Published On: Wed, Dec 7th, 2011

ESPN Unveils Greatest Athletes Of 20th Century

Share This
Tags

NEW YORK (AQB)–As part of its celebration of a century of sports, ESPN will count down the top 50 North American athletes of the 20th century in a weekly series hosted by Dan Patrick.

The series, which began Jan. 22 with a look at No. 50, Chris Evert, will air at 10:30 p.m. Fridays on ESPN, with several repeats, including Thursday evenings on ESPN2. It will culminate with an hourlong show on athletes Nos. 1 and 2 on Dec. 26 on ABC.

Each week, ESPN will reveal the athlete to be profiled the following Friday on the 11 p.m. ET Friday SportsCenter.

ESPN2 will close the century with a SportsCentury marathon – all 49 greatest athlete programs during the last two days of 1999. The network will present consecutive programs highlighting athletes 50 through 43 on Thursday, Dec. 30 from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m.

The programs will resume on Friday, Dec. 31 with athletes 42 through 9 from 1 a.m. to 6 p.m. back-to-back. The final eight athletes will be profiled consecutively from 8 p.m. through midnight (the start of the new century) with the hour-long program on the top two athletes from 11 p.m. to midnight.

The top 50 revealed so far are:

1. Michael Jordan 26. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
2. Babe Ruth 27. Jerry Rice
3. Muhammad Ali 28. Red Grange
4. Jim Brown 29. Arnold Palmer
5. Wayne Gretzky 30. Larry Bird
6. Jesse Owens 31. Bobby Orr
7. Jim Thorpe 32. Johnny Unitas
8. Willie Mays 33. Mark Spitz
9. Jack Nicklaus 34. Lou Gehrig
10. Babe Didrikson Zaharias 35. Secretariat
11. Joe Louis 36. Oscar Robertson
12. Carl Lewis 37. Mickey Mantle
13. Wilt Chamberlain 38. Ben Hogan
14. Hank Aaron 39. Walter Payton
15. Jackie Robinson 40. Lawrence Taylor
16. Ted Williams 41. Wilma Rudolph
17. Magic Johnson 42. Sandy Koufax
18. Bill Russell 43. Julius Erving
19. Martina Navratilova 44. Bobby Jones
20. Ty Cobb 45. Bill Tilden
21. Gordie Howe 46. Eric Heiden
22. Joe DiMaggio 47. Edwin Moses
23. Jackie Joyner-Kersee 48. Pete Sampras
24. Sugar Ray Robinson 49. O.J. Simpson
25. Joe Montana 50. Chris Evert

But while the shows started with No. 50, the list began at 100. Here was the top half of ESPN’s 100 greatest athletes of the past 100 years:

51. Rocky Marciano 76. Barry Sanders
52. Jack Dempsey 77. Cy Young
53. Rafer Johnson 78. Bob Mathias
54. Greg Louganis 79. Gale Sayers
55. Mario Lemieux 80. A.J. Foyt
56. Pete Rose 81. Jimmy Connors
57. Willie Shoemaker 82. Bobby Hull
58. Elgin Baylor 83. Honus Wagner
59. Billie Jean King 84. Man O’ War
60. Walter Johnson 85. Maurice Richard
61. Stan Musial 86. Otto Graham
62. Jerry West 87. Henry Armstrong
63. Satchel Paige 88. Joe Namath
64. Sammy Baugh 89. Rogers Hornsby
65. Althea Gibson 90. Richard Petty
66. Eddie Arcaro 91. Bob Beamon
67. Bob Gibson 92. Mario Andretti
68. Al Oerter 93. Don Hutson
69. Bonnie Blair 94. Bob Cousy
70. Dick Butkus 95. George Blanda
71. Roberto Clemente 96. Michael Johnson
72. Bo Jackson 97. Citation
73. Josh Gibson 98. Don Budge
74. Deion Sanders 99. Sam Snead
75. Dan Marino 100. Jack Johnson

Some notes on the greatest athletes of the 20th century ranked 24th-100:

