Think of all the players you root for. Now try to remove some of the obvious homerism that goes with being a fan. After you’ve dug that deep, see if you find a player that inspires or inspired absolute confidence. It’s a very rare thing.
My list is very short: 1990s Michael Jordan and 1984 Rick Sutcliffe.
The way I get to those two is this. Every time they played I felt that they would give everything they had, and the combination of their skill and that effort would be enough to lift their teams to a level of excellence that would almost assuredly result in victory.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 22, 2016
It’s such a beautiful thing as a fan. Every time Sutcliffe pitched in 1984, you knew the Cubs would win. He was that dominant. The right-hander went 16-1 in 20 starts with Chicago after a trade from Cleveland.
But even that absolute confidence didn’t last. Sutcliffe went 1-1 in the playoffs as the Cubs got bounced by the Padres in the NLCS.
Jordan was a different story because he took it all the way. Flu, minor injuries, whatever, he was always the best player on the floor. It felt so good to root for a team with a guy who was the most talented and competitive player in sports.
It took a few years, but the Bulls finally assembled a team around him that could meet his other-worldly expectations. When it all came together, the championships rolled in.
After Jordan, that feeling has been tougher to find. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane come very very close, but like the 1985 Bears, who is the one that elevates all the rest? Was it Mike Singletary? Walter Payton? Jim McMahon? For the Hawks, Toews sets the tone, but can they do what they’ve done without Kane’s dazzle? Plus, one great player can’t carry a team in hockey the way it happens in other sports.
But I’ve got to say that I’m getting that Jordan feeling again … with Jake Arrieta. How can I not? He has reached the point where a no-hitter is possible every time he steps on the mound.
Arrieta’s 24 straight quality starts are second most since the deadball era. Only Bob Gibson, with 26, has more. Arrieta has thrown two no-hitters in the span of 10 regular-season starts. In the 24 starts, he has allowed four home runs – and hit three.
I have absolute confidence that when Arrieta is on the mound, he is the most talented, prepared and focused person in the stadium. It’s clear that his teammates feel the same way and that if they do their jobs halfway decent, they WILL win.
What a great feeling.
My only question now is whether Arrieta is Sutcliffe, who had a really great run that never translated to a title, or Jordan, who accomplished every individual and team goal that an athlete could desire.
We’ll see … and what a trip it will be.