Ten greatest professional athletes in New York/Brooklyn sports history

Charles Costello
YCN Greatest Athletes New York. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.
Babe Ruth, Lawrence Taylor, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.

Editor's note: YCN contributor Charles Costello has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for New York. Readers will determine by poll (upper right side of the page) who's No. 1. Results will be revealed Tuesday, Aug. 6.

From Miller Huggins' Yankees, to Red Holzman's Knicks, to Tom Coughlin's Giants, New York has been home to iconic coaches, legendary players and championship teams.

Frank Sinatra once said about New York City, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere." New York may be a tough place to play -- size of media, intensity of fans, all the distractions -- but if you "make it there," you'll forever be remembered.

Over the years, there have been plenty of great athletes who've played in New York. Compiling a list of the best of all time is no easy task. To make this list, the athlete obviously had to be an elite player. He also had to play the bulk of his career -- or a good chunk of it at least -- in New York. But all the names on this list have something else in common: They all won championships in New York.

In alphabetical order, here is a list of the top 10 athletes in New York professional sports history:

Joe DiMaggio (Yankees, 1936-42, 46-51)

Joltin' Joe. The man had grace on and off the field. His 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is one of the greatest records in the history of the game, one that may never be broken. DiMaggio took the Yankees to 10 World Series, winning nine. He missed three seasons in the prime of his career due to military service but still won the AL MVP Award three times. His best season came in 1937, his second year in the majors. DiMaggio hit .346 that year with 46 home runs and 167 RBIs. Over his 13 years as a Yankee, he batted over .300 11 times. People who didn't get to see him play know how special he was. The late Bob Sheppard, the Yankees' public address announcer, would introduce DiMaggio as "the greatest living ballplayer."

Walt Frazier (Knicks, 1967-77)

To fans today, Frazier is the guy on television who delivers the colorful, insightful commentary during Knicks telecasts. Before that, however, he established himself as the best point guard in franchise history. He played 10 seasons in New York, averaging 19.3 points per game and more than five assists in nine of those seasons. But it was his performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals that is remembered most. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Frazier carried the Knicks. He scored 36 points and had 19 assists and five steals. He would also lead New York to the 1973 championship. Off the court, Frazier has always been the epitome of style. He's a perfect fit for the city.

Lou Gehrig (Yankees, 1923-39)

If all you know about Gehrig is that he suffered from a debilitating disease that took his life and remember that he played in 2,130 consecutive games, then you're doing a disservice to one of the best ballplayers ever. Gehrig had some monster seasons during his 17 years in the Bronx. Five times he hit more than 40 home runs, and he had over 150 RBIs seven times. In 1927, he drove in 175 runs. In 1930, he drove in 174. In 1931, he drove in 184. His career batting average was .340. Tragically, his life came to an end at the age of 37, but those who saw him play were the luckiest fans on the face of the earth.

Derek Jeter (Yankees, 1995-present)

What a time to be a Yankee. Jeter first came up in 1995 when the Yankees got to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. He was the starting shortstop in 1996 when he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. The Yankees won the World Series in 1996 and they would follow that up with championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Until 2008, the Yankees made the playoffs every year of Jeter's career, and they would win the World Series again in 2009. Jeter was named captain in 2003, and in 2011 he got his 3,000th hit. But it's not the stats that define his career. Jeter is a winner. He leads by example. And since 1996, he's been the most popular athlete in New York City.

Mickey Mantle (Yankees, 1951-68)

Mantle was perhaps the greatest switch-hitter of all time. He hit 536 home runs and drove in 1,509 runs. Mantle was a great ballplayer, and who knows how much better he could have been were it not for injuries and his off-the-field escapades. In 1956, he put together one of the greatest seasons ever when he hit 52 home runs, drove in 130 runs and batted .353. He had eight seasons in a row of 30 or more home runs, and he was named the American League Most Valuable Player three times.

Mark Messier (Rangers, 1991-97, 2000-04)

The ultimate leader, the Rangers acquired Messier with one goal in mind -- the Stanley Cup. Prior to Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils, with the Rangers facing elimination, Messier guaranteed the Rangers would win. He went on to score three goals in the third period of that game and the Rangers went on to beat the Devils, and then proceeded to beat the Vancouver Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. The sight of Messier lifting the trophy on the Garden ice after the Game 7 win over the Canucks is one of the most memorable sights in New York sports history.

Joe Namath (Jets, 1965-76)

The most popular Jet of all time became an immortal when he guaranteed the Jets would win Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts. Despite the fact that the Colts were 18-point favorites, the Jets won 16-7. In 12 years with Gang Green, Namath threw for 27,057 yards and 170 touchdowns. Remarkably, he had a 60-61-4 record as quarterback and he threw 215 interceptions as a Jet. But it was that Super Bowl in January 1969 that we all remember. Broadway Joe is one of only five former Jet players to have their number retired by the team.

Jackie Robinson (Dodgers, 1947-56)

The man had the courage, strength and determination to break Major League Baseball's color barrier. Robinson was 28 when he played his first game for Brooklyn. In 10 years, he would bat .311 with 1,518 hits. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and the NL MVP Award in 1949 when he batted a career-best .342. More than anything he did on the field, however, he'll be remembered most for getting on the field. Robinson's No. 42 is now retired by every team in Major League Baseball. He may not have been the best player in the game, but he was the most important. That legacy continues to this day.

Babe Ruth (Yankees, 1920-34)

As great as Ruth was -- and he may be the best baseball player ever -- what's most amazing is how he single-handedly changed the fortunes of two franchises. In January 1920, the Yankees purchased Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $100,000. Boston, which had won the World Series in 1918 (its third title in four years), wouldn't win again until 2004. The Yankees would win four World Series titles with Ruth. His stats were mind-boggling. Eleven times in 15 seasons as a Yankee he hit 40 or more home runs. In 1920, he hit 54. In 1921, he hit 59 (171 runs batted in that year). His 1927 season was off the charts. Ruth batted .356 and hit 60 home runs while driving in 164 runs.

For his career, he hit 714 home runs -- 659 as a Yankee. He drove in 2,220 runs (1,978 with the Yankees) and his career batting average was .342 (.349 as a Yankee). He also pitched, racking up 94 career wins (only five came with the Yankees).

Lawrence Taylor (Giants, 1981-93)

As much as he's struggled off the field, no one was as dominating between the lines. LT redefined the linebacker position. In his prime, he was the most feared defensive player in football. Taylor was a sack machine (132.5 over his career) and, quite frankly, there was nothing you could do to stop him. In the 1986 season, when he would win his first of two Super Bowls with the Giants, he recorded 20.5 sacks and 105 tackles and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player. He played 13 seasons with the Giants, and his No. 56 jersey is still one of the most popular with fans.

Charles Costello has been following New York sports since the 1980s. As a beat reporter, he's covered the Giants, Yankees, Mets, Knicks, and Rangers. He currently writes about the New York Mets for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.