Explaining the selection process for the Top 175 Md. athletes list

Three months, one week and two days. That’s how long it took to shape a list, start to finish, of the 175 greatest athletes in Maryland history.

The Sun published the rankings today, from top to bottom. Me? I feel like I just completed a daunting history final in college.

Beginning the project, in February, I wondered how we’d ever come up with 175 names. Silly me. Turns out, there were so many sportsmen and women deserving of recognition that we probably trimmed another 175 off.

Early on, it became clear that the key here wasn’t so much creating the list of athletes. It was creating of list of experts who could help to come up with the list of athletes.

Perhaps 25 people – sportswriters, coaches, historians and hall of fame archivists – offered input, and many helped shepherd the list to completion. (A special thanks to Sun staffers Andy Knobel, Childs Walker and Paul McCardell).

With hundreds of names in tow, we lumped them together by sport – basketball, baseball, football, etc. – and then rated all athletes in that group. Then we set about meshing those lists which, frankly, was like comparing apples to oranges. How, you ask, could we bestow a No. 33 ranking to Willie Keeler, an Orioles star of the 1890s, while heralding former Colts’ quarterback Bert Jones at No. 34?

That’s where we drew on our criteria for the list. Ratings were based on (1) performance, (2) the athlete’s impact on sports, and (3) his (or her) lasting resonance with fans.

Moreover, we chose to include both athletes who were born or grew up in Maryland, with those who merely competed here, for at least three years. To have gone either route alone would have cheated our readers. Thus, you’ll find local growns, like Babe Ruth and Mark Teixeira – hated Yankees, both – sidling up with the likes of Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson, “outsiders” who’ve long been embraced by fans here.

Did we omit anyone of note? Absolutely. There’s Antonio Freeman, a Poly grad who blossomed with the Green Bay Packers ... Quintin Dailey, the Cardinal Gibbons guard who starred in the NBA ... Johnny Roberts, a NASCAR champion in the early 1960s ... and probably 172 more.

As we firmed up the list, I experienced a sense of dread. I felt like Chevy Chase, driving away from a rest stop in one of those National Lampoon vacation films, wondering which of his brood he’d left behind.

Finally, a word about the top 10: Ruth was a no-brainer to head the list. More than anyone, the pot-bellied slugger with the classic swing and matchstick legs changed the game of baseball. And his is the statue that stands outside Camden Yards.

After Ruth, the rankings blur. In my mind – and those of many of my peers – there’s not much to choose between Nos. 2 through 7 (Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Ray Lewis,Cal Ripken Jr. and Michael Phelps). Those guys jockeyed for position right up to publication. Any one would be a legitimate bridesmaid to The Bambino.