Athlete Number 21 - Roberto Clemente

Number 21 - Roberto Clemente
The pick for the best athlete to wear number 21 may be the most difficult choice of them all. It was neck and neck on this decision. Warren Spahn versus Roberto Clemente. Pitcher versus Hitter. In the end, Roberto's offensive prowess, combined with his defensive strength, proved to be the tie breaker.

Here are some of "Bob" Clemente's acheivements:

  • Hit better than .300 for the season, thirteen times
  • 1966 NL MVP
  • 12-time All-Star
  • Two-time World Series Champ (1960 and 1971)
  • 1971 World Series MVP
  • Four-time NL batting leader
  • Twelve Gold Gloves

Here is an interesting story about Roberto Clemente, relayed by my brother, who is a new resident of Pittsburgh. My brother was sitting in a bar in Pittsburgh, when his new neighbor walked in. They started chatting about sports and the subject of Roberto Clemente came up. His neighbor told him that he went to a Pirates game as a child and while the Pirates were warming up, he went down to field level to get Clemente's autograph. He sought out Clemente, and handed him his baseball glove to be signed. Clemente took the glove and walked away. Strange, huh? Well, when Clemente came back, the glove was signed by the entire Pirates team. That's the kind of guy Roberto Clemente was.

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Number 20 - Barry Sanders

There are a few Hall of Famers which could be considered as the greatest athlete to wear the number 20, including: Frank Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Don Sutton, Lou Brock and Gino Cappelletti. I'm nominating the running back who some say is the best to ever carry the ball, Barry Sanders. Barry Sanders could move like no other running back ever moved. He would juke, dance and hurdle his way around and over defenders, when you thought for sure he would be tackled. Although he never played for a Super Bowl contender (and for most of his career with the Lions they weren't the most competitive team,) he was a perenial All-Pro and NFL standout. If you consider the "best" running back to be an all-around blocking, receiving, carrying the ball back, then Barry might not be the best. If you consider the "best" to be the most spectacular, fun to watch, productive when he had the ball back, Barry was the best ever in that category. Here are some of Barry's notable statistics:

  • Led the NFL in rushing yardage four times (1990, 1994, 1996 and 1997)
  • Rushed for over 1,500 yards in a season five times in his career
  • 1989 Rookie of the Year
  • 1997 Co-NFL MVP
  • Rushed for 2,053 yards in 1997
  • Ten time All-Pro
  • Fourth all-time in career yards from scrimmage with 18,189
Did you know......Barry Sanders was five feet, eight inches tall?

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Number 19 - Johnny Unitas

There was an amount of competetion here to determine the best athlete to wear number 19. But certaintly not enough strong competetion to overcome Johnny Unitas, who some consider the best quarterback to ever take to the gridiron. When Johnny U retired, he held most of the NFL passing records. An amount of those records have been overtaken, however one remains. Johnny threw a touchdown pass in 47 straight games. A task comparable to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hit streak. Some say this record, somewhat like the say of Joe's record, will not be broken. That is to be determined by the future star QBs of the NFL. However, one thing is certain: Johnny Unitas was one of the best quarterbacks, and players, the NFL has ever seen.

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Number 18 - Peyton Manning

The best athlete to ever wear the jersey number 18 is now Peyton Manning.  Click here to find out why.

(Number 18 was listed formerly as Dave Cowens - see below for the reasons why)

Unless you followed the NBA a few decades ago, or are a big NBA and sports-in-general fan, you may not have heard of the best athlete to wear number 18. His name is Dave Cowens and he played for the Boston Celtics. Here are his creds:
  • 1974 and 1976 NBA Champion
  • 1973 NBA MVP
  • 1971 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year
  • Seven-time All-Star
  • Named one of the 50 best players in NBA history (1996)
  • 13,516 career points
  • 10,444 career rebounds
  • 17.6 career ppg
Did you know.......Dave Cowens is Florida State's all-time leading rebounder?

