There is no denying that Kevin VanDam has assumed the mantle "greatest of all time" in the world of tournament bass fishing. The 24 wins, including four GEICO Bassmaster Classics; the ridiculous 111 top 10s in just 304 tournaments; and more than $6 million in earnings attest to that. But before Tom Brady, there was Joe Montana, and before Kevin Van Dam, there was Roland Martin. In fairness, Rick Clunn deserves to be in this discussion as well, but that’s a topic for another day.
As B.A.S.S. celebrates 50 years, a look back at Martin’s numbers are in order. Martin has fished the same exact number of B.A.S.S. events as KVD, at 304. His most recent was the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Open on the Kissimmee Chain last month. Now I haven’t asked KVD, but I’m going to go out on limb and say he won’t be competing at 78 years old.
A look at the data tells us that Martin finished in the top 10 50 times in his first 73 tournaments. At one point in the early 1970s, Martin finished no lower than ninth in 13 straight events. On the one hand, we know the field wasn’t as deep with great anglers back in the day. But we also know those fields often had a lot more than 110 competitors. Martin’s last win was in 1997 at Champlain at age 57, but he has remained competitive for many years, including a stretch in 2011, at age 71, where he had a fifth, eighth and 18th in the Opens against a field of 200.
Of course, the one glaring omission on the win record for the nine-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year champ is the Bassmaster Classic, but look, Arnold Palmer never won the PGA Championship either. Another way to grade greatest is not only by the wins, but the near misses. No golfer has won more majors than Jack Nicklaus’ 18, but Nicklaus was also second 19 times. Martin had 19 wins and 19 seconds. To put that in perspective, in 12.5 percent of every tournament Martin entered, he was first or second. That number is watered down by the fact that it’s been 40 events, dating back to 2004, since Martin had a top two finish. So to that point, he was running at about 14.5 percent of events in the top two.
Finally, there is the money list. When Martin took over the all-time lead from Larry Nixon, the mark was right around $75,000. He held the money title for longer than 13 years before being boat raced by the current crop of anglers, led by KVD. But a little perspective is in order here as well. When Martin won three consecutive events in 1980-81, it was worth $35,100. When KVD equaled that feat in 2005, he won a total of $400,000. In today’s dollars, I would estimate Martin’s winnings in the $4-5 million dollar range.
No question, Martin set the standard for greatness as a competitive angler. For many of us who caught the fishing bug in the 1970s or 80s, he taught us as much as anyone who dropped a trolling motor. The original greatest of all time…Roland Martin!
Roland Martin is featured on the latest episode of Bassmaster Radio at www.bassmaster.com/radio.