  • The “Jim Thorpe Athlete of the Century Campaign” sent ESPN a petition letter with 375 signatures stating that Thorpe should be the top athlete on the list.
  • There are four Johnsons, three Gibsons and two Sanders.
  • Eddie Arcaro (No. 66) rode Citation (No. 97) to the 1948 Triple Crown.
  • Three members of the top 50 so far won at least one Triple Crown. Secretariat (35) won horse racing’s Triple Crown in 1973. Mickey Mantle (37) won the American League triple crown in 1956, batting .353 with 52 home runs and 130 runs batted in, and Sandy Koufax (42) won the pitching triple crown three times, leading the National League in wins, earned run average and strikeouts in 1963, 1965 and 1966.
  • Two-sport athletes Bo Jackson (72) and Deion Sanders (74) were ranked close to each other on the list.
  • Mark Spitz (33) became the first athlete in the top 50 to participate in a sport which does not take place on dry land. He and Greg Louganis (54) are the only two water-bound athletes in the top 100.
  • The list contains four members of MLB’s 3,000-hit club: Roberto Clemente (71), Stan Musial (61), Pete Rose (56) and Honus Wagner (83).
  • Football has provided 18 athletes in the top 100 (see chart below), more than any other sport. However, only three of them – O.J. Simpson (49), Jackson (72) and Barry Sanders (76) – won the Heisman Trophy. While the Heisman Trophy winners on the list captured no professional championships, the other 15 football players on the list combined to win 23 NFL titles.
  • Bill Tilden (45) is the only top 50 athlete so far where espn.com voters disagreed with the SportsCentury panel (53.8% of the online voters said he was not one of the century’s 50 greatest athletes). Jerry Rice (27) received the highest percentage any top 50 athlete received so far, with 94.6% of the 4,162 voters voting yes.
  • Tilden, born in 1893, is the only athlete on the 50-24 list to have lived in the 19th century. Of the 59 humans ranked between 40-100, following are their birth dates by time: pre-1900 (7 athletes), 1900s (2), 1910s (7), 1920s (7), 1930s (12), 1940s (9), 1950s (6), 1960s (8) and 1970s (1).
  • Two athletes in the top 50 so far share a birthday. Tilden (45) and Spitz (33) were both born on Feb. 10.
  • Eighteen of the first 26 humans in the top 50 are living, and 35 of the 48 humans on the 51-100 list are living. The oldest living athlete is Sam Snead (born 1912), while the youngest is Pete Sampras (born 1971).
  • Five athletes in the top 100-24 were born outside of the United States: four Canadian hockey players – Bobby Orr (31), Mario Lemieux (55), Bobby Hull (82) and Maurice Richard (85) – and Clemente (71), a native of Puerto Rico.
  • Only five athletes in the top 50-24 – Tilden (45), Bobby Jones (44), Ben Hogan (38), Lou Gehrig (34) and Red Grange (28) – played all or most of their careers in the first half of the century. In the top 100 so far, 22 athletes were from the first 50 years.
  • Of the 68 men named to the top 100-24 list, eight are named Bob or Bobby, including Orr (31), Jones (44), Gibson (67), Clemente (71), Mathias (78), Hull (82), Beamon (91) and Cousy (94). By contrast, there has only been one Honus (Wagner, 83).
  • Of the 27 athletes named to the top 50 list so far, Pennsylvania has produced five, the most in the country: Tilden (45) from Philadelphia, Johnny Unitas (32) from Pittsburgh, Arnold Palmer (29) from Latrobe, Grange (28) from Forksville and Joe Montana (25) from New Eagle.
  • Fifteen athletes from the top 50 and 41 in the top 100 so far played team sports. Five of the 15 team-sport athletes in the top 50 so far have played for teams in New York state: Simpson (50) of the Buffalo Bills, Koufax (42) of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Lawrence Taylor (40) of the New York Giants, and Mantle (37) and Gehrig (34) of the Yankees.
  • Koufax (42) is the only pitcher so far in the top 50. Pitchers in 51-100 were Cy Young (77), Gibson (67) and Walter Johnson (60).
  • Of the 21 athletes in the top 50 so far who played ball sports, only three have been left-handed: Koufax (42), Gehrig (34) and Orr (31). Mantle (37) was a switch-hitter who threw right-handed.
LIST BY SPORT
Sport
Top 20
Top 50
Top 100
Baseball -a
7
11
23
Football -a
2
9
20
Track & Field -a, b
4
7
12
Basketball
4
8
11
Tennis
1
4
8
Boxing
2
3
7
Golf -b
2
5
6
Hockey
1
3
6
Horse Racing -c
0
1
5
Auto Racing
0
0
3
Swimming/Diving
0
1
2
Speed Skating
0
1
2
a. Jim Thorpe counts for baseball, football and track & field. Also, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders count for baseball and football.
b. Babe Didrikson counts for golf and track & field.
c. Three horses and two jockeys made the top 100, and only a horse, No. 35 Secretariat, made the top 50.

All 100 athletes will be documented through essays and pictures in ESPN’s SportsCentury book, to be released in September.

The 50 greatest North American athletes of the past 100 years were determined by the following 48-member SportsCentury Panel:

  • Mitch Albom – Syndicated sports columnist, Detroit Free Press; winner Sportswriter of the Year 10 of the last 11 years.
  • Roone Arledge – Television veteran; served as President of ABC News and President of ABC Sports.
  • Chris Berman – ESPN and ABC Sports commentator.
  • Steve Bornstein – ESPN Chairman and CEO; President, ABC Sports.
  • Ray Cave – Former Executive Editor, Sports Illustrated and Managing Editor, Time Magazine.
  • Bill Conlin – Columnist, Philadelphia Daily News.
  • Bob Costas – NBC Sports broadcaster.
  • Lucy Danzinger – Editor-in-Chief, Sports for Women.
  • Frank Deford – Author; award-winning magazine writer; essayist for Sports Illustrated; former Editor-in-Chief of The National; former Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated.
  • Anita DeFrantz – International Olympic Committee Vice President.
  • Mel Durslag – Former columnist, Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.
  • Harry Edwards – Professor of Sociology, University of California at Berkeley.
  • Dick Enberg – NBC Sports broadcaster.
  • Roy Firestone – ESPN commentator.
  • Curt Gowdy – Former NBC Sports and ABC Sports broadcaster.
  • Bud Greenspan – Sports documentarian and author.
  • Bryant Gumbel – Anchor, CBS News and HBO; former host of NBC’s Today Show and CBS Sports.
  • David Halberstam – Noted author, journalist, and commentator.
  • Steve Hirdt – Vice President, Elias Sports Bureau; contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.
  • Keith Jackson – ABC Sports broadcaster.
  • Sally Jenkins – Senior writer, Sports for Women; author and former writer, Sports Illustrated.
  • Tony Kornheiser – Columnist, Washington Post; ESPN Radio host.
  • Sam Lacy – Sports editor and columnist, The Baltimore Afro-American (has written since 1934); elected to Sportswriters’ wing of National Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Richard Lapchick – Founding Director, Center for the Study of Sport in Society; author.
  • Bob Ley – ESPN commentator.
  • Robert Lipsyte – Columnist, New York Times.
  • Donna Lopiano – Executive Director, Women’s Sports Foundation.
  • Mike Lupica – Columnist, N.Y. Daily News and ESPN The Magazine.
  • Jim McKay – ABC Sports broadcaster.
  • Al Michaels – ABC Sports broadcaster.
  • Jim Murray – Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Los Angeles Times.
  • Jim Nantz – Broadcaster, CBS Sports.
  • Dan Patrick – ESPN commentator.
  • Shirley Povich – Columnist and sports editor, Washington Post.
  • Robin Roberts – ESPN and ABC Sports commentator.
  • Harold Rosenthal – Former sportswriter, New York Herald Tribune; contributor to Kickoff magazine.
  • Bob Ryan – Columnist, Boston Globe.
  • Dick Schaap – ESPN commentator; author.
  • Vin Scully – Long-time voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers; former CBS and NBC broadcaster.
  • Blackie Sherrod – Columnist, Dallas Morning News.
  • Jim Simpson – Former NBC and ESPN commentator.
  • Charley Steiner – ESPN play-by-play commentator and SportsCenter anchor.
  • Bert Sugar – Noted boxing writer/expert; Author of The 100 Greatest Athletes of All Time.
  • Pat Summerall – Broadcaster, Fox Sports.
  • Mike Tirico – ESPN and ABC Sports commentator.
  • Lesley Visser – ESPN and ABC Sports reporter.
  • Mike Wilbon – Columnist, Washington Post.
  • George Will – Syndicated columnist, Newsweek, and ABC political commentator; author of baseball books, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball and Bunts.

Back to the top
What do you think of this? Let us know on the Speak Out page.

About the Author

-

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

ESPN Unveils Greatest Athletes Of 20th Century