Ten greatest athletes in Detroit sports history

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YCN Greatest Athletes Detroit. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.
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Gordie Howe, Justin Verlander, Barry Sanders, Isiah Thomas. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.

Editor's note: YCN contributor Matt Durr has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Detroit. Barry Sanders edged Gordie Howe for the No. 1 spot in user poll voting. Complete results are on the upper right side of the page.

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One of only a handful of cities that feature a team in the four major sports, Detroit has one of the most storied histories in professional sports. All four teams -- the Lions, Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers -- have sent players to their respective sport's Hall of Fame and have won a combined 18 championships.

Trying to determine the top 10 pro athletes in Detroit history is a tough task. To make it on this list, not only do you have to have great career numbers but also hardware and fan support to go along with them.

Also, keep in mind, one notable name missing from this list is legendary boxer Joe Louis. The Brown Bomber was heavyweight champion of the world for almost 12 years and a monument of his fist is on display in Downtown Detroit. Louis is maybe the greatest athlete in the city's history, however, this list was restricted to team sports.

Featuring a player who competed more than a century ago and a current standout pitcher, here are the 10 greatest pro athletes in Detroit sports history (in alphabetical order):

Ty Cobb (Tigers, 1905-26)
While few, if any of us, can say we've seen Cobb play, his time with Detroit cannot be ignored. Cobb's career .366 average is tops in major league history, and he holds numerous records that will likely never be broken.

Hank Greenberg (Tigers, 1930, 1933-41, 1945-46)
A two-time AL MVP, Greenberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956 and remains one of the most legendary figures in Detroit sports history. Greenberg helped lead the Tigers to two World Series championships and hit 58 home runs in 1938, two shy of the record at the time. A career .313 hitter, Greenberg slugged 331 home runs and drove in 1,276 runs over the course of 12 seasons. Even more impressive, Greenberg spent nearly four years serving his country during World War II, the most of any player who served during that time.

Gordie Howe (Red Wings, 1946-71)
What can you say about the man they call "Mr. Hockey" that hasn't been said millions of times already? Simply put, Howe will forever be the face of the Red Wings. Howe scored almost 800 goals with the Wings and owns numerous franchise records. He was a six-time NHL MVP over the course of his 26 seasons in the league.

Al Kaline (Tigers, 1953-74)
Kaline is known as "Mr. Tiger" for a reason. The club's all-time leader in games played (2,834) and home runs (399), Kaline roped 3,007 hits during his 22-year career, spent entirely with the Tigers. Beloved by fans as both a player and broadcaster, Kaline remains an active part of the organization and can be seen frequently at Tigers home games.

Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings, 1991-2012)

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Nicklas Lidstrom scored 1,142 career points. (Getty)

The greatest European player in NHL history is also one of Detroit's top 10. Four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies and a gold medal added up to "The Perfect Human." Lidstrom was the most consistent part of the Red Wings' dynasty over the last two decades. In his 20 seasons with the team, the Wings never missed the playoffs.

Barry Sanders (Lions, 1989-1998)
For most of his 10 seasons with the Lions, Sanders was the only reason anyone tuned in. More than his career rushing totals, Sanders is most remembered for his jaw-dropping and ankle-breaking runs. His abrupt retirement notwithstanding, Sanders is the greatest Lion in team history.

Terry Sawchuk (Red Wings, 1949-64, 68-69)
The most successful goalie in NHL history not named Martin Brodeur, Sawchuk won three Stanley Cups with the Wings. During his 16 seasons with Detroit, Sawchuk set franchise records for most wins and shutouts and held the NHL records for those stats before Brodeur broke them.

Isiah Thomas (Pistons, 1981-94)
Over the course of his 13-year career, Thomas led the Pistons to two NBA titles and was the 1990 Finals MVP. Thomas was the catalyst for the Pistons' glory years in the late-1980s and early-'90s. He is the team's all-time leader in points (18,822), games played (979), steals (1,861) and assists (9,061) and was named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players in 1996.

Justin Verlander (Tigers, 2005-present)
The youngest member of this list, Verlander has captured fans' attention since his debut in 2005. On any given day during the baseball season, Comerica Park is filled with Verlander jerseys and shirts. His starts are must-see television. The 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young winner, Verlander is on track to be the greatest Tigers pitcher ever.

Steve Yzerman (Red Wings, 1983-2006)
No player better encompasses the last 25 years for the Red Wings than "The Captain." Yzerman began his career trying to help the team escape the "Dead Wings" era and finished it as a three-time Stanley Cup champion. When he retired in 2006, Stevie Y was the sixth all-time leading scorer (1,755) in NHL history and the longest-serving captain in major American sports. His Game 7 double-overtime goal against the St. Louis Blues in 1996 stands as one of the most memorable single-game moments in Wings history.

Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com.

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