Editor's note: YCN contributor Jared Stonesifer has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Pittsburgh. Roberto Clemente claimed the No. 1 spot in user poll voting. Complete results are to the right.Pittsburgh Pirates played in the first modern World Series contest against Boston in 1903.
Indeed, some of the very best athletes in professional sports spent time here in Pittsburgh, and many more (see Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas) are from the area.
To dwindle the list of the 10 best athletes in Pittsburgh sports history is a daunting task, one that will surely produce disagreement and argument. But isn't that a good thing, to have so many successful athletes from which to pick over the years?
To clarify, this list isn't about the best Pittsburgh-born athletes, nor is it about who won the most championships. It's about the best pure athletes to ever put on a uniform to represent the Steel City.
Without further adieu (in alphabetical order):
Barry Bonds (Pirates, 1986-1992)
With all of the home runs, walks, MVP awards and the controversy surrounding his accomplishments while with the San Francisco Giants, it's easy to forget that Bonds had emerged as a bonafide superstar in his seven years with the Pirates.
Though Pittsburgh couldn't get over the hump (Sid Bream, anyone?), Bonds did his part to put the Pirates in championship contention in the early '90s. He won the first two of his seven MVPs with the Pirates, while also nabbing three straight Gold Glove awards. And after Bonds headed to the City by the Bay, the fortunes of the Pirates went drastically south.
Terry Bradshaw (Steelers, 1970-83)
Yes, there'll be bellyaching with Bradshaw's selection here over Mike Webster and Jack Lambert. Honestly, the only reason Bradshaw appears on this list is because he owns four Super Bowl rings, something only one other starting QB (Joe Montana) can say. He's a Hall of Famer, so it's not like he was a slouch. But at the same time, he quarterbacked a team that could have won with Tim Tebow at the helm, playing alongside the Steel Curtain with names like Harris and Bleier, Swann and Stallworth, Lambert and Greene.
Bradshaw owns a career 51.9 percent career completion percentage, which means he likely wouldn't even be a starting quarterback in today's NFL. He also has 212 career touchdown passes to 210 career interceptions. As much as it seemed appropriate, however, Bradshaw just couldn't be left off this list.
Roberto Clemente (Pirates, 1955-72)
Nobody needs an explanation for what Clemente brought to baseball. A great humanitarian and warm soul outside of baseball, he finished with exactly 3,000 career hits, a number he achieved shortly before dying in a plane crash while delivering aid supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
The numbers certainly don't lie: The man was a part of 15 All-Star teams, won two World Series titles, 12 Gold Glove Awards and four National League batting titles. He's easily the best outfielder in Pirates history and one of the all-time greats to ever play the game. Clemente finished with a career .317 batting average, was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously, and was even given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
Sidney Crosby (Penguins, 2005-present)
Crosby, some would hope, is only about halfway finished with his career. But his athletic prowess is simply undeniable as he is indisputably the best hockey player in the world.
The facts don't lie: He's the youngest player and only teenager to win a scoring title in any of the major four North American sports leagues. He was the youngest captain to win a Stanley Cup in 2007, and he captained Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2010 with an overtime goal against the United States.
Joe Greene (Steelers, 1969-81)
You have to be a pretty bad dude to get a nickname that has become so popular it's almost synonymous with your first name. "Mean" Joe Greene anchored the Steel Curtain defense for the Steelers in the glory years of the 1970s, playing his way to four Super Bowl titles, 10 Pro Bowls and two Defensive Player of the Year Awards.
During his time with the Steelers, he became one of the most popular players in the NFL. Indeed, in Super Bowl IX, Greene became the first player ever to intercept a pass, force a fumble and record a fumble recovery in a single Super Bowl. And who could forget his famous Coke commercial with the little boy and his jersey?
Franco Harris (Steelers, 1972-83)
Another staple of the 1970s Steelers, Harris is enshrined in football history with perhaps the most memorable play ever, the Immaculate Reception. But his stats go much farther than one play. Harris rushed for more than 12,000 yards in his career to go along with 100 touchdowns scored. He won four Super Bowls, made nine Pro Bowls, and finished with a 4.1 yards per carry average.
Ralph Kiner (Pirates, 1946-53)
Perhaps one of the lesser-known heroes in Pittsburgh sports history, Kiner's relatively short tenure with the Pirates was full of prolific home runs and offensive production. He never won a World Series title or MVP Award with the Pirates, but he did win or tie for the National League home run title seven years in a row from 1946-1952, his only full seasons spent with the Pirates.
Kiner also blasted 54 home runs in 1949, which is still a team record for most in a season. It would be the most home runs hit by a player in the National League until 1997. His 301 career home runs with the Pirates ranks as second in team history.
Mario Lemieux (Penguins, 1984-97, 2000-06)
What can you say about a man who literally saved the Penguins franchise on a number of occasions? Lemieux is easily the most beloved athlete in the city's history and still adds to his legacy today as an owner of the team.
He won two Stanley Cups, six scoring titles and three Hart Trophies during his career, which included a bout with cancer, several serious injuries and a comeback from retirement.
There's still (and likely always will be) a debate between the best hockey player ever between Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. But Lemieux did more than just distinguish himself on the ice. He bought the team out of bankruptcy in 1999, saved the team from relocating less than 10 years ago, and steered the Penguins to a Stanley Cup win in 2009.
Willie Stargell (Pirates, 1962-82)
The man affectionately known as "Pops" was a fan-favorite during his playing years and still remains so even today. He played 21 seasons with the Pirates, winning two World Series titles and making seven All-Star teams in the process. His 475 home runs rank as most in team history, and he won both the National League and World Series MVP awards in 1979.
He died in 2001, the very same day of the opening of PNC Park.
Honus Wagner (Pirates, 1900-17)
The man might have played more than a hundred years ago, but he was also one of the very first players to be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1936. The Flying Dutchman finished with a career .327 batting average. Wagner won eight National League batting titles and also led the league in stolen bases five times. One of the game's best hitters, Wagner recorded a batting average higher than .300 in each of his first 14 seasons with the team.
Wagner, a shortstop, finished his career with 3,420 hits, one World Series title and a designation on Major League Baseball's All-Century Team. He also has the distinction of having the most valuable baseball card ever sold at $2.1 million.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
- Sports & Recreation
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Terry Bradshaw
- Barry Bonds
- Roberto Clemente
- Franco Harris