If you look in the dictionary at the word “great” you will see:
Bigger than others
Much: extreme or more than usual
Lasting long time
Important: very significant
Exceptional talent or achievements
Being a good example
Emphasizing exceptional qualities one possesses
Every time I listen to a broadcast, sportscast, or reading another analysis I am always looking and listening for the word “great”. As someone that has hosted a sports radio show, written articles, and seen sporting events for over 50 years, we and I include myself have overused the word “Great” to the point that almost every athlete and play is great.
Now I try extremely hard not to use the word unless I really mean it. I may categorize it by saying, that was a great play” but not make the athlete great. After all in pro sports they all got there because of exceptional talent and possessing qualities that others did not have. Still once at that level great has to take on much more.
One way I would choose to define great is that it must possess almost all the attributes assigned to greatness.
Stand out large over everything else in the game or the event?
Is it bigger than others I have already seen? The caveat might be to say something like. “He played a great game tonight.” The greatness stands for one night only and doesn’t make the athlete great.
Go outside the envelope? Was it a new move? Maybe that athlete has a signature move that no one else can do. That has to be a great move but when others can do it, well how great is it?
Will the performance stand the test of time. This goes to points one and two in that I might withdraw the word “great” in defining a player one night when I have seen them perform at a much higher level and others as well.
Did the play or performance make a significant change to the outcome?
Also has this achievement been accomplished by several others. Can everyone be great. The HOF is supposed to help us define greatness with a combination of several criteria. Perhaps if broadcasters applied the same principle to defining a play, a game, a performance, a season we would know what is truly great.
Being a good example. Is that on the field or off the field? Should we caveat by saying, “Pete Rose was a great baseball hitter.” He certainly wasn’t the best baseball player at any position and his gambling exploits would hardly make him a shining example off the field. I use Pete as an example because I believe he did great things in baseball and is deserving of the HOF but if we understood the criteria perhaps we wouldn’t need to be still arguing this point. There were many in the HOF that were not of great morale character.
Again doe the athlete have exceptional qualities that define greatness? I believe this is something that reveals itself over time. A high school athlete my have exceptional talent against his or her peers but when they move to the next level the word great needs to be removed until such time the performances measure head and shoulders again above the peers on the field, court or whatever.