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Number 17 - Dizzy Dean

As Dizzy said, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up." And his stats and acheivements indeed back up his nomination as the best athlete to wear number 17. Dizzy pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs between 1930 and 1941. He also made a comeback with the St. Louis Browns in 1947. Part of the 1934 "Gashouse Gang," Dizzy was the last player to win 30 games until 1974 (he went 30-7 in 1934.) Dizzy was the NL MVP in 1934, and led the NL for four consecutive years in both complete games and strikeouts. Dizzy was certainly quotable, coming up with these statements:

  • "I ain't what I used to be, but who the hell is?"
  • "All ballplayers want to wind up their career with the Cubs, Giants or Yankees. They just can't help it."
  • "Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss."

(quotes courtesy of

Did you know.....Dizzy pitched alongside his brother Paul "Daffy" Dean, with the Cardinals? (photo courtesy of

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Number 16 - Joe Montana

"Joe Cool" is the best athlete to wear number 16. How did Joe get that nickname? Here's an example of his demeanor that shows why: It's the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII, with 3:10 left on the clock, the 49ers at their own eight yard line and down 16-13 to the Bengals. Harris Barton, a lineman for the 49ers at the time, explains, "Right before that series, we're standing on the sidelines, and he says, `Look up there.' He's pointing up in the stands. He says, `That's John Candy.' '' They went on to score and win the Super Bowl. Here are some of Joe's credentials:

  • Four-time Super Bowl winner (starting QB)
  • Three-time Super Bowl MVP
  • Eight-time Pro Bowl selection
  • NFL Hall of Fame class of 2000
  • Second all-time in passing efficiency (92.3)

Some consider Joe to be the best quarterback to ever play the game. Did you know....that Joe produces wine under the label Montagia? (photo courtesy of

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Number 15 - Bart Starr

Athough Thurman Munson gets strong consideration here, and could be the sentimental favorite, Bart Starr is the best athlete to wear number 15, based largely on his statistics, awards and championships. This Alabama boy was drafted number 200 in the 1956 NFL draft. He went on to quarterback the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships. Bart was the 1966 NFL MVP and led the Packers to victory in the first two Superbowls (1967 and 1968.) Did you know.....Bart Starr's real first name is Bryan? (photo courtesy of

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Number 14 - Ernie Banks

"Let's play two!" Now wearing number 14 for the best athletes by the numbers, is "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks. Ernie's number 14 was the first number to be retired by the Chicago Cubs. Ernie, who played in the Negro leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs, became the Cubs first black player in 1953. According to The Sporting News, Ernie ranks at number 38 on the 100 greatest baseball players list. Ernie Banks won the NL MVP in 1958 and 1959, when the Cubs weren't among the teams contending for the playoffs. Here are some key Ernie Banks stats:

  • 512 career homers (tops at shortstop until surpassed by Cal Ripken Jr.)
  • Cubs all-time leader in: games played (2,528,) at-bats (9,421,) and total bases (4,706)
  • 11-time All-Star
  • 1960 Gold Glove winner
  • Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame class of 1977

Did you know......Ernie, as a coach for the Cubs, filled in at manager for a couple innings in 1973, technically making him the first black manager in the majors? (photo courtesy of

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Number 13 - Dan Marino

"Dan the Man" is the best athlete to don the number 13. 13 was a lucky number for Dan Marino as he put up some unbelievable passing numbers over his long career with the fish. Dan played his entire career for the Miami Dolphins, spanning the years 1983 through 1999. He had a cannon for an arm, and could put the ball right in the receivers hands going long down the sideline. In 1984, Dan passed for 5,084 yards! Just one of his many records. He also threw for 48 TDs in 1984, which was a record for years, until recently broken by Peyton Manning. Marino was the NFL's MVP in 1984. Some more key Marino stats are: thirteen seasons with 20 or more touchdowns, 420 touchdowns for his career, 61,361 yards passing for his career, 60 games with 300 or more yards passing, 21 games with four or more touchdowns in his career. These are all records, and the list could go on for a country mile. Did you know......Dan was the first rookie QB to be selected to start in the Pro Bowl? (photo courtesy of

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Number 12 - Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw is the best athlete to wear number 12.  This Hall of Famer led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a record four Super Bowls within six years, and eight AFC central championships. Here are some key Terry Bradshaw stats:

  • 1978 NFL MVP
  • Four-time Super Bowl Champion
  • Three-time All-Pro
  • Super Bowl XIII and XIV MVP
  • Passed for 932 yards and 9 touchdowns in four Super Bowls

Did you know......Terry Bradshaw signed a contract in 2006 to be the fourth string quarterback of the Daytona Beach Thunder of the American Indoor Football League?

