Popular Crowd: Arizona Sports staff ranks favorite Valley athletes
During an on-air discussion with Dan Bickley the other day, my partner asked me to rank the most popular players on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
I didn’t know the question was coming, and coming up with a pecking order wasn’t the easiest thing to do for a strange reason: the sheer likability of this team.
It’s a collection of hard-working guys who do things the right way and who have bought into a winning culture built by general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo.
But my pick for the player I think is most popular among D-backs fans was Archie Bradley. He’s been outstanding in his role out of the Arizona bullpen, he’s got a great personality, genuinely loves his job and you won’t find a more visibly civic athlete in this (or maybe any) city.
Bick then hit me with the question of whom the most popular current local pro athletes across all sports would be. That’s a little tougher to tackle, so I took some time, thought about it and asked the opinions of several members of our on-air staff to rank theirs.
I asked 14 people around the office to rank their top 10 favorite current Valley athletes. The results, while far from scientific, were fascinating.
Here are the 10 most popular athletes in the Valley right now, according to our panel…
OEL got off to a rough start in 2017-18, but finished strong. The two-time All-Star had 14 goals for the Coyotes this season, and ranks second among NHL defensemen (behind San Jose’s Brent Burns) in goals scored over the last five years with 85.
Jones has been a menace since putting a trade brought him from New England prior to the 2016 season. He led the league in sacks last year with 17 and has 28 over the last two years, which is also the most in the NFL, outranking players like Von Miller, Ryan Kerrigan and Khalil Mack.
The “Freight Train” has a great back story and has been an emotional leader for the D-backs since breaking into the big leagues with them in 2014.
Pollock was almost unanimously mentioned on our panel ballots and if he continues playing like he has over the season’s first five weeks, he might top this list in October. Pollock is the reigning National League Player of the Month and he leads the senior circuit with a 1.038 OPS.
I was more than mildly surprised that “America’s First Baseman” wasn’t higher on this list. He’s been one of baseball’s most consistent all-around players for a long time and has played in five consecutive All-Star Games. He’s a hard-worker, plays the right way, doesn’t appear concerned about being woefully underpaid and is great in the community. If he has a weakness, it’s self-promotion, which along with the fact that he’s had a tough start to 2018, is probably why he’s not higher than this.
P2 is regarded by his peers as one of the best players at his position in the NFL. He’s been a Pro Bowler every season he’s been in the league and is a three-time First Team All-Pro. He’s so good, most teams don’t throw to his side and you almost forget he’s out there on Sundays, which is likely the reason he ranks here. His excellence and consistency is somewhat boring due to the lack of impact stats.
Everybody loves David Johnson, except for the players trying to tackle him and fantasy football owners that don’t have him. Johnson, much like Goldschmidt, is very visible in the community and deeply involved in charity. One of the biggest reasons for optimism surrounding the Cardinals in 2018 is Johnson’s return to health after he missed 15 games with a wrist injury last year.
In addition to being one of the best relievers in baseball over the last year-plus, “The Beard” is like the unofficial mayor of Phoenix. Bradley provided two of the more memorable moments in 2017 for the D-backs with is “this is our house” proclamation after a big strikeout against the Dodgers in the regular season and his RBI triple against Colorado in the NL Wild Card Game.
Booker’s individual growth process has been impressive over his first three years in the league. He’s become the leader and face of a franchise by the age of 21. He’s drawn a collection of praise from a distinguished list of NBA folks and is one of only six players in history to have a 70-point game on his resume. The next step in that growth is getting him some help.
No surprise here. Fitzgerald is going into his 15th season in the Valley, has shown no signs of slowing down and continues to be a driving force and inspiration in the community. Even fans of the Cardinals’ NFC rivals love them some Fitz. He will end his career as the greatest athlete in Phoenix pro sports history. End of story.
Others receiving votes: Budda Baker 13, Phil Mickelson 12, Diana Taurasi 12, Josh Rosen 11, Zack Godley 9, Antti Raanta 9, Clayton Keller 6, Antoine Bethea 6, Josh Jackson 5, John Rahm 5, Suns Gorilla 4, Jared Dudley 3, Bobby Hurley 3, Jake Lamb 3, Didier Drogba 2, Brittney Griner 1, Markus Golden 1, T.J. Warren 1, Jakob Chychrun 1
Panel comprised of Dan Bickley, Dave Burns, Jordan Byrd, Paul Calvisi, Jarrett Carlen, Doug Franz, John Gambadoro, Andy Greenberg, Craig Grialou, Luke Lapinski, Erin Maloney, Vince Marotta, Craig Morgan, Ron Wolfley
Bickley: Fitzgerald, Taurasi, Booker, Goldschmidt, Peterson, Johnson, Bradley, Pollock, Peralta, Jones
Burns: Booker, Bradley, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Goldschmidt, Peterson, Peralta, Pollock, Rosen, Golden
Byrd: Bradley, Fitzgerald, Johnson, Booker, Peralta, Peterson, Jones, Pollock, Goldschmidt, Rosen
Calvisi: Fitzgerald, Bradley, Goldschmidt, Peterson, Booker, Johnson, Gorilla, Hurley, Ekman-Larsson, Griner, Dudley
Carlen: Bradley, Peterson, Booker, Fitzgerald, Johnson, Jackson, Pollock, Peralta, Taurasi, Dudley
Franz: Fitzgerald, Mickelson, Booker, Peterson, Bradley, Johnson, Goldschmidt, Pollock, Rosen, Lamb
Gambo: Baker, Godley, Bradley, Pollock, Fitzgerald, Peterson, Goldschmidt, Booker, Johnson, Keller
Greenberg: Booker, Goldschmidt, Bradley, Fitzgerald, Johnson, Pollock, Peralta, Peterson, Lamb, Warren
Grialou: Fitzgerald, Bradley, Goldschmidt, Booker, Rosen, Johnson, Peterson, Keller, Drogba, Taurasi
Lapinski: Johnson, Fitzgerald, Booker, Peralta, Ekman-Larsson, Goldschmidt, Peterson, Baker, Pollock, Chychrun
Maloney: Fitzgerald, Bradley, Jones, Booker, Peterson, Pollock, Johnson, Goldschmidt, Peralta, Keller
Marotta: Booker, Fitzgerald, Johnson, Bradley, Goldschmidt, Peterson, Pollock, Peralta, Jones, Dudley
Morgan: Fitzgerald, Raanta, Peterson, Ekman-Larsson, Bethea, Rahm, Pollock, Mickelson, Goldscshmidt, Booker
Wolfley: Fitzgerald, Goldschmidt, Booker, Johnson, Peterson, Bradley, Jones, Pollock, Alice Cooper, Keller