As the Super Bowl nears, Peyton Manning is preparing his team to capture another ring in Miami. He is coming off another impressive year, leading his team to 14 regular season wins despite losing longtime coach Tony Dungy and go-to receiver Marvin Harrison. It was the Colts seventh consecutive season with 12 or more victories. That streak can be attributed to Manning, who kept the Colts on top once again. What does all this have to do with Cardinals baseball?
I found myself wondering the same thing when I found an interesting headline coming from stltoday.com’s Bernie Miklasz: “Albert Pujols and Peyton Manning: The Same Guy.” Really? The Same Guy? I’m not quite sure about that. Miklasz’s argument was flawed as well. He wanted to find a way “to place Peyton Manning’s career in the proper context.” I don’t know, why not list his achievements, the countless reviews of Manning as the “most cerebral quarterback in the NFL,” maybe the smartest and best ever. It seems a baseball comparison is far from the best way to place Manning’s career in proper context. And to compare him to Albert, as great as he is, is even further from the proper comparison. Shall we break it down like Manning breaks down game film and then defenses every Sunday.
1. “Year in and year out, they set the standard for excellence at their position.”
Yes, Manning and Pujols are the best at their position, but a deeper look shows this assertion is flawed. Manning plays quarterback, the most important position in football, period. Without a good quarterback, it is nearly impossible to win in the NFL, let alone compete. Look at Manning’s counterpart in the Super Bowl, Drew Brees. The Saints was a struggling franchise that couldn’t find a QB. A few years later and Saints fans are dancing on Bourbon Street. The quarterback has the ball every single play, and can decide the outcome of game with a bad throw or play call at any time. Manning is the best around in the NFL, and that is no easy task. With all the play packages, defensive looks, and 300-pound men flying at you, the position takes a certain level of mental fortitude and quick decision-making that is unparalleled in sports. First baseman? Not so much. It is hardly the toughest position in baseball, and may even be the easiest. Yes, Albert does a phenomenal job at first, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is the first baseman. It is the position along with corner outfielders that designated hitters like David Ortiz and Jason Giambi can go play during interleague. In baseball circles, the first baseman position is not seen as the greatest challenge defensively. The “quarterback” label would be more aptly applied to the shortstop, catcher, or centerfielder, as each plays a prominent role in anchoring the defense. Albert’s great, but he’s no quarterback.
If we’re going to throw labels like excellence around to call two players “The Same Guy,” then why isn’t Peyton Manning just like Kobe Bryant or Alexander Ovechkin or Steve Nash or Sidney Crosby. They are all considered the best at their positions, right? Point #1 is too vague. It’s applicable to many superstars in the sports world.
2. “In terms of a fierce desire to compete and win, they’re the same person.”
Wow, is that a cliché or what. Once again, I’ll go back to the comparison with other athletes. This statement fits too many and to put a value on someone’s desire is difficult. Most athletes, especially the great ones, have a desire to compete and win. That’s why they’re so good. But they also have different levels of desire. Michael Jordan was obsessed, proving that to everyone with his Hall of Fame speech. Then, you have Kobe Bryant who is obsessed in his won way. Peyton Manning also falls into the perfectionist and obsessive category. The QB is so smart that he calls his own plays and is probably the only player in sports that truly is a “coach on the field.” Ask Donald Brown about Manning’s intensity for some input. Immediately following the NFL Draft, Brown received a text from Manning: “Meet me at the facility at 8 a.m. tomorrow. Warmed up. Ready to go.” Already, Manning was putting the rookie through his own test. There was no time for celebration for Brown, there was work to be done. And his boss was tough. That’s desire and fire to be perfect. Albert’s drive is different. So are Derek Jeter’s and Jimmy Rollins’. They’re all winners and champions, but they each have different methods.
3. “Preparation and the mental aspect of the game is a crucial part of what they do; I don’t think there is a smarter football player than Manning and I don’t think there is a smarter baseball player than Pujols.”
Like I said in previous statements, it’s hard to say a first baseman is the smartest baseball player in the MLB. The best hitter? Sure. But greatness with the bat doesn’t make you the smartest player. Didn’t we learn anything from the steroid era? Was Barry Bonds great with the bat? Yes. But did that make him smart? Not exactly, he did do steroids after all and I’d say that was a dumb move.
Pujols may not even be the smartest player on his own team. In my opinion, Yadier Molina takes that distinction. Molina has become one of the best, if not the best defensive catchers in baseball. He has been called a “wizard” behind the plate. Molina knows each hitter’s weakness and helps the St. Louis pitching staff exploit it. I’d say he’s doing a good job coming off a season with two Cy Young candidates. Pujols doesn’t need to worry about this because he’s only the first baseman.
Preparation-wise, other players outdo Pujols as well. While it may not show up on the stat sheet, that doesn’t mean they’re not more prepared. It just means Pujols is better. Chase Utley comes to mind. Utley is a maniac when it comes to preparation, watching hours upon hours of film so he knows every pitcher’s tendencies. He even watches film in between innings sometimes. While it may be overkill, you can’t argue with his dedication.
For reasons mentioned earlier, Manning lives up to the distinction as the smartest player in football.
4. “In terms of statistics, Manning led all NFL quarterbacks in most of the key categories during the aughts; Pujols won the decade “Triple Crown” in the National League.”
I’ll give him that one. Both players are great, but didn’t we already know that.
5. “Manning runs his own show and is given the freedom to discard plays and call his own at the line of scrimmage; Pujols will run through stop signs at third base and has been given total freedom to make his own decisions on the basepaths, at the plate and in the field.”