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Number 11 - Mark Messier

The best athlete to wear the number 11 is Mark Messier, "the Captain." Messier guaranteed the New York Rangers would win game six against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup playoff semi-finals of 1994, and they did. Messier then laced up his hockey skates and led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship, their first in 54 years. Here are some of Messier's credentials:

  • Six-time Stanley Cup champion
  • 15-time NHL All-Star
  • Two-time Hart Trophy award winner
  • Only player to captain two Stanley Cup champion teams ('89-'90 Oilers and '93-'94 Rangers)

Did you know.....Mark Messier played for the Mets. The Spruce Grove Mets of the AJHL that is. (photo courtesy of

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Number 10 - Guy LaFleur

The best athlete to wear number 10 is "the flower," Guy LaFleur. The flower was a 17-year veteran of the NHL, playing for the Canadiens (most of his career,) the Rangers and the Quebec Nordiques. Here are some of his key stats:

  • Led NHL in scoring (Art Ross trophy) for three seasons, 1976-1978
  • First in NHL to reach six consecutive seasons with more than 50 goals and 100 points
  • NHL MVP (Hart Trophy) for two years, 1977-1978
  • Stanley Cup playoff MVP (Conn Smythe Trophy,) 1977
  • NHL Hall of Famer

Did you know.....Guy was ranked by the Hockey News in 1997 as the 11th greatest NHL player of all-time? (photo courtesy of

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Number 9 - Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe's acheivements in professional hockey were enough to give him the nod over Ted Williams, who could arguably be considered the best here (his website even has a Number 9 store.) Gordie Howe is second or third in a multitude of professional hockey statistical categories, and that is only because the "Great One" is currently first in those categories. Howe retired as the leader. In fact, Gordie's nickname is "Mr. Hockey." He is by far the best athlete to ever wear an NHL jersey with the number 9 on it. Here are some notable Howe statistics:

  • Second most NHL regular season goals: 801
  • Second most NHL & WHA regular season points: 2,358
  • Most NHL regular season games played: 1,767
  • Most NHL seasons played: 26
  • Most NHL & WHA regular season goals: 975
  • Most decades played in by a professional athlete: 6
  • Finished in top five in scoring for a record 20 straight seasons

Did you know....Gordie Howe played professional hockey at age 70? He played one shift in 1997 for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL. (photo courtesy of

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Number 8 - Yogi Berra

After further consideration.......................................

The best athlete to ever wear number 8 has been amended from Troy Aikman to Yogi Berra.  After the feedback and a more, ahem, objective look at the stats and accolades, Yogi's MLB career was indeed impressive.  A World Series Championship Ring for each finger?  C'mon, that is just awesome.  That's part of why Yogi was named the best MLB athlete to wear number 8.

And I will state once more, I am not a Yankee fan. They just put up some of the best numbers.........objectively.

Did you know............that Yogi's real first name is Lawrence?

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Number 7 - Mickey Mantle

John Elway would have to be considered here, starting five Super Bowls and with all his late game heroics. However, being as objective as possible (especially given that four of the first five best athletes are Yankees,) Mickey Mantle
is the choice for number 7. Here are his credentials:
  • All-Star: 1952-1965, 1967-1968
  • MVP, 1956-1957, 1962
  • Twelve-time pennant winner
  • Seven-time World Series winner
  • World Series record-holder for: home runs (18,) RBI (40,) runs (42,) walks (43,) extra-base hits (26,) and total bases (123.)
And according to the people who watched him play, he had blazing speed and could crush the ball. Of course, he hit 54 homers the year his teammate Roger Maris hit 61 to set the record. Did you know.....Mickey was the first switch-hitter to reach 500 career home runs?
(photo courtesy of

