I was 45, looks haven’t changed since I turned 50, not much anyway. A little thinner on top (hair) and thicker around the middle. 60 now. Lifelong O’s fan. Growing up in Hartford, everyone had the same question. Who do you like? Red Sox? Yankees? Mets? Got so tired of it, I picked the O’s for the fun of it. Need to use the Web to remind myself of the date I went to single ticket twin-bill the O’s split with the Red Sox at Fenway in the late 60’s. By myself. Took a Greyhound and a subway. Age 12 or 13? It was a blast.

        • lmterps

          February 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

          I live in Watertown originally from Waterbury and a life long Oriole fan also. Got sick of Yankees and Red Sox fan’s. Brooks was who I admired more than any athlete. I have traveled down to Camden Yards every year since it opened and would rather do that then go to Yankee stadium or Fenway.

          Go O’s

  8. ZantiGM

    February 7, 2017 at 10:19 am

    One of the few O’s fans that can’t stand cal ripkin, i think he is a big phoney. 1-Brooks 2-Johnny Unitas 3-Jim Palmer 4-Artie Donovan

    • Creatively_19

      February 7, 2017 at 10:25 am

      Even if you can’t spell Cal Ripken, I’m somewhat inclined to agree with you. The streak was a powerful story in baseball, but I’m not 100% convinced he didn’t make it without some very creative help around him. Still impressive though.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 7, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Sir … I like the Brooks vote, but I take exception with your opinion of Cal.

      “Big Phonys” don’t spend hour upon hour on the field EVERY night AFTER the game signing autographs for thousands like Ripken did in ’95.

    • 4Bees

      February 7, 2017 at 11:22 am

      Why not stick with the premise of Dan’s question and keep it positive? Too difficult for you? Do you think the two O’s you selected, given their respect for Cal, really feel all warm and fuzzy about your endorsements? Not very likely.

  9. Ken H

    February 7, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Brooksie all the way.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 7, 2017 at 11:01 am

      I’m a “Ken H” in real life …. this is eery. Are you from the Bizarro dimension?

  10. lmterps

    February 7, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Brooks slightly over Johnny U. Love Ray Lewis and Michael Phelps but they don’t compare to these two. If I had to chose one it would be Brooks, great athlete as well as a great person. Best all-around third baseman ever.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      It’s such a fine line on how these guys compare. That’s what makes this a fun argument.

  11. bv22

    February 7, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Brady’s only being called the GOAT since he has won 5 Super Bowl titles and been Super Bowl MVP 4 times. I think that is the criteria to use to determine B’more’s GOAT. So, using that criteria, Unitas played in and won 2-pre Super Bowl NFL championships, as well as played in 2 additional Super Bowls, contributing an additional win. Colts players didn’t win an MVP award in either Super Bowl, and I don’t know if an MVP was handed out for the championship games (I can’t seem to find that info). Brooks and Frank played in 4 World Series, each winning the same 2, and each winning an MVP award. Cakes played in 6 World Series, winning 3 of them (2 of which were the same as Brooks and Frank). I’d say even though Cakes played in more championship settings than Unitas, Unitas gets the nod since he performed better in the championship games then Cakes did.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

      Johnny didn’t outpitch Koufax, though. 🙂

      • bv22

        February 13, 2017 at 10:01 am

        True, but I before I posted, I looked at Cakes’ overall playoff performances and outside of the Koufax game, he seemed to perform better in the ALCS than the World Series. That was enough for me to give the nod to Unitas as Baltimore’s GOAT.

  12. AdamantOriole

    February 7, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    Jiim Palmer because he won all three World Series.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Seems like a popular argument. Have no quarrels with it.

    • Amazing

      February 7, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      211 Complete games is not to shabby

  13. 5brooks5

    February 7, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    To me, Frank was the most talented of all the Baltimore players in any sport. He could do it all and then some,but to really answer your question…it has to be Brooks,always has been always will be to me, just because he’s BROOKS!

  14. Teejay

    February 7, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    As much as I love and have always (and always will) loved and idolized my boyhood idol Brooksie, I believe I would have to give the GOAT in Baltimore to Cal for the reasons most have given. He was born in the area, he excelled in the sport of baseball both offensive and defensively, (and I say this knowing Brooks put up very respectable offensive numbers) and he has been a terrific role model for so many. But still when they say who is “Mr. Oriole”…..good discussion Dan!!