This may be the most ridiculous comparison in the argument. Manning calling plays and audibles is the same thing as Pujols running free on the basepaths? The NFL is the most complicated sport when it comes to plays and defensive disguises. It really is a chess match out there. For a quarterback to be handed the controls to move the pieces around, they have to be special. It is the one sport where the head coach actually has control of the team and play calling and it takes a lot for the egocentric coach to give that up. Rookies like Mark Sanchez prove that when they throw 10 times in game and hand it off 50. They must earn the trust and prove they’re damn good before they get that freedom. And once they get it they have to be good to keep it. Changing plays is a huge responsibility that the QB has on every play. Manning is the best at it.
In baseball, we see guys run through coaches stop signs all the time. And they aren’t always superstars. It is just part of the game. Guys want to be aggressive and cross the plate for their team; and with the quality of arms in the outfield, a lot of times the player is safe. Running through stop signs is part of professional baseball, it is isn’t a reserved privilege for superstars. Most great hitters are given freedom at the plate, not just Pujols. And what freedom is there in the field. You don’t choose which balls to field and as a first baseman, he has no control over the defense.
Not exactly running a team’s offense and knowing every code and audible so 11 guys are on the same page.
A better comparison in baseball to the quarterback running his own show is the catcher like Molina, or the shortstop, who anchors the infield. The best example of this is Cal Ripken. By all accounts, Ripken was the smartest player on the field. He knew every pitch count, every hitter, and every inch of grass in the infield. And he would position himself accordingly, allowing him to make every play from deep in the hole to up the middle. He had to now defensive plays for pickoffs, bunts, and double plays. A first baseman isn’t quite as involved. Ripken’s diligence also allowed him to take over pitch calling duties in some games. He admits to calling some games for Ben McDonald from shortstop, flashing signs to the catcher for each pitch. Sounds like Peyton Manning to me, and I doubt Albert could do that, especially from first.
6. “Manning has won 4 league MVP awards; Pujols has won three MVPs.”
Basically, Manning and Pujols are great. Hasn’t that already been said. The comparison should go a little deeper. Let’s throw A-Rod into that list with his 3 MVP awards. Barry Bonds has seven. Plus, MVP awards are subjective and don’t always tell the whole story.
7. “I don’t think either guy is considered to be the best athlete in terms of speed, leaping ability, flexibility, etc. When Pujols runs and limps, he at times looks like a sputtering car that’s about to break down. And Manning is downright slow. But both are considered to be the best players in their leagues.”
In their positions and roles in their respective sports, athletic abilities like speed, leaping ability, and flexibility aren’t all that important. Manning’s legs may be slow, but his release is quick. His arm is strong and accurate. He has height and field vision second to none. Athletic ability at quarterback isn’t very important in the context described. The best QBs have the intangibles and attributes mentioned above. Speed isn’t important. Ask Michael Vick how athletic ability worked out for him. He was far from ever being an elite quarterback, even though he would smoke Manning in the 100-yard dash.
Running fast isn’t all that important in baseball either. Pujols may not blaze down the line, but his wrists are quicker than any. He can turn on a 99 MPH fastball easily because of his quick wrists. Add to that his strength (I mean just look at the guy) and his hand-eye coordination, and you have the best hitter in baseball. He is the most athletic and skilled in the areas that matter to be a dominant hitter. Jumping and running a 4.5 forty won’t help you hit a baseball.
I would have to say they are the most skilled in their leagues, making them the best. And that trumps athletic ability.
8. “As long as they are in their respective positions, playing at current levels, the Colts and the Cardinals will be competitive. If you took either away from their teams, the Colts and Cardinals would be in trouble.”
True. But baseball and football are two very different things. Take Manning away from the Colts and all hell breaks loose. That was proven when the Jets beat the Colts after Manning took a seat. Curtis Painter stepped in and the Jets cruised to a victory. The rematch with Manning leading Indy was a relatively easy win after a competitive first half. A football team revolves around the quarterback, and without one it is nearly impossible to win consistently. Ask Dolphins fans what life is like since Dan Marino retired. The Redskins haven’t won in years. Now, ask Saints fans how fun it’s been with Drew Brees. The quarterback is the key to a winning franchise.
Baseball is different. It depends on so many different players and is such a long season that a team can scrap its way to wins without the star. In baseball a team can ride a pitcher to a win when the offense struggles. Conversely, an offense can carry the pitching staff for a week. When the cleanup hitter struggles, the nine-hole could go 4-4 with five RBIs to fill in. Even with Pujols, the team can struggle. Baseball is tough and mysterious game, and one player – no matter how good – isn’t the be-all end-all of a team’s season. There are too many positions and aspects, and none are nearly as important as the quarterback.
9. “Both command immense respect among their peers on other teams; both are viewed as men of high character.”
I agree, but again it is a vague generalization that applies to many great athletes.
10. “For all of their brilliance, each man has one world championship — through no real fault of their own.”
Maybe that’s because winning championships is hard. Some players would kill for one ring, and Bernie paints this as a hole for Manning and Pujols. Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dan Marino, Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Charles Barkley, and Jim Kelly all never won a championship.
I don’t see the point he was trying to prove with the #10 statement. It doesn’t really compare the players in any way.
I don’t see enough similarities to warrant the title, “The Same Guy.” The similarities end with greatness. Pujols and Manning are definitely the two of the greatest in their sports, but so are many others. I mentioned a lot of other athletes that fall into these categories, and none of them are “The Same Guy.” But Pujols and Manning have very little in common.
With a little more thought (more than 5 minutes), Bernie would realize there is only one Peyton Manning and that is the only way to put his career in context. His achievements and leadership tell the story perfectly. No one can compare.