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  • Cooper Burke

Great Athletes the World Forgot About

A pastime of the die-hard sports fan involves sitting around their favorite spot and discussing some of their favorite athletes long-forgotten in sports media or never appreciated for what they were. These athletes may have had a Linsanity-style run with a different sort of cultural impact, or were just beloved by fans for one specific reason or another. Regardless, they faded out of the collective consciousness despite their great performances, but diehard fans never forget.

A personal favorite is a former Brave Kris Medlen, who pitched parts of eight years in the majors, but only threw a total of 599.1 innings in his MLB career thanks to injuries. Medlen burst onto the scene aged 23 after three years in the minors with Atlanta, making 18 starts in his first two years with an ERA of 3.90 with 155 strikeouts in 175.1 innings before being sidelined due to Tommy John surgery.

He returned better than ever in 2012, finishing with an impressive 1.57 ERA in 138 innings with a 10-1 record, and he pitched 34 ½ consecutive scoreless innings, the most for a Brave since Greg Maddux in 2000. His next season was equally solid with a 3.11 ERA in 31 starts going 15-12 with 157 strikeouts in 197 innings.

Unfortunately, he felt elbow discomfort in Spring Training 2014 which led him to have a second Tommy John surgery to repair elbow damage. That was his last major-league appearance with the Braves, and Medlen pitched three more years with the Royals and Diamondbacks, posting a decent 4.11 ERA in his longest year with the Royals over 58 innings. His last appearance in the majors came against the Astros, who were stealing signs in their home ballpark.

Medlen gave up 7 runs in that start, and he never pitched again in the majors, much to the chagrin of former teammate Freddie Freeman, who appeared visibly choked up in an interview discussing the scandal and the end of Medlen’s career. While Medlen never really lived up to his full potential, he was a very solid starter for the Braves and anchored the team’s rotation to a 2014 playoff run.

The “Mississippi Bullet” Monta Ellis was one of the game’s best pure shooting guards in the early 2000s, averaging a very solid 19.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.6 APG and 1.7 steals per game. The NBA named Ellis the Most Improved Player after a solid 16.5/3.2/4.1 season, and he continued to prove he was a quality guard in the league year after year. Ellis established himself as one of the Warriors’ go-to scoring options from both inside and outside the arc, never shooting below 41.5% from the field or an effective field goal percentage of 44.9%, which adjusts for the fact a three is worth one more point than a two.

In his prime, Ellis was a given to play nearly every minute on the court as he led the league in minutes per game in back-to-back years from 2009-2011. Ellis had an impressive 11-year career in the league, but he somehow never made an All-Star team despite being one of the better shooting guards in the Western conference during his time with the Warriors.

Australian golfer and Masters champion Adam Scott has one of the sweetest and most technical swings on the PGA tour and has been one of the Tour’s dark horses for a long time. Scott burst onto the scene with a win in 2003 at the Deutsche Bank Championship after racking up several wins on the European Tour, including the Alfred Dunhill championship and the Qatar Masters. A young Scott even took Tiger Woods to a sudden-death playoff in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in the semifinals, as Woods went on to win the event.

Scott established himself as one of the best iron players in the game early on, and he continued his rise to the top of golf with a win at the Players Championship in 2004, often considered the “fifth major” by golf fans. Another big victory came over the man to shoot the lowest round in PGA Tour history and US Open winner Jim Furyk in the 2006 Tour Championship. He shot -11 to win the highest-paying event in the PGA. However, Scott’s magnum opus came in one of the greatest tournaments in Masters history in 2013. He bested 2009 Masters champion Miguel Angel Cabrera in a sudden-death playoff to win the first and only major of his career in an incredible display of clutch putting.

Scott birdied the 18th hole on Sunday from 25 feet out to go to -9 and Cabrera matched that after hitting his approach shot to three feet. They went to a sudden-death playoff and both made par on the 18th hole after Cabrera nearly holed out to win the tournament. On no. 10, the Camellia hole, Cabrera just missed a long birdie putt before tapping in for par. With the tournament on the line as the sun was setting, Scott sunk a 15-foot putt to win the biggest event in golf. After that one fifteen-footer, he immortalized himself amongst champions past and present.

San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn is the best amongst this list as he remains one of the greatest to ever play baseball. Not only that, Gwynn was an accomplished two-sport athlete at San Diego State in both baseball and basketball, earning all-conference titles in both sports. Gwynn played all of his 20 years in MLB with the Padres, never hitting below .309 in a full season. Despite his accolades, Gwynn escapes conversation as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. “Mr. Padre” had an unheard of 3,141 hits, all with the Padres as well as 135 home runs.

Gwynn was known for his offense in college at SDSU, but he turned himself into a defensive stalwart, winning five Gold Glove Awards as well as seven Silver Slugger Awards at the plate. In other words, Gwynn was an “artisan with the bat”, and is one of the few players, if any, to hit above .300 with two strikes in the count. Gwynn was the only hitter that legendary pitcher Gregg Maddux had trouble with, and it is easy to see why- his ability to get the bat on the ball is unheard of.

Every one of these athletes made a big impact in their sport for one reason or another, but it would serve them well if more people took the time to acknowledge how much they contributed to their sport. After all, there is a reason the sports community remembers their names, and for good reason. These athletes are ones worth remembering.

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