Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Tom Jones' Two Cents: Tampa Bay's most unappreciated sports figures

This week could be the last for B.J. Upton in a Rays uniform. If it is the final week for the centerfielder, he will leave as one of the most unappreciated sports personalities in Tampa Bay's recent sports history. • Here's a look at the bay area's five most unappreciated over recent times.

B.J. Upton

Yes, he strikes out a lot. No, he doesn't always show the type of emotion fans want to see. Yes, he occasionally pulls a rock on the bases. No, he doesn't hit for a high average.

But it seems like half of Tampa Bay criticizes all the things Upton can't do instead of applauding all the things he can do.

First off, let's get over the whole hitting-for-average thing. He came into the weekend batting just under .250. Well, you know what? He's a lifetime .255 hitter. But dig deeper and you'll see that he hasn't hit higher than .250 over an entire season since 2008. He's a .240-something type of hitter. That's who he is.

But he has power and speed, and he is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game.

And let's be real clear about this part: He's extremely well-liked and respected by his teammates, who consider him a leader who plays hard all the time.

The old saying will come true: You don't know what you miss until it's gone. Baseball fans in Tampa Bay will be reminded of that next season.

Brad Johnson

There's no question that the great Bucs defense gets and deserves the lion's share of the credit for winning the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. When anyone begins a roll call of the players most responsible for that improbable Bucs championship, the names begin with Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Ronde Barber and Simeon Rice.

When folks get around to talking about the offense, the talk usually goes to Mike Alstott, Keyshawn Johnson and even Michael Pittman. Doesn't it feel as if Brad Johnson is an afterthought?

That season, Johnson started 13 games, winning 10. He completed 62 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He threw five more touchdown passes in three postseason games, including two in the Super Bowl against the Raiders. Interesting how little credit goes to a QB who won a Super Bowl.

Cory Stillman

We all remember when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Marty St. Louis was the star of that team. Not only did he lead the team in points with 94, he led the entire NHL and was named the league's MVP.

But do you know who the second-leading scorer on that Cup-winning team was? Your first guess probably would have been Vinny Lecavalier or Brad Richards. Your next guesses might have been Fredrik Modin or maybe even Dave Andreychuk.

The answer: Stillman, who averaged nearly a point a game with 25 goals and 55 assists in 81 games.

His contribution is often forgotten for two reasons. One, it was his only season with the Lightning. The other is that he did little in the playoffs, with two goals and five assists in 21 games; however, he was believed to be injured during the postseason. It needs to be noted that he picked up an assist on what proved to be the Cup-winning goal.

Diamond David Santos

When you think of boxers from the Tampa Bay area, you think of Winky Wright, Jeff Lacy and Antonio Tarver. And, yes, they were all big-time boxers. There was a short spell when Wright was on the list of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world.

Santos never did reach the level or popularity of those boxers, but he was a local star and actually held a couple of world titles in the featherweight division back in the 1990s. Santos often fought on cards at the St. Petersburg Coliseum and won his first 27 fights as a pro. He finished his career in 2005 with an impressive record of 46-6 with 29 knockouts.

Art Williams

When you look back at the history of the Lightning owners, Williams often is seen as a bit of a nut job of that group. He has never been given nearly the credit he deserves for the important contribution he made to the organization.

We applaud the original Japanese owners. They brought hockey to Tampa Bay along with ring leader Phil Esposito. We thank Bill Davidson, who brought a Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay. Today, we appreciate Jeff Vinik, who is pouring money into the building and has put a strong staff in place.

The "cowboy'' owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules are seen as a bit of a joke.

And there's Williams. He owned the team only for a season and seemed much more suited to being a football owner than a hockey owner with his southern twang and almost no hockey knowledge. But he bought a debt-ridden franchise at a time when Davidson was only kicking the tires. Williams took over in 1998, cleared the debt, then made it a viable franchise that Davidson would buy a year later.

tom jones' two cents

     
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