Who helps their team the most?


The Redskins’ Robert Griffin III has shown why a gifted quarterback can be essential to a football team’s success. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)
September 19, 2012

All the excitement surrounding the Washington Redskins’ rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, makes me wonder: 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 okay one at a certain position can help everyone on the team and make the team much better.

A quarterback in football is super important. Griffin gives the Redskins a chance because of his passing, running and coolness under pressure. I know it’s early in the season, but with Griffin, the Redskins are scoring more than 30 points a game. Last season, they scored only 18 points a game.

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.


The University of Alabama’s softball team soared this year thanks in large part to its main pitcher, Jackie Traina. (Sue Ogrocki/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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. A soccer coach once told me that you can’t have a good team without a good goalie.

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. In the other four games he is not very important at all.

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!

Sounds like Traina was even more valuable than RGIII, Peyton Manning or LeBron James.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids. His latest soccer book, “Go for the Goal!,” has just been published.

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