Lewis injury could end great career but is he the greatest MLB?


Lewis injury could end great career but is he the greatest MLB?

The right-triceps tear that ended Ray Lewis season could also mark the end of a career that will place him in the highest level of inside linebackers, of players, period, in the history of football.

But how highest?

CSNChicago.com operatives have seen linebackers play since the very early 1960s and evaluated available film of others before that. From that a top-five list of the greats, with Lewis finishing, well, check out the list. And yes, two of the top three middle linebackers of all time played in Chicago.

A qualifier: Understand that the middle linebacker position really didn't come into true existence until Bill George stood up from his nose-guard position and started looking around. So the sample size for MLBs in particular is necessarily smaller than the overall pool of linebackers.

The runners-up: Chuck Bednariik (saw him play in my first-ever live football game; thanks, Dad), Bill George, Sam Huff, Ray Nitscke, Chuck Schmidt, Mike Singletary

5. Jack Lambert, Pittsburgh

No way to argue with the rings. A lot of hype but when you watched closely and often, this was the ignition key behind Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White. Singletarys eyes were a force but the edge goes to Lamberts teeth. Or lack of same.

4. Willie Lanier, Kansas City Chiefs

Lanier was a centerpiece in one of the great defenses of all time, a member of Chiefs team won the fourth Super Bowl. Lanier had the benefit of playing behind tackles Buck Buchanan and Curly Culp but he also intercepted 27 passes in a 10-year career.

He played at 6-1, 245 pounds, about the same size as Lewis. He was nothing less than one of the best football players on a championship team.

Lanier had the misfortune of playing in the time of Jack Lambert, who was piling up rings and getting more acclaim. He shouldnt have. Lanier was better.

3. Brian Urlacher

Urlacher stands as one of the more polarizing parts of any discussion of great linebackers. One national media outlet pegged him as the most overrated player in the NFL; others rated him the best in the game, evidenced by his selection as Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and fourth-place in 2006.

Consider this: In the defensive schemes of Dick Jauron and Greg Blache, based on front-four mastodons keeping offensive linemen controlled, Urlacher piled up 116 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions in 2001.

When Ted Washington was hurt most of 2002, Urlacher was exposed: 151 tackles, four-and-a-half sacks, seven passes broken up.

Along comes Lovie Smith and a scheme based on small, fast defensive linemen no bigger than Tommie Harris 290 for the most part. In 2005, Urlacher is Player of the Year with 121 tackles, six sacks, five passes broken up.

Where Urlacher loses style points is that he has never played with the Neanderthal gene. A lasting image of Urlacher is the laughing inside the helmet; he had some fun.

Urlacher in 2001 was running down Michael Vick (short distance). He was fast enough to spy Vick and Daunte Culpepper.

And as one longtime NFL personnel executive said in support of the ranking: If youre drafting, do you take Lanier or Urlacher? 54 was a freak.

He is also the third-greatest linebacker ever to play the game.

2 Dick Butkus
1. Ray Lewis

An incredibly close call between 51 and 52. I initially placed Butkus above Lewis, a tipping point being Butkus abilities in coverage. He played at close to Lewis 245 pounds but had a couple of inches on Lewis at 6-3.

Both defined not just the ferocity of their eras; anyone can scream and be nasty. They epitomized excellence at the game.

Its difficult to put Butkus in some sort of understandable context. In 1967 he had 18 sacks, according to one study of film from before sacks were an official stat. He had five interceptions his 1965 rookie year and had 22 for his career, tied for 11th all-time in franchise history.

But Lewis willed the 2000 Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl win with quarterback Trent Dilfer in the role of Bill Wade as caretaker. And Lewis has 31 career interceptions plus more than 40 career sacks.

And heres the thing: Lewis was in his 17th NFL season this year. Butkus had considerably less in front of him than Lewis (no Haloti Ngata, no Tony Siragusa, to name a couple) but he also was only able to get through nine seasons before the knee injuries finished him. Lewis didnt have to contend with the crack-back blocks of Butkus era but to be as good as Lewis iswas for all these years

Ray Lewis is simply the best linebacker the NFL has ever seen.

