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Athletes of the year? Start with Josh Hamilton

Picking an athlete of the year is virtually impossible. How do you say the best player with an incredible season in one sport is better than the best player with an incredible season in another sport? That said, we'll still try to pick one. Here are our picks for the top athletes of 2010 and the one we deem worthy of the title Athlete of the Year.

Roy Halladay

If you had to pick one pitcher to start a must-win game, wouldn't you take the big Phillies right-hander? What didn't he do in 2010? In May he tossed the 20th perfect game in league history by baffling the Marlins. In September he became the first Phillies pitcher since Steve Carlton in 1982 to win 20 games on his way to the Cy Young Award. And his season wasn't over. In the first postseason start of his career, Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Reds. It was only the second no-hitter in postseason history (to go with Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series). And Halladay became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to throw two no-hitters in one season.

Manny Pacquiao

It's time to start thinking about where Pacquiao belongs on the list of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time. He doesn't just win his bouts. He destroys his opponents by knocking them out or savagely picking them apart and busting them up for 12 rounds. Pacquiao fought twice in 2010, winning both times in easy decisions. It would be nice if he and Floyd Mayweather Jr. could finally face one another. But until they do, Pacquiao will keep on rearranging the faces and breaking the wills of his opponents.

Maya Moore

How good is this Connecticut basketball player? Florida State coach Sue Semrau said Moore reminds her of Kobe Bryant. Coaching legend Bob Knight said Moore is the most complete player he has seen. It's appropriate she wears the same number (23) as Michael Jordan. She just might be the greatest female player ever. When UConn won its 89th consecutive game last week to set the Division I winning-streak record, the 6-foot senior forward dropped in 41 points. She is the best player on arguably the greatest women's team in history.

Drew Brees

If you're talking about quarterbacks in 2010, the natural instinct is to look at the 2010 season. New England's Tom Brady and Philadelphia's Michael Vick seem to be the leaders in the MVP race. And on the college level, Auburn's Cam Newton is head and shoulders (and feet) ahead of everyone. Any of them could easily fit on this list. But we're going to go back to the beginning of the year and recognize Brees for leading the Saints to their first Super Bowl victory. His efforts on the field, as well as how he has embraced and immersed himself in the New Orleans community, were the reasons he was selected Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.

Sidney Crosby

If we had to think of one hockey moment in 2010, it wouldn't be the Blackhawks winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961 (though that was memorable). The most dramatic moment of the year came when Crosby scored in overtime to lead Canada (playing in Vancouver) to the Olympic gold medal over the United States in a game for the ages. This season he is back with his Penguins and, if possible, has gotten even better despite already being, in some minds, the best and most complete player and leader in the NHL. As the year draws to an end, Crosby has a healthy lead in the scoring race thanks to a career-long points streak of 23 games.

Lindsey Vonn

Perhaps the greatest female skier in American history went to the Vancouver Olympics expecting to compete in five events and have a decent shot at winning several gold medals. As it turned out, Vonn collected only one gold and a bronze, but it was far from a disappointing Olympics. Vonn showed true grit, competing even after badly bruising a shin in a training run. Given a reprieve by warm weather that pushed back some of her events, Vonn used the extra time to heal but was still in excruciating pain that would have sidelined many competitors. Nevertheless, Vonn won the premier skiing event of the Games, the downhill.

Josh Hamilton

When you think about where the former Rays top draft pick and minor-leaguer once was, it's remarkable he is even alive. A serious drug addiction seemingly ended a baseball career that was set for stardom. When Hamilton began his comeback in 2007, expectations were low. He had played sparingly over the previous six years and not at all from 2004-06. No one thought he would be able to fulfill his once-high potential. But these days you could make the argument he is the best player in baseball. In 2010, the Rangers slugger won the batting title with a .359 average, hit for power (32 homers and 100 RBIs despite missing 29 games) and played excellent defense. All this led to him being named American League MVP. His comeback story is heartwarming and stunning.

Rafael Nadal

The Spanish lefty and his chief rival, Swiss mister Roger Federer, are so consistently good that we have taken them for granted. It seems like every time you turn around, they are playing one another for a Grand Slam title. But in 2010, Nadal pulled away as the best tennis player in the world. The only thing that ever holds him back is injury. In 2010 Nadal won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and he starts 2011 as the favorite to win the Australian Open. If he does win it, he will hold all four major championships at the same time with no reason to think he can't extend his streak to seven straight majors by the end of 2011.

And our choice for Athlete of the Year is …

Josh Hamilton

Anyone on this list would have been a worthy selection. But considering where Hamilton is now compared with where he was a few years ago, his is one of the great sports stories of our generation. And when it comes to performance on the playing field, we'll put him up against anyone.

Honorable mentions

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to another NBA championship. Snowboarding legend Shaun White collected his second Olympic gold in the halfpipe. Landon Donovan was the United States' best player in soccer's World Cup. South Korea's Kim Yu-Na won gold in ladies figure skating at the Vancouver Olympics. Serena Williams collected titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Top five local athletes of 2010

1. Steven Stamkos

The Lightning center can now be considered one of the top five hockey players in the world.

2. Josh Freeman

The second-year Buc has led a young, injury-depleted team beyond expectations and seems poised to become an elite QB.

3. Carl Crawford

The leftfielder was, day in and day out, the Rays' most consistent player during their American League East title run.

4. James Wilder Jr.

The Plant High running back/linebacker is our pick for one of the best high school football players in Tampa Bay.

5. Marty St. Louis

The Lightning wing doesn't seem to know he's 35 years old.

Athletes of the year? Start with Josh Hamilton 12/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 25, 2010 7:57pm]
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