Editor's note: YCN contributor Brian Davis has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Chicago. Michael Jordan won fan poll voting in a landslide with Walter Payton finishing second. Full results are to the right.
Attempting to properly represent every major organization in the span of 10 spots is nearly impossible. While statistical prowess undoubtedly is a major factor, the city's love for these players and their lifelong legacies are also significant factors.
In alphabetical order, here are the top 10 athletes in the history of Chicago sports:
Ernie Banks (Cubs, 1953-71)
Career stats: .274 AVG, 512 HRs, 1,636 RBIs
"Mr. Cub" is responsible for many of the Cubs' mainstays. His quote, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame, let's play two!" has become a staple of Cubs baseball. Additionally, he is responsible for Wrigley Field being known as the "Friendly Confines."
Aside from being a central figure in Cubs' history and lore, he also had a Hall of Fame career. He won the MVP award twice (1958, 1959), was elected to the All-Star game 11 times, and remains an active member around the organization.
Dick Butkus (Bears, 1965-73)
Career stats: 22 INTs, 27 fum recs (tackles and sacks unavailable)
Deacon Jones once said of Butkus, "Every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital." All you need to do is watch this highlight reel of Butkus playing to realize what he meant, not only to an otherwise paltry Bears team but also to the history of the middle linebacker position. The Bears never reached the playoffs during Butkus' nine-year career, but his reputation as the most hard-nosed player of all time helped solidify what it meant (and means) to play linebacker in Chicago.
Mike Ditka (Bears, 1961-66)
Career stats: 427 recs, 5,812 yds, 43 TDs
Ditka is synonymous with Bears football. Not only was Ditka a pioneer of the present-day tight end position, but he also coached the Bears from 1982-1992 -- winning the Super Bowl with the legendary '85 Bears -- and leading them to a 106-62 record during that time. He was the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1988) and his hard-edged, gruff demeanor has made him an enduring figure in Chicago sports.
Bobby Hull (Blackhawks, 1957-72)
Blackhawks stats: 604 goals, 549 assists
While playing alongside Stan Mikita, Hull was another dominant force in Blackhawks' hockey. He was part of the 1961 Stanley Cup championship team and led the Blackhawks in goals for 10 straight seasons. His slap shot was once clocked at 95 mph (Happy Gilmore, anyone?) and is considered one of the purest shooters in NHL history.
Michael Jordan (Bulls, 1984-93, 1995-98)
Bulls stats: 29,277 points, five-time MVP, six championships
Jordan's dominance and impact on the history of basketball cannot be denied. The numbers and accolades are ludicrous -- five MVP awards, six NBA Finals MVPs, 10 scoring titles, 14 All-Star selections, etc. -- and he is regularly regarded as the best basketball player of all time. He finished his NBA career with an average of 30.1 points per game. Though he played a couple of career-closing seasons with the Washington Wizards, he closed his Bulls career with this performance against the Utah Jazz for the Bulls' sixth NBA title (in eight seasons) and his spot in history as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Stan Mikita (Blackhawks 1958-80)
Career stats: 541 goals, 926 assists
Apart from his superb career stats, Mikita has a lasting legacy beyond him. He was a nine-time All-Star, has a Stanley Cup championship in 1961, has a statue outside of the United Center, and was partially responsible, along with Hull, for the NHL changing the rules regarding curvature of hockey sticks.
Walter Payton (Bears, 1975-87)
Career stats: 16,726 yards, 110 TDs
Arguably the greatest running back of all time, "Sweetness" was a dominant force in the NFL. His 16,726 rushing yards rank second all time to Emmitt Smith (18,355), and his running style was unbelievable (second to Barry Sanders).
As dominant as Payton was, his career off the field was equally important to his legacy. The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation continues its work today -- specifically bringing increased awareness and pleas for organ donors. Chicago fans are more protective of Payton than any other athlete in Chicago sports history.
Ron Santo (Cubs, 1960-73; White Sox, 1974)
Career stats: .277 AVG, 342 HRs 1,331 RBIs
Santo was a major part of the Cubs' run in the now-fabled 1969 season. As important as Santo was, he didn't reach legend status until his extensive involvement with the Cubs after his retirement -- where he became known as the single biggest Cubs fan of all time. His enthusiasm for the Cubs made Santo less than loved in other circles, but in Chicago it is hard to find a more loved athlete.
Sammy Sosa (White Sox 1989-91; Cubs 1992-2004)
White Sox/Cubs stats: 573 HRs, 1,527 RBIs
I'll even admit putting Sosa on this hallowed list is a bit shaky given his post-Cubs history. But despite the accusations (and reported proof) of PED use, corked bats and diva-like attitude, to discount Sosa's impact on the history of Chicago sports is wrong, too. Even though his fall from grace was fast and hard, being as well-loved and recognized (for a time) as Jordan has to count for something.
White Sox stats: .307 AVG, 448 HRs, 1,465 RBIsArguably, "The Big Hurt" is the best White Sox player of all time. His numbers are Hall of Fame-worthy (he won't be up for consideration until 2014), and he has long been considered one of the elite hitters of MLB's steroids era who didn't use performance-enhancing drugs. He is a two-time MVP (1993, 1994) and should be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He also was the face of the White Sox franchise during most of his tenure there.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago sports follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.
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