Jake Arrieta brings his A-game as Cubs even up World Series

Jake Arrieta brings his A-game as Cubs even up World Series

CLEVELAND — The Cubs are a team that can make it hard to focus with so many big-money players running around, so much young talent bubbling up, all of Joe Maddon’s antics and ultimately so many different ways to beat their opponent.

That’s how Jake Arrieta going for a no-hitter in the World Series sort of became an afterthought on Wednesday night at Progressive Field. After getting shut out in Game 1, the Cubs lineup kept extending innings, making these Cleveland Indians pitchers work. Kyle Schwarber’s at-bats are becoming must-see TV more than six months after shredding his left knee. Honestly, Arrieta hasn’t been giving off that same best-pitcher-on-the-planet aura.

But this is exactly what a Cy Young Award winner is supposed to do, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, shutting down the Indians in a 5-1 win and tying up this Fall Classic before Wrigley Field stages its first World Series game in 71 years on Friday night.

Arrieta had a 1-0 lead before he threw his first pitch in Game 2, working around back-to-back walks to Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli in the first inning and breathing a sigh of relief when Jose Ramirez drove a flyball out to the warning track in center field. Instead of those command issues signaling trouble, Arrieta got locked back in, retiring eight batters in a row from there, and 13 of the next 14, the Indians managing only two hits in the sixth inning.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

If the Indians are planning to start Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber two more times on short rest in this best-of-seven matchup — and unleash lefty reliever Andrew Miller at the most crucial moments — then the Cubs will need Arrieta to pitch like an ace.

Mission accomplished, even though Arrieta didn’t put a third no-hitter on his resume. Jason Kipnis — the Glenbrook North High School graduate who grew up a Cubs fan — ended Arrieta’s no-hit bid with one out in the sixth inning. Kipnis hit a ball into right-center field and hustled for a double, sliding headfirst into second base and eventually scoring on an Arrieta wild pitch.

Maddon gave Arrieta one more batter and pulled him after 98 pitches. If there were times last year where it felt like Arrieta had to be a one-man team, the Cubs now have an unrelenting lineup, the best defense in the game and a multidimensional bullpen, more than enough to win their first World Series since 1908.

Cubs roll over Indians to even up World Series

Cubs roll over Indians to even up World Series

CLEVELAND - The Cubs called their shot again.

The week after showing no sense of panic after being shut out by the Los Angeles Dodgers in back-to-back NLCS games, the Cubs once again exuded a calm confidence after running into the brick wall of the Cleveland Indians pitching to start the World Series.

From Joe Maddon to Anthony Rizzo to David Ross, the Cubs felt they had some nice at-bats against the Indians' best pitchers - Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen - but just couldn't score and predicted runs would be coming.

They were right, getting men on base early and often to win their first World Series game since 1945, a 5-1 victory over the Indians in front of 38,172 fans at Progressive Field Wednesday night.

The Cubs continued the trend of winning when scoring first as Rizzo drove home Kris Bryant with an RBI double in the top of the first inning.

From there, the Cubs added a solo tally in the third on Kyle Schwarber's RBI single and then broke out for three in the fifth on a Ben Zobrist triple, another Schwarber single and then an Addison Russell bases-loaded walk.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

The Cubs could've had more, leaving 13 on base in the first seven innings against starter Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen. The Cubs didn't go down in order until the top of the eighth. 

It was still all the offense Jake Arrieta needed as the reigning National League Cy Young winner took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Jason Kipnis doubled with one out.

Kipnis was the only Indians run of the game, scoring on a wild pitch two batters later.

Arrieta struck out six in 5.2 innings, surrendering only two hits, three walks and the solo tally.

The outing lowered Arrieta's 2016 postseason ERA to 3.78 and gave him his first victory this October.

Game 2 was moved up an hour because of impending rain and the move by Major League Baseball paid off as the Cubs and Indians didn't have to worry about any suspended game drama.

The two teams travel to Chicago for Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field over the weekend.

Kyle Hendricks and Josh Tomlin will go in Game 3 Friday evening with the World Series now tied.