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Number 6 - Bill Russell

This is a tough one. Both Stan Musial and Julius "Dr. J" Erving could very well be considered the best to wear this number. However, looking at Bill Russell's personal and team acheivements, we'll give him the nod here. Check it out:

  • Five-time NBA MVP: 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965
  • Eleven-time NBA Champion: 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969
  • Twelve-time NBA All-Star: 1958-1969
  • Olympic Gold Medalist: 1956
  • NCAA Champion: 1955 and 1956
  • NCCA Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament: 1956
He acheived these accolades with the University of San Francisco, the Boston Celtics and the USA. Did you know......Bill was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, second overall in 1956. His draft rights were subsequently traded to the Celtics. (photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images)

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Number 5 - Joe DiMaggio

"Joltin' Joe" was a 13-time all-star, three-time MVP, and according to Ted Williams, was "the greatest all-around player I ever saw." Of course, he holds the current record for consecutive games with a hit, at 56, accomplished in 1941.  It is a record that many think will be the most difficult to surpass in major league sports.  In a 13-year career cut short by military service during World War II, DiMaggio proved to be one of the most dynamic ballplayers both at-bat and in the field.  He was an All Star in al 13 years he played, and was named the American League MVP three times.  

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Number 4 - Lou Gehrig

Number 4 is the "Iron Horse," Lou Gehrig.  Lou held the record for consecutive games played for 56 years, at 2,130, until Cal Ripken broke it. He batted a hefty .340 for his career, to go along with 493 home runs and 1,995 RBI. He was part of some of the best Yankee teams from 1923 through 1939. He may not have gotten the credit he deserved because he played in the very large shadow of number 3.

Gehrig led the major leagues in multiple batting categories, multiple times.  In particular, Gehrig was somewhat of an RBI machine, having led the league five times, peaking with 185 in 1931.  Overall, he racked up a hefty 1,995 RBI over his 17 year MLB playing career.

Did you know.....Lou made $8,000 playing baseball in 1927?!


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Number 3 - Babe Ruth

At number 3, it's the obvious choice: the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. His career statistics are amazing:

  • .342 batting average - 10th all-time
  • 714 home runs - 3rd all-time
  • 2,213 RBIs - 2nd all-time
  • 2,174 runs - 3rd all-time

And here's the kicker:

8,399 at-bats - 92nd all-time

AND.....he was a World Series game-winning pitcher! Wow.

Some say he was the best to ever play the game of baseball.  And those who say that have an excellent argument.  He was certainly the most sensational player of his time, out-slugging his contemporaries by a wide margin on an annual basis.

His wearing the jersey number 3 is widely attributed to his place in the batting order, 3rd, when the Yankees began wearing jersey numbers in 1929.

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Number 2 - Derek Jeter

Although some people may choose Secretariat as the best to ever wear number 2, I'm nominating Derek Jeter.  Ok, this may fuel the "are animals athletes" debate, but for our purposes, Secretariat is disqualified. Jeter, who wore number 2 for his entire MLB career, all spent with the Yankees, created a reputation for being "clutch" and for durability and dependability at his position, shortstop.

Jeter goes down in the baseball record books as one of the greatest New York Yankees to ever play the game. The 1996 ROY and longtime captain of the Yankees finished his 20 year career with New York holding a lifetime batting average of .310. A 14-time All Star, Jeter is beloved by Yankees' fans and respected by fans of the game.  Some "did you knows" about Derek:

  • He was named 1992 High School Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association

  • Received a baseball scholarship to the University of Michigan and attended one semester before going to play for the Yanks

  • Holds the record for postseason hits with 200

  • All-time Yankee leader in hits with 3,465

(photo by

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Number 1 - Ozzie Smith

Ozzie Smith, or "The Wizard of Oz," as he was called, played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals for the majority of his career, while wearing the jersey number 1. He started out with the San Diego Padres, however, also wearing number 1. He was known and respected for his amazing defensive play, and of course his signature backflip.

He won the gold glove at shortstop from 1979 through 1992. He made the All-Star team 15 times, and wound up with more than 500 stolen bases and more than 2,400 hits. Elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Get your own Ozzie Smith rookie card here.

Did you know that.....his given name is Osborne Earl Smith?

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