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Tim Lincecum and the Most Popular Bay Area Sports Stars of the Last 100 Years

claudia celestial girlAnalyst INovember 18, 2010

Tim Lincecum and the Most Popular Bay Area Sports Stars of the Last 100 Years

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    The Bay Area encompasses San Francisco, Oakland, and San JoseJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    This slide show is in response to one published just a couple of weeks ago titled: Tim Linsecum and the Most Popular Bay Area Sports Stars Ever.

    After more than 50 years the Giants finally won the World Series, and the fans are delighted. We love these new stars of the team.  Nonetheless, in the 50 year interim, and in the 100 years of contemporary sporting history, quite a few much beloved, and popular athletes have come out of the region.

    This slideshow is my take, as a longtime resident, on the 25 most popular athletes of the region.

25. Ray Guy

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    Ray Guy in 1985, legendary Raiders kicker. Number 6 in this photo (silver and black team).George Rose/Getty Images

    There is no way a list such as this will not be controversial.  To start, no coaches, nor announcers, nor college stars are allowed.  Yes, that leaves out John Madden and the great Bill Walsh!

    What do we mean by 'popular'?  Beloved. Remembered long after the playing days are done.  A player who defined their sport, the living avatar for the sport in the popular mind of the day.

    At 25. Ray Guy.  The only punter to be selected in the first round.  When I was a kid, we worshipped Ray Guy as part of a legendary, hall of fame, fantasy team.  

24. Gaylord Perry

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    Hall of Fame pitcher, Gaylord Perry.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    In some respects a list such as this pit one sport against another. This is not fair.

    At 24. Gaylord Perry.  One of the most notorious baseball players of his day, if not the most notorious.  If fans in the Bay Area loved Barry Bonds, they also loved Gaylord Perry.  Why do we love the 'bad' guys? That's a question for a different article.  Nonetheless, for every time Perry was caught putting a foreign substance on the ball, there must have been a hundred times when he faked players into thinking something was up with his pitches, and that's why we loved him so much.  Like fooling the cops while driving on the road, it wasn't performance enhancers going into his body, but cleverness in outwitting his opponents.

    [Hall of Fame].

23. Jim Plunkett

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    Jim Plunkett as Raiders quarterback in 1985.George Rose/Getty Images

    At the age of 33, Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to its first Superbowl in a long time (XV), and again (XVIII).  He was as unlikely a quarterback (inelegant, ungraceful, and 'senior' for a player at that position) as the 1980 Raiders were Superbowl champions.  We loved him because he fit so completely with the rag-tag team; because he took over when Pastorini broke his leg and then ... just kept winning!  A child of the Bay Area, he was from San Jose, and took underdog Stanford to victory in the 1971 Rose Bowl.

    [no hall of fame].

22. Kristi Yamaguchi

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    Kristi Yamaguchi, consummate entertainer and athlete.Elsa/Getty Images

    You may not be a figure skating fan.  You may be one of those guys who rolls their eyes when their girlfriend demands that you change the station from the 49ers to Skate America.  Nonetheless, few athletes from the Bay Area (Kristi grew up in Fremont) have had a bigger impact on her sport (we'll get to another one shortly) been more enduringly popular, and is more identified with her sport as Kristi Yamaguchi.

    1992 Olympic Gold medalist, 2 times world champion, and ... Dancing with the Stars winner!

    [Hall of Fame]

21. Don Budge

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    Don Budge, an unassuming and modest athlete from Oakland, is one of only 7 men in tennis history to win the Grand Slam, and one of only 2 men to win all four majors in the same year.  

    Don Budge is one of those legendary names from history who is quintessentially identified with the sport of tennis. He is a legend of the sport.  He got a mention in the movie and musical 'Annie.'  He won one of the most famous tennis matches in the long history of tennis on the eve of World War II, with Hitler listening on the radio against the German champion.  

    [Hall of Fame]

    note: Video of Don Budge playing  Bobby Riggs (yes the same old man who tried to beat Billy Jean King in the 1970s - in his younger days, of course).  Relevant video begins about the 7:00 mark.

20. Bobby and Barry Bonds

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    Bobby Bonds (16), and Barry Bonds (25)Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    I maintain that one reason Barry Bonds is so popular in the Bay Area is the popularity of his father, Bobby Bonds, and the fact that both of them were franchise Giants players.

19. Ken Stabler

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    Ken StablerJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Before the dubious 'era' of Jim Plunkett was the era of Ken Stabler.  Stabler led a dynasty Raiders team which also included running back Cliff Branch, and hall of fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff.  We loved these guys because they guided the Raiders to their first Superbowl (XII), and again for (XIII). 

    [no Hall of Fame].

18. Catfish Hunter

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Like I said, a comprehensive list like this looks like it pits one sport against another, though that is not the case.

    For me, Catfish Hunter is a franchise Oakland As player, much beloved in the Bay Area.  He was part of the legacy of owner Charley Finley and the As when they were in Kansas City.  He was a 5 time world series winner, Cy Young award winner, pitched the 9th perfect game, and his number (#27) was retired by the Oakland As.  

    [Hall of Fame].