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Thanks Tee. Good stuff. Drink chip.

  15. ZantiGM

    February 7, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    i am entitled to my opinion on Call,i have heard from people i respect that privately Cal is a real tool.Brooks is number one along with Palmer and Unitas.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      You absolutely are entitled. Not a huge fan of name-calling in here — about anyone. But I’m definitely glad you share your opinions.

  16. OsFanStuckInNY

    February 7, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Echoing the many fine points made already, must go with a 4-way tie: Johnny U, Brooks, Palmer, & Cal.

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      Come on. This isn’t Mount Baltimore. 4-way tie???? :).

    • OsFanStuckInNY

      February 7, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Yes, because each man had unique qualities that make him The Greatest. How could one objectively quantify one set of qualities above the other?

      I understand having a favorite, or someone subjectively valuing one set of qualities over another, but I believe that each of those four men made such a lasting and transcendent impact on sports, Baltimore, and the fans that we should indeed erect a Mount Baltimore, featuring the likenesses of Johnny, Brooks, Jim, & Cal.

  17. dagger

    February 7, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    #19 John Unitas no question!!!!

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:45 pm

      I like your conviction. Make OsfanNY buy ya a fake beer.

  18. Amazing

    February 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    you can probably give me a hundred reasons why he’s not but, I love Brooks!

    • Dan Connolly

      February 7, 2017 at 9:47 pm

      Nothing wrong with that. Drink chip.

  19. Amazing

    February 7, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    How many complete games did Cakes have?

    • Steve Cockey

      February 7, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      211 career complete games for Palmer. Phenomenal.

  20. geevee3

    February 7, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    “In New York people name candy bars after Reggie Jackson. In Baltimore people name their children after Brooks Robinson.” Roger Angell

    • Steve Cockey

      February 7, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Great line there. About sums it up.

      • geevee3

        February 7, 2017 at 9:26 pm

        Thanks. And the other Palmer question is: how many two hitters, know many one hitters? Consistent excellence.

  21. Delsym

    February 8, 2017 at 6:20 am

    Brooks of course…humble, unparalleled infield defense, consistent offense, and he made those around him better. Never disruptive or disrespectful

  22. Eldersburg Enigma

    February 8, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    It’s not a popular choice, and he’s not my favorite man given some of his past transgressions, but I am leaning towards Michael Phelps. He’s DOMINATED on a big stage for an insane period of time. He grew up locally, and lives locally when not training. Someone mentioned he was disqualified in their criteria because Phelps competes representing the US rather than Baltimore, but to me that adds value to his accomplishments. It’s not a slam dunk but I’d move him to the top of my list.

  23. Bob Phillips

    February 9, 2017 at 10:45 am

    1a. Michael Phelps
    1b Babe.Ruth
    2. Johnny Unitas
    3.Cal Ripken
    4.Brooks Robinson
    5.Ray Lewis

  24. mlbbirdfan

    February 9, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    There are six Baltimore sports heroes mentioned. Only one has been painted by Norman Rockwell: Brooks Robinson. (It’s called “Gee, thanks Brooks!” He signed autographs endlessly, too.)

    Case closed.

  25. mlbbirdfan

    February 9, 2017 at 9:52 pm



    C – Gus Triandos (30 HRs!)
    1B – Eddie
    2B – Davey
    3B – Brooks
    SS – Cal
    LF – Brady
    CF – Paul Blair
    RF – Frank
    SP – Jim Palmer RHP and Dave McNally LHP
    CL – Zach Britton

    Only one of these players is the greatest of all time at his position: Brooks.

  26. rickytrommer

    February 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    My first thought was Johnny Unitas, for the reasons listed by BBaby54. Then it goes to Brooks. I still have the 1976 Orioles poster that had all the Orioles, including one Reggie Jackson, drawn in caricatures. Brooks had a vacuum cleaner attached to one shoulder and a shotgun attached to the other. But Cal may win the discussion because he was also born here. All three are in the discussion for GOAT at their respective positions, although Cal is probably a distant second at best to Honus Wagner at SS, depending upon what you do with A-Rod. Until Montana came along, Johnny U was arguably the greatest QB, and Brooks was at worst #2 all-time at third base, depending upon how much you valued Schmidt’s homeruns. Honorable mention to Palmer for all his accomplishments, but he and the others mentioned here are all runners-up in my pageant.

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