Ogden might be the best NFL star the Baltimore/DC area has produced
Moving west to east, Baltimore is the last stop in this 4-part series of the greatest athletes from each of the four AFC North cities. If you need the rules again, click here. Baltimore is not home to many NFL stars, at least not within 30 miles, but is home to some of the best athletes of all-time. I made one slight distance exception, as I did with the other three AFC North teams. The athlete in question beat out Kevin Durant (Suitland, MD), and Pete Sampras (Potomac, MD). I couldn’t bring myself to add Baltimore natives Pam Shriver (a tennis doubles specialist with 21 career singles titles but no majors), or Carmelo Anthony (great college career, minor individual awards) to the list, although Shriver would be much more deserving in my opinion.
10. Len Bias (Basketball) – I had to add the late Len Bias to this list because to this day, he is probably the most famous and infamous athlete the area has ever produced. He was one of the best basketball prospects anyone has ever seen. He was and still is discussed in the same sentence as Michael Jordan, and was expected to keep the Boston Celtics relevant post Larry Bird. At 6’8″ he did not have the ball handling skills of Jordan, but had a better jump shot and freakish athletic ability. Debates about Bias both locally and nationally will continue seemingly until the end of time.
9. Al Kaline (MLB) – 10-time gold glove winner, batting champ, World Series, 18-time all-star. He was one of the best all-around players in his era with the glove, average, and power. He ended his career as the 12th man to have 3,000 hits and hit over 25 home runs 7 times. He accomplished all of this with a deformed foot from a childhood bone infection. As one writer put it, “while he has been called the perfect player, Kaline has bordered on being a cripple”. This makes his numbers that much more impressive.
8. Lefty Grove (MLB) – 2-time pitching triple crown winner (ERA, wins, strikeouts), 9-time ERA champ (record), 4-time wins champ, 7-time strikeout champ, MVP, 2 World Series. There have been seven pitchers EVER to strike out the side in nine pitches, and Lefty was the only one to accomplish this twice and did it in the same season. He still has the highest winning percentage of anyone in the 300-win club (and of anyone with more than 234 wins).
7. Jonathan Ogden (NFL) – College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL offensive lineman of the year, NFL 2000s all-decade team, Super Bowl. Although Ogden was born and raised 35 miles from Baltimore, this list needed a Hall of Fame NFL player (and Sean Landeta, even though he is from Baltimore and made the all 1980s and 1990s decade teams, is still a punter). What better than to have a kid from the region become one of the best left tackles of all-time and to help win a Super Bowl for a local team. He also had 2 receptions for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns during his career, and almost won a WWE Hardcore Championship, before succumbing to Crash Holly.
6. Cal Ripken, Jr. (MLB) – 2-time MVP, World Series, 8-time silver slugger, 2-time gold glove winner, 2632 consecutive games. Ripken still holds four all-time records including most turned double plays at shortstop. He revolutionized the shortstop position from the traditional quick, lanky, powerless fielder, to one of size, power, and positioning. What he lacked in quickness, he made up in length, arm strength, and pitch-by-pitch positioning. He was one of the most popular player in his generation proven by the fact that he still holds four all-star voting records, including the all-time leader in fan balloting, and started the all-star game 17 consecutive times. While his longevity, consistency, and personality led to his popularity, his defense was overlooked, and was probably the most underrated defender of his generation. He ranks 7th all-time in fielding percentage for shortstops, led the league 6 times in putouts (MLB record) and if you prefer sabermetrics, he is 4th ALL-TIME in defensive WAR, not just for shortstops, but for every defensive position combined.
5. “Sugar” Ray Leonard (Boxing) – World titles in FIVE weight divisions, first boxer to $100M in earnings, boxer of the decade (1980s), Olympic gold medal, while not losing a single point in six matches. He ended his career as an 8-time major world title holder, and 5-time Ring/International title holder. Leonard had some of the most memorable and famous bouts in the history of boxing including fights versus Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns (twice), and Roberto “No mas” Duran (three times).
4. Joe Gans (Boxing) – Ranked as the greatest lightweight boxer of all-time, lightweight champ for six years, 145 career professional wins, 100 by knockout, 10 losses. Gans (actually Gant, but became Gans due to a media writer’s error) revolutionized boxing by game-planing for an opponent, which allowed him to fight men who were almost always heavier than he was. Today there is a bronze statue of Gans in Madison Square Garden.
3. Jimmy Foxx (MLB) – 3-time MVP, 3 World Series, 2-time batting champ, 3-time home run champ, triple crown (Batting, home run, and RBI leader). Foxx’s all-time rankings for non-steroid users is 10th in home runs (#2 when he retired), and 6th in RBIs to go with his .325 lifetime average. Interesting footnote is that he actually tied Babe Ruth’s single-season home run mark with 60, but had two wiped from the record books because the games were cancelled due to rain. He had 500 home runs before the age of 33 (the quickest to do so before Alex Rodriguez), but only had 34 total for the remainder of his career.
2. Michael Phelps (swimming) – 18 Olympic gold medals (the next highest individual in any sport has 9), 11 individual golds, 8 golds in a single Olympic games (record), with 5 individual golds (tied for first), 7-time world swimmer of the year (record), set 39 world records, and still holds the world record in seven events, including three individual. All-in-all, Phelps has won 61 international gold medals and 77 total.
1. Babe Ruth (MLB) – 12-time home run champ, 6-time RBI champ, batting champ, ERA champion, and ONE AL MVP. The last award was the most curious to me, so I looked it up. Apparently, the MVP award was discontinued until his 9th year in the league, and the rules then stated that a player could only be recognized as MVP once in a career (a rule that changed during the last few years of his career, but that’s when Jimmy Fox was putting up blistering numbers). Today he ranks 2nd in home runs, 2nd in RBIs, 2nd in walks, and 3rd in runs (minus Bonds), as well as 1st in slugging, 1st in on-base plus slugging, 2nd in on-base average, and 8th in batting average regardless of player. He still holds nearly 70 regular season MLB records and 18 world series records as a batter, pitcher and fielder. Add these records to his ability to put down a few beers, and he is easily number one in my book.