17. Fred Biletnikoff

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    Fred BiletnikoffGeorge Rose/Getty Images

    First of all, what a great name!  And what a great career.  Spent his whole career with the Oakland Raiders.  Everyone has heard of the 1972 'Immaculate Reception' - which was against the Raiders and executed by Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.  But Fred executed plenty of elegant receptions in his day.  No mention of the Raiders as a franchise would be complete without Fred.

     [Hall of Fame].

16. Vida Blue

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    Vida BlueOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Few players have electrified a team like the advent of Vida Blue did the Oakland As when he was called up late in the season in 1970.  OMFG!  Like Tim Liscencum today, Vida Blue captured the region's attention with riveting pitching, and the fastest fast ball thrown up until that time.  I may be wrong, but they installed one of those clocking machines for the first time just to quantify what he was able to do from the mound.  Just a few days after being called up, he shut out one team, then one-hit another team a week later, and no-hit a third team before two weeks were over.  He played in the major leagues for 17 years.

    He is a 3 times world series champion and a Cy Young award winner.  

    [no Hall of Fame].

15. Tim Lincecum

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    Tim LincecumDoug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Now why would I put Tim Lincecum ahead of Vida Blue?  His career is on its upward trajectory.  He's still playing.

    Well, for one thing, he's won the Cy Young award twice in succession.  His career looks like its going to be off the charts.  Hopefully we can revisit this question in ten years with a lot more information.

    [no hall of fame (yet)].

14. Roger Craig

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    Roger CraigGeorge Rose/Getty Images

    Roger Craig is one of the most beloved of the dynasty 49er team of the 1980s.  He was relentless.  He was reliable.  You didn't cringe when he was handed the ball like you did with (Cal Golden Bear receiver, and San Diego Charger) Chuck Muncie.  He was one of the pillars of the team.  I still remember one of the National League West Championship games where he coughed up the football late in the game in one of his few fumbles, and it cost us a chance for another Superbowl title.  No Problem Roger!  Ugh ... OK.  Not a huge problem, Roger!  ;-)  I bet people mention it all the time, and its too bad because the guy was simply off the charts great for the team, and the fans remember with great affection all he did.

    Came out of the great Nebraska college football tradition, but will always be associated with San Francisco.

    [no hall of fame (what are those guys thinking?)].

13. Ronny Lott

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    Ronnie Lott when he was a Raider. Look at how menacing he is!Ken Levine/Getty Images

    I know what you're going to say.  Why would you put Ronnie Lott ahead of Roger Craig?  Again, on a list such as this, parsing athletes that stand next to each other is too hard.  It's not that Ronnie Lott is 'better' than Roger Craig.  All part of the legacy 49er team. Ronnie was one of four rookies that were there when it all began.  Do you remember their names?  This guy could really put a hit on you. And just look at how this picture (he was playing for the Raiders by then) captures his field 'presence'!  His number (#42) is retired by the San Francisco 49ers.  

    [Hall of Fame]

12. Juan Marichal

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    McCovey, Cepeda, Mays, and MarichalBrian Bahr/Getty Images

    Tim Lincecum has not racked up numbers that Juan Marichal did.  Won more games than any other pitcher in the decade of the 1960s.  For some reason ... and I'm not saying anything here, that would be the subject of another article, he never won a Cy Young award.  Nonetheless, Marichal would be on your Giants 'dream team'.  His number (#27) was retired by the San Francisco Giants.  

    [Hall of Fame].

11. Orlando Cepeda

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    Orlando CepedaJose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images

    Along with Mays, McCovey, Marichal, the Alou brothers, Cepeda was a franchise player who's name is synonymous with The Giants.  He was the first baseman in those years before McCovey.  His number (#30) is retired.  

    [Hall of Fame].

10. Mark Spitz

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    Mark Spitz and Michael PhelpsSpencer Platt/Getty Images

    The Bay Area is sort of famous for producing swimmers.  The Santa Clara facility is where many of the best Olympics swimmers train.  But almost none of them become famous, much less popular.  Except for this guy.  Not only was he from the Bay Area, but he trained in Santa Clara, and went on to become perhaps the most famous and beloved American Olympic athlete of all time.  For several decades he held the record (5) for the most Gold Medals won in a single Olympics.  He was also handsome, and a household name far beyond athletics for tens of years.  Who can forget the famous shot of him with his 5 medals around his neck?

     [Hall of Fame].

9. Peggy Fleming

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    Peggy Fleming, 1968Getty Images/Getty Images

    Yep.  You're going to say it.  How can I put Peggy Fleming ahead of Mark Spitz?!?

    Like Mark Spitz, Peggy's Olympic win was huge for the sport.  And like Mark Spitz, Peggy's became a household name for decades after her win.  She was from San Jose.  And I dare to say that she has experienced even more enduring popularity and had a greater impact on the sport than Mark Spitz.  She defined a sort of feminine grace for the sport that stood as a paradigm for more than a decade.  She was on TV with Christmas specials for quite a few years after her Olympic win.  

    [Hall of Fame].

8. Reggie Jackson

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    Reggie JacksonMike Stobe/Getty Images