Greatest Athlete in Connecticut History Tournament: Roger Connor vs. Steve Blass

Canaan-born Steve Blass pitched the Pittsburgh Pirates to the 1971 World Series title. (AP Photo)

It’s summertime, and that means it’s time for another SportzEdge ® Bracket-style, 64-team tournament! Feel the excitement!!!

Last year, we changed the course of modern human civilization with the Coolest NCAA Logo Tournament, which became a national phenomenon along the lines of a presidential election, Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY speech, or DeAndre Jordan changing his mind about where he wants to play basketball.

This year, we decided to take on a question scholars have been debating since the 1800’s, maybe.

Who is the greatest athlete in Connecticut history?

There are plenty of outstanding candidates, from Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, to four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rogers, to all-time great featherweight boxer Willie Pep.

The athletes we considered must have grown up in Connecticut, and we counted only their prowess on the playing field, so coaches, executives and contributors like Walter Camp were not considered.

WALTER CAMP REGION

21218 132689995046 Greatest Athlete in Connecticut History Tournament: Roger Connor vs. Steve Blass8. Roger Connor

New York Giants first baseman (1880-97). 

Waterbury

You may have never heard of him, but the old timer from Waterbury is a Baseball Hall of Famer who actually held the all-time major league record for home runs before Babe Ruth. (He played from 1880-97).

Connor hit 138 homers in his career, and his mark lasted for over 20 years until the Bambino broke it. In fact, legend has it that Connor is the reason the New York Giants became the New York (and now San Francisco) Giants, as sportswriters played off of his “great stature.”

And in case you wanted to learn more about good ol’ Rog, we’ve got a complete article on his life right here. Pretty convenient, huh?

9. Steve Blass 

AP_67010113361-e1436821205503-400x395
AP Photo

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher

Canaan 

In baseball’s famous “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968, the greatest athlete in Canaan history was a top Cy Young candidate, finishing the year 18-6 with a 2.12 ERA. He also threw seven complete-game shutouts that season. In 1969, Blass won 16 games and finished with a career-high 147 strikeouts.

He also pitched the Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series title in 1971, throwing two complete games and giving up just two runs on seven hits in his 18 innings pitched. He was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of that series against the Baltimore Orioles, and finished second in the voting for World Series MVP behind Roberto Clemente.

If Blass’ career had just gone on like that, he’d probably be a 1-seed in this tournament, with a legit shot to challenge Steve Young for our title. But then “The Thing” happened. And he lost all control.

In 1973, Blass became perhaps the first player ever to lose the fundamental ability to throw the ball accurately. We’ve seen it since in guys like Rick Ankiel or Chuck Knoblauch, like some sort of recurring horror movie series. Blass’ ERA ballooned to 9.85 in ’73. He walked 84 batters in 88.1 innings, and struck out only 27. His WAR (wins above replacement) of -4 stands as the worst single-season mark for any pitcher since 1901.

He was out of baseball by 1975.

The phenomenon is now known as “Steve Blass Disease.” But still…I mean, it’s pretty impressive to have something like that named after you.


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