Throughout sports history, the greatest athletes transformed a simple number into something special — almost magical.
Over the past year, we have given you the best to wear numbers 00 through 40. In this, the fifth installment in the series, we bring you the best ever to don 41 through 50.
41 – Three-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Seaver compiled 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts and 61 shutouts in his 20-year career. The 1967 NL Rookie of the Year is the Mets’ all-time leader in wins and is one of the best right-handers in history. In 1992, Tom Terrific was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the highest margin of votes ever [surpassed by Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016]. Runners-up: Dirk Nowitzki, Wes Unseld, Eddie Matthews.
42 – Jackie Robinson not only broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, he led the NL in steals and was named Rookie of the Year. Two seasons later, he led the league in hitting and was named NL MVP. A six-time All-Star and 1955 World Series champion, Robinson’s number 42 was retired by all MLB teams in 1997. Runners-up: James Worthy, Ronnie Lott, Mariano Rivera.
43 – Richard Petty is NASCAR’s winningest driver. The King won a record 200 career races, including 27 in the 1967 season alone. Petty is the first to win the NASCAR season championship seven times. He won the Daytona 500 seven times — more than any driver in history. Runners-up: Troy Polamalu, Dennis Eckersley, Jack Sikma.
44 – Hank Aaron drove in more runs, collected more extra-base hits, and amassed more total bases than any player in MLB history. He is also baseball’s legitimate* career home run leader. Hammerin’ Hank won three Gold Gloves, led the NL in homers and RBI four times, and was named 1957 MVP. A 25-time All-Star, Aaron switched to 44 after wearing 5 his rookie season. Runners-up: Jerry West, Pete Maravich, Willie McCovey.
45 – In a close race among dominant right-handed starters, Bob Gibson edges Pedro Martinez. The best pitcher of his era, Gibby was an intimidating presence on the hill. He was named NL MVP in 1968, a season in which he led the league in ERA and strikeouts. A nine-time All-Star, he led the St. Louis Cardinals to two World Series titles and was Series MVP in both. Gibson won nine Gold Gloves, two Cy Youngs and was named to MLB’s All-Century Team in 1999. Runners-up: Pedro Martinez, Archie Griffin, Kenny Easley.
46 – One of the most dominant closers in baseball history, Lee Smith held the major league record for career saves from 1993 until 2006, when Trevor Hoffman passed his final total of 478. Smith led the league in saves four times, was a seven-time All-Star and earned three Rolaids Relief Man Awards as baseball’s top relief pitcher. Runners-up: Andy Pettitte, Chuck Muncie.
47 – Mel Blount was such an overpowering bump-and-run cornerback that the NFL changed its pass defense rules to neutralize him. Perhaps the most physical cover corner of all time, the 1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was named to five Pro Bowls. A four-time Super Bowl champion, member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team and NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, Blount was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. Runners-up: Jack Morris, Tom Glavine.
48 – Jimmie Johnson is the only driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive championships. His seven career titles ties him with Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most of all time. With 83 career wins, 35 poles and 221 top five finishes, the 43-year-old Johnson is still going strong. Runners-up: Sam McDowell, Torri Hunter.
49 – Ron Guidry played his entire 14-year career for the New York Yankees, leading the Pinstripers to World Series titles in 1977 and ’78. A four-time All-Star who won five Gold Gloves, Louisiana Lightning enjoyed his best season in 1978, going 25-3 while leading the AL in wins and ERA en route to the Cy Young Award. Runners-up: Bobby Mitchell, Brian Savage.
50 – David Robinson is the only male basketball player in U.S. history to appear in three Olympics. The 1995 NBA MVP, The Admiral led the San Antonio Spurs to two NBA titles. One of the greatest centers in history, Robinson is a member of the Naismith Memorial, College, U.S. Olympic, and FIBA Halls of Fame. Runners-up: Mike Singletary, Dave Rimington.