Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Best Athletes By Uniform Number

According to my details page, this is my 2,000th post. A good time for a landmark piece.

Here, I sum up my "Best Athletes By Uniform Number" series. If you disagree, there is a comments section.

Golf is not a sport, so don't expect to see Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, or any other Masters leader get the Number 1.

Auto racing is not a sport, so, if you're looking to see 3 for Dale Earnhardt Sr. or 43 for Richard Petty, just get the hell out of here right now.

0 Al Oliver

00 Jim Otto

1 Terry Sawchuk

2 Secretariat. Wore it on his silks at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Setting records in all 3 Triple Crown races. Winning the last by 31 lengths. I think even Derek Jeter would have to concede this was a greater performance than he ever gave -- if not quite in New York City. (Belmont Park is just over the City Line in Elmont, Long Island.)

3 Babe Ruth

4 Bobby Orr. Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players ever in his sport, but Orr was one of the greatest and one of the most important players ever in his.

5 Joe DiMaggio. Ahead of Franz Beckenbauer.

6 Bill Russell. Ahead of Stan Musial, Julius Erving, Toe Blake and Bobby Moore -- so this was closer than it might seem at first.

7 Mickey Mantle. Ahead of anybody who ever wore it for Manchester United. Or Real Madrid.

8 Yogi Berra

9 Gordie Howe. Ahead of Ted Williams and any soccer striker.


11 Norm Van Brocklin. Don't tell me Mark Messier led the New York Rangers to a title: Van Brocklin led the Philadelphia Eagles to one. And it's now been more than 54 years since that happened.

12 Terry Bradshaw. 4 rings honestly beats 4 rings from cheating -- and any 1 ring, no matter how significant. So, sorry, Joe Namath; not sorry, Tom Brady.

13 Wilt Chamberlain

14 Don Hutson

15 Steve Van Buren

16 Joe Montana

17 Dizzy Dean

18 Peyton Manning

19 Johnny Unitas

20 Barry Sanders

21 Roberto Clemente. A tough call ahead of Zinedine Zidane.

22 Emmitt Smith

23 Michael Jordan

24 Willie Mays

25 Gianfranco Zola

26 Peter Stastny

27 Frank Mahovlich

28 Walter Johnson

29 Ken Dryden

30 Martin Brodeur

31 Billy Smith

32 Jim Brown. A tough call ahead of Sandy Koufax and Magic Johnson.

33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A tough call ahead of Sammy Baugh.

34 Walter Payton

35 Mike Richter

36 Jerome Bettis

37 Doak Walker

38 Curt Schilling

39 Roy Campanella

40 Gale Sayers

41 Roger Bannister. Wore it when he broke the 4-minute mile.

42 Jackie Robinson. This time, the importance carries him ahead of Mariano Rivera, Sid Luckman and James Worthy.

43 Tris Speaker

44 Hank Aaron. A tough call ahead of Jerry West.

45 Bob Gibson

46 Andy Pettitte

47 Tom Glavine

48 Torii Hunter

49 Hoyt Wilhelm

50 David Robinson. I considered Rebecca Lobo. I do have one female athlete on this list, but she's not from a sport you usually think of as having uniform numbers.

51 Dick Butkus. Both better and meaner in his sport than Randy Johnson was in his.

52 Ray Lewis

53 Don Drysdale

54 Goose Gossage

55 Hideki Matsui. Ahead of Junior Seau -- the only Asian native on this list beating out another ethnic Asian.

56 Lawrence Taylor

57 Dwight Stephenson

58 Jack Lambert

59 Jack Ham

60 Chuck Bednarik

61 Bill George

62 Jim Langer

63 Willie Lanier

64 Jerry Kramer

65 Elvin Bethea

66 Ray Nitschke. Ahead of Mario Lemieux. 5 titles to 2. And did Lemieux win a championship when it was 55 degrees below zero? No -- even though he actually played on ice.

67 Bob Kuechenberg

68 Jaromir Jagr

69 Bixente Lizarazu

70 Sam Huff

71 Alex Karras

72 Carlton Fisk

73 Nadia Comaneci. Wore it when she scored 7 perfect 10s at the 1976 Olympics.

74 Merlin Olsen

75 Mean Joe Greene

76 Marion Motley

77 Red Grange

78 Anthony Munoz

79 Roosevelt Brown

80 Jerry Rice. Ahead of Ronaldinho, who wore it at AC Milan because his usual 10 wasn't available.

81 Night Train Lane

82 Raymond Berry

83 Ted Hendricks

84 Randy Moss

85 Jack Youngblood

86 Buck Buchanan

87 Willie Davis. Way ahead of Sidney Crosby.

88 Lynn Swann

89 Mike Ditka

90 Julius Peppers

91 Sergei Fedorov

92 Reggie White

93 Doug Gilmour

94 Charles Haley

95 Richard Dent

96 Cortez Kennedy

97 Bryant Young

98 Jason Collins

99 Wayne Gretzky. Ahead of the Brazilian Ronaldo, who wore it at AC Milan because his usual 9 wasn't available.


Of these 101 performers, 40 are black, 2 Hispanic, 1 Asian. 99 are male, 1 female. 99 are human, 1 animal.

83 are Americans, 8 Canadians, 1 Puerto Rican, 1 Brazilian, 1 Englishman, 1 Frenchman, 1 Italian, 1 Czech, 1 Slovak, 1 Romanian, 1 Russian, 1 Japanese.

71 are currently living, 30 dead.

By the nature of uniform numbers, it makes sense that football leads the list: 53 football, 23 baseball, 13 hockey, 6 basketball, 3 soccer, 1 track & field, 1 gymnastics, 1 horse racing.

Cities? Remember, it's the numbers that these cities represent, not the player's entire career, although each could represent more than one city (thus, these add up to more than 101): 21 for New York, 11 Chicago, 9 Los Angeles, 8 San Francisco Bay Area, 8 Pittsburgh, 7 Detroit, 7 Milwaukee/Green Bay, 6 Philadelphia, 5 Boston, 5 Baltimore, 4 Dallas; 3 each for Washington, Cleveland, Miami and Atlanta; 2 each for Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Houston and Toronto; and 1 each for Cincinnati, Indianapolis, San Diego, Seattle, Charlotte, San Antonio, Denver, Phoenix, Quebec City, Montreal and Edmonton.

2 had their best years in the 1910s, 3 in the 1920s, 1 in the 1930s, 4 in the 1940s, 13 in the 1950s, 15 in the 1960s, 25 in the 1970s, 12 in the 1980s, 16 in the 1990s, 11 in the 2000s, and none so far in the 2010s.

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