There is no easy measurable, statistic or analytic gauge that allows us to reach across the sports and weigh the relative importance of touchdowns thrown, home runs hit, hockey shots rattling a net or magic made on a hardwood floor.
So we ask the question even knowing it defies an agreeable answer: What has been the greatest individual season in South Florida sports history by an athlete on one of our Big Four teams?
How do you comb through 130 combined seasons of Dolphins, Heat, Marlins and Panthers and compare apples, oranges, loquats and pears?
Well, we give it a shot today, inspired by Giancarlo Stanton’s phenomenal power surge that gives him a chance to reach 60 home runs – or even to break the all-time record for most in a season by a player untainted by the shame of performance-enhancing drugs.
Stanton’s season is a masterwork in progress. Leonardo da Vinci is almost done his Mona Lisa but still is pondering what to do with that smile. Whether Stanton’s home run gallop stalls or moves in on 60, throwing electricity into the final weeks of the season, will determine his final place on this list.
For now, though, I marshal what perspective a career’s experience provides to give it some order.
I was a schoolboy when hired parttime by the Miami Herald in the fall of 1972, my first-ever professional byline (on high-school football) appearing just as the Dolphins were setting out on what would be their Perfect Season. I suppose covering all manner of seasons, teams, athletes and games across the decades has made me sort of a de facto historian of local sports, and it is from that vantage I offer this all-time Top 10 greatest seasons by a Greater Miami Big Four sports star, as of right now.
We spread the wealth to allow an athlete to appear in this top 10 only once:
1. Dan Marino, 1984 Dolphins – Shattered NFL records with 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdowns, won the league MVP award and led Fins to Super Bowl. That year made Marino the father of the sport’s new era of air-first offense, and it remains King Season locally 33 years (if you can believe that) later.
2. LeBron James, 2012-13 Heat – Speaking of Kings, LeBron averaged 26.8 points, a career-high 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists on career-best 56.5 percent shooting in winning his second straight NBA MVP award. He also was Finals MVP in leading Heat to a second straight league championship.
3. Giancarlo Stanton, 2017 Marlins – His 49 home runs entering play Saturday night led the majors by 10 and projected mathematically to 63. Five times including twice this year Stanton has hit double-figures in homers for a month and if he can do that in September he’ll have a shot at Roger Maris’ 61 – still the legit record except for those with a steroids cloud, and the number Stanton has stated he’s after. Stanton has lifted himself into MVP conversation and his team onto the periphery of the wild-card chase. His ranking this high presupposes a continued run at 60, and he’d likely vault from No. 3 on this list to the very top if he can reach that hallowed numeral.
4. Pavel Bure, 1999-00 Panthers – Scored an NHL-leading 58 goals in 74 games, a 0.784 goals-per-game average that has been been bettered only two times since. That included a league-high 14 game-winning goals in leading the Cats to club records for most regular-season wins and standings points, marks that would stand for another 16 years.
5. Gary Sheffield, 1996 Marlins – Clubbed 42 homers (the Fish record until Stanton this year) with 120 RBIs and a .314 average, with the only higher season OPS in franchise history (1.090) than what Stanton currently has.
6. Dwyane Wade, 2008-09 Heat – Led the NBA in scoring with a 30.2 average, had a career-best 30.4 PER (player efficiency rating), was first-team All-NBA and also made the All-Defensive second team.
7. Jose Fernandez, 2016 Marlins – In what tragically would be his final season, Jose finished 16-8 for a losing team with 253 strikeouts and an average of 12.488 per nine innings – the sixth-highest ratio in MLB history.
8. Ricky Williams, 2002 Dolphins – His NFL-leading 1,853 rushing yards shattered the previous club record by almost 600. Also ran for 16 TDs.
9. Kevin Brown, 1996 Marlins – Had a 1.89 ERA that has been bettered only six times in the 21 years since, with a franchise-best to this day 8.0 overall WAR (wins above replacement) rating.
10. (tie) Jason Taylor, 2002 Dolphins – Tied franchise record with 18 ½ sacks and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
10. (tie) Hanley Ramirez, 2009 Marlins – Won NL batting title with .342 average and his 7.3 offensive WAR rating set all-time Fish record.
No, we didn’t forget Dontrelle Willis’ 22 wins in 2005, Mark Clayton’s record-setting 1984, Miguel Cabrera’s biggest years down here, the best of the ’72 Dolphins or anybody else you’re sure we missed. It’s just that plenty of greatness is going to miss the cut when you’re funneling 130 seasons from four sports into one top 10.
Now, the fun part. Now we see if Stanton can finish what he started, get to what he’s after and end the long reign of Marino’s 1984.