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October 7, 2010

This column appears in the October issue of Lacrosse Magazine, which mailed to US Lacrosse members this week. Don't get the mag? Join USL and its 300,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

Tanton: My View of the Cage

by Bill Tanton | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Could Princeton’s Scott Bacigalupo have been the best lacrosse goalie ever?

“Batch’s” National Hall of Fame induction this month has prompted some discussion about that.

Of the 275 men in the Hall of Fame, 22 are goalies. Naturally they were all very good. Some were great. But can anyone honestly say who was the best ever — in anything? The best quarterback? Best actor? Best president? Best goalie?

I once was taught a lesson after writing in The (Baltimore) Evening Sun that the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson was the best third baseman ever. An Oriole coach then, an older, wiser head named Jim Frey, asked, “How many times did you see Pie Traynor play?”

Point made. Until Brooks Robinson came along, baseball historians were agreed that Traynor was the best third baseman ever. But the Pittsburgh Pirate Hall of Famer played his last game when I was 6 years old. When I declared Brooks to be the best ever, I didn’t know Pie Traynor from pie a la mode.

Today people often say UMass’s Sal LoCascio or Maryland’s Brian “Doc” Dougherty was the best goalie ever. They may be the best they’ve ever seen, but some of those people weren’t born when Dick Seth, Joe Sollers, Jimmy Kappler, Butch Hilliard, Oren Lyons, Bob Rule, Cy Horine and Ty Campbell were playing goalie.

In 2000 in this magazine I named my Team of the Century. Ten guys. Scott Bacigalupo was in the goal. Princeton, under coach Bill Tierney, was then the dominant team in the country. Scott was Tierney’s captain on two national championship teams. He was All-America three times. Twice he was MVP in the NCAA final four.

After many years around this game, I’ve never been more impressed by a goalie than by Bacigalupo on Tierney’s first NCAA championship team in 1992. But I stop short of calling him the best ever.

Johns Hopkins has won more national championships (including pre-NCAA) than anybody and has more players in the Hall of Fame. Ask old guard types around Homewood who was the best goalie ever and they’ll say Larry Quinn (‘85) or Mike Federico (‘80). Coach Don Zimmerman, now at UMBC, produced three NCAA champions at Hopkins. He coached Quinn and Federico.

“Which was better?” I asked Zim.

“Toss a coin,” he said.

Towson’s Tony Seaman has been in this game a long time and has coached at four colleges plus the gold-medal winning U.S. national team in Manchester in 1994. Best goalie ever? Tony says: “The best goalie I’ve seen and coached was Larry Quinn at Hopkins. Dougherty is up there in the top five.”

Many say Dougherty’s play against Hopkins (and Seaman) in the NCAA semifinals in ‘95 was the most sensational they’ve ever seen. Doc, with 23 saves, was incredible.

I’ve asked Hall of Famers Jim “Ace” Adams and Bob Sandell, who played and coached and, in their 80s, remain involved. They say the best ever was Edgar Boyd, who played at Washington and Lee in the early 1940’s when W&L was just starting lacrosse. Boyd later played for the great Mount Washington (Md.) Club team.

Someone asked me if Bacigalupo changed the position. I wouldn’t say he did. But one who did change it was Navy’s Denny Wedekind.

The cat-like Wedekind loved to come out of the goal on clears on Navy’s championship teams in the 1960s. One day last autumn, a Washington College player from that time approached Wedekind at lunch and, in my presence, confessed to Denny, “My name is Mike Kelly. I chased you for four years, but I could never catch you.”

Navy had great football players playing lacrosse when it won eight straight national championships. An All-America midfielder then, Brian Lantier told me recently, “Our defensemen were great athletes, but most had never played lacrosse even in high school. Wedekind had to direct them. He made them All-Americans and Schmeisser Award winners.”

In 2003 goalie Tillman Johnson led Virginia to the NCAA championship. In the title game, a 9-7 win over Hopkins, Johnson was brilliant — perhaps even more brilliant two days before that in the semifinal against Maryland.

A spectator at the ‘03 title game was Jay Connor, a Lacrosse Hall of Famer from Virginia’s 1972 NCAA champions. Connor says Tillman was the best goalie ever, that he was “the only one who could follow an attackman’s stick on a triple fake.”

Nah, you really can’t say anyone was absolutely the best ever. But you have to admit, Bacigalupo’s resume is pretty darn impressive. Without a doubt, he is a real-deal Hall of Famer.

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