In a team sport, what player makes the biggest difference?
I know that everyone on a team is important. But sometimes, a terrific player instead of just an OK one at a certain position can help everyone on the team and make the team much better.
A quarterback in football is super important. Remember when all-pro quarterback Peyton Manning was injured? The Indianapolis Colts went from being a playoff team with a record of 10 wins and six losses to the worst team in the National Football League.
In basketball, a forward such as LeBron James, who can score, rebound and pass, can turn a loser into a winner. Or a winner into a loser. When James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 to play for the Miami Heat, the Cavs' record went from 61-21 to 19-63.
In soccer, hockey and lacrosse, the goalie is important. A good goalie is probably most important in soccer because fewer goals tend to be scored in soccer than in the other two sports. As a result, one great save can make all the difference in a close match.
The starting pitcher is probably the most important player on a baseball team on the day he pitches. In 1972, Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton had a record of 27-10 pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils, however, had the worst record in the National League that season: 59 wins and 97 losses. In the big leagues, a starting pitcher pitches once every five games.
So my pick for the most important player in a team sport is a softball pitcher. Unlike a baseball pitcher, a softball pitcher starts most of her team's games. If she's good, she can turn her team into a winner.
Look at the University of Alabama, which won this year's NCAA championship. Their top pitcher, sophomore Jackie Traina, pitched in 48 of the team's 68 games. She had an amazing record of 42-3 and allowed the other team to score fewer than two runs a game, on average. She also batted .319 and blasted 10 home runs!