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Picking the Bay Area’s biggest sports star

Buster Posey

San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey catches during a spring training baseball workout Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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From page B1 | February 19, 2013 | Leave Comment

stanhope column sig2Star power in sports is partly based on performance – but it’s not just that. There are athletes who put up really good statistics, but aren’t stars (Jeff Bagwell) and there are athletes whose numbers aren’t impressive, but are considered stars (Joe Namath).

Star quality includes numbers, but goes beyond that. And as we enjoy a remarkable run of success in Bay Area pro sports, we have more than our share of stars – way more than enough for me to find qualified applicants for my annual list of the top 10 regional stars.

To see how deep the region is, consider who isn’t among the top 10: There are no Raiders, a shocking fall for a team known for its stars.

Both Frank Gore (too many good teammates) and Josh Reddick (not enough history) fall short. Joe Thornton doesn’t make it, despite being a six-time NHL All-Star.

Meanwhile, an executive, a broadcasting team and a coach are on the list, which has a different No. 1 star than the two previous years.

Here are the rankings, with last year’s rankings in parenthesis. Feel free to argue.

10. (10) Patrick Willis, 49ers. The most consistent player on the NFC champ’s defense has been on the list all three years – and a Super Bowl performance keeps him there. Aldon and Justin Smith got more attention than him, but Willis is still the biggest star on the San Francisco defense.

9. (nr) Matt Cain, Giants. He’s the best pitcher on the staff, but not its biggest star – mostly because of his calm and dignified presence that doesn’t attract attention. Last year’s perfect game and postseason stardom makes him one of baseball’s most coveted pitchers.

8. (nr) Patrick Marleau, Sharks. He and Thornton are the biggest stars for the Sharks – the region’s most consistent winners, but who have a limited fan base. Marleau is the bigger local star because he’s spent his career (15 years!) with San Jose while Thornton came in a 2005 trade.

7. (nr) Billy Beane, A’s. The combination of being played by Brad Pitt in “Moneyball” and putting together a revived A’s team that won the American League West last year without a big star puts the A’s general manager – baseball’s most famous GM – on the list.

6. (nr) Stephen Curry, Warriors. With Monta Ellis (ranked sixth each of the two previous years) traded away, Golden State is Curry’s team. He’s one of the NBA’s best shooters and most enjoyable players to watch and his career is on the upswing. Assuming, of course, his ankles hold up.

5. (9) Mike Krukow/Duane Kuiper, Giants. Another championship makes the status of the Giants’ TV voices bigger than ever. Critics correctly complain that they (particularly Krukow) are “homers” who root for the team, but that’s why so many fans like them. Losing these guys would bring more criticism than losing almost any player from the franchise.

4. (1) Tim Lincecum, Giants. He was the region’s biggest star in both 2011 and 2012, but took a step back last year. His greatest days are probably behind him, but his postseason performance and rock-star aura (consider the coverage of his haircut! His haircut!) keeps him near the top of the list. A big season could move him back up.

3. (2) Jim  Harbaugh, 49ers. Rightly gets credit for turning around the franchise and bringing it back to elite status. The TV cameras love him and his cranky act with the media goes over well as long as the team is winning. Most popular coach in the region since Bill Walsh.

2. (nr) Colin Kaepernick, 49ers.  From obscure backup quarterback to national star in a few months, the Super Bowl quarterback is riding a massive wave. Nearly every NFL expert expects him to change the position by combining the ability to run with accurate passing and smarts. He’s what Michael Vick would be if Vick could complete 70 percent of his passes.

1. (3) Buster Posey, Giants.  In two full seasons, he has two World Series titles, a batting championship, Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. When he was hurt, the Giants missed the postseason. A cleanup hitter who plays the most important defensive position on baseball’s best team, the Giants know they have to do whatever is necessary to keep him. He’s the Joe Montana of the franchise.

Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or bstanhope@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.

Previous lists

2011

1. Tim Lincecum, Giants.

2. Al Davis, Raiders.

3. Buster Posey, Giants.

4. Duane Kuiper-Mike Krukow, Giants.

5. Patrick Willis, 49ers.

6. Monta Ellis, Warriors.

7. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders.

8. Joe Thornton, Sharks

9. Frank Gore, 49ers.

10. Stephen Curry, Warriors

2012

1. Tim Lincecum, Giants.

2. Jim Harbaugh, 49ers.

3. Buster Posey, Giants.

4. Alex Smith, 49ers.

5. Carson Palmer, Raiders.

6. Monta Ellis, Warriors.

7. Yoenis Cespedes, A’s.

8. Joe Thornton, Sharks.

9. Duane Kuiper-Mike Krukow, Giants.

10. Patrick Willis, 49ers.

Brad Stanhope

Brad Stanhope

Brad Stanhope is the Daily Republic's news editor. He began his career at the DR in the last millennium. He spent 17 years as a sports editor and three years as the associate editor before spending three years away from the newspaper (though continuing as a columnist). He returned in December 2010 as news editor. Brad lives in Suisun City with his wife, Mrs. Brad, and two sons. He enjoys cheese.
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