The New York Yankees were the first professional sports team to wear numbers on their uniforms.
Nothing sparks a debate better than choosing the greatest athlete – across all sports – by jersey number. Here are picks for Numbers 21 through 30.
- Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American and Caribbean player enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A four-time batting champion, he won a dozen gold gloves, was 1966 NL MVP and may have had the strongest outfield arm in MLB history. Runners-up: Tim Duncan, Stan Mikita, Warren Spahn, LaDainlian Tomlinson.
- The second-leading rusher in high school football history, Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all-time rushing leader in 2002. Together with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, Smith led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. Runners-up: Mike Bossy, Elgin Baylor, Jim Palmer, Clyde Drexler.
- This one is a slam dunk. Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. He led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles while helping to popularize basketball around the globe. Runners-up: LeBron James, Ryne Sandberg, Pete Maravich [college], Calvin Murphy.
- Willie Mays is baseball’s greatest living ballplayer. The Say Hey Kid won two NL MVP awards, played in a record 24 All Star Games, and earned a dozen Gold Glove Awards. Runners-up: Jeff Gordon, Kobe Bryant, Rick Barry, Lenny Moore.
- This one is performance-enhanced, as the top two candidates had their reputations tarnished by steroid scandals. The honor goes to Barry Bonds, who never needed to juice. Runners-up: Mark McGwire, Fred Biletnikoff, K.C. Jones.
- Rod Woodson’s greatness is underappreciated. An All-American track star who qualified for the 1984 Olympic Trials, Woodson was 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He twice led the league in interceptions, won a Super Bowl, and is a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Runners-up: Wade Boggs, Herb Adderly, Billy Williams.
- This one is close, with Mike Trout getting the nod over Juan Marichal. It is probably fitting, as Marichal never fully got his due as one of the greatest pitchers of his era. The modern-day Mickey Mantle, Trout is the best player in baseball. Runners-up: Juan Marichal, Eddie George, Vladimir Guerrero, Scott Niedermayer.
- One of the biggest injustices in sports history is Gino Torretta winning the 1992 Heisman Trophy over Marshall Faulk. One of three players ever to reach 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards, Faulk was 1994 Rookie of the Year and 2000 NFL MVP. Runners-up: Darrell Green, Bert Blyleven.
- Satchel Paige is the oldest rookie in MLB history, making his debut at 42. The greatest player in the history of the Negro leagues, Satch helped the Cleveland Indians to the 1948 World Series title and is the first Negro leagues player inducted into Cooperstown. Runners-up: Eric Dickerson, Ken Dryden, John Smoltz, Rod Carew.
- Martin Brodeur over Nolan Ryan in the closest race of the bunch. Winner of three Stanley Cups and two Olympic golds, Brodeur is the greatest goalie in hockey history. Runners-up: Nolan Ryan, Steph Curry, Terrell Davis, Ken Griffey Jr.