There’s a reason why each position on the field, court, and ice exists. These positions all have differing tasks and a set of skills needed to perform them well. Over time though, some positions have evolved and it only takes one man to do it.
Cal Ripken Jr.
A man that was more than the unbreakable streak he holds, Cal Ripken Jr. was a talented player. Ripken Jr. hit for power and consistently was placed in the middle of the lineup for the Baltimore Orioles for two decades. What made this special was that this was done while playing shortstop.
Traditionally shortstop had been known as a position on the field for quick slick-fielders small in stature. Ripken Jr. was big and his career 431 home runs say something about how he turned his back on the stereotype of light-hitting men at the position. Shortstop evolved into a place on the baseball field for men who could hit with power. Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Troy Tulowitzki, and others emerged as power hitters still capable of manning the position. This may not have been possible with Ripken Jr. proving it could be done.
Quarterback Drew Brees has made a lot of players look good. In the case of tight end Jimmy Graham, he might be the one helping out Brees more. While he is clearly not the first tight end to breakout as more of a wide receiver, Graham is the best and the one who has changed the way the position works and will work going forward.
Tight ends may have more responsibilities than any other position in football. In its simplest form they have to block on the run, block on the pass, and they have to catch passes. Graham has become a player primarily relied upon to work as a receiver than a blocker. In 2013, Graham caught a league leading 16 touchdowns for 1215 yards. Four seasons in the NFL he is averaging over 10 touchdowns each year. Graham has an advantage thanks to his height and could be well on his way to surpassing Tony Gonzalez as the best ever at the position. The most touchdowns Gonzalez ever caught in a season was 11. Graham has already done that twice.
For Bobby Orr it may not be so much that he reinvented playing defense in the NHL, but rather he proved a man on the blue line was more than someone there to prevent the other team from scoring. Orr made playing defense an offensive position.
The iconic image of Orr diving through the air in the middle of scoring a goal represents him perfectly. Orr consistently scored over 30 goals in his short career and led the league in points twice. An underrated aspect of anyone’s game, Orr is the all-time leader in plus/minus with a positive 597. Many other defensemen followed Orr’s success, most notably another Boston Bruins player named Ray Bourque. Not long after Orr left Boston, Bourque joined the team. As the all-time leader in goals for a defenseman, the influence was clear in more than the jerseys they shared.
A player’s dominance in a sport is never clearer than when a rule change occurs. For Wilt Chamberlain, basketball made several considerations to try stopping him from completely dominating the sport. Among them include goaltending and disallowing players from leaping from the foul line on foul shots.
Chamberlain’s contributions to basketball are hard to fully comprehend as he played in an era before every game was televised. Even his 100-point game seems to be more word-of-mouth than it does a memory. Arguably the best center in the history of the NBA, it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to compete with him. Essentially Chamberlain made it so if a team had a dominating center then the whole team would succeed. In basketball size matters and Chamberlain made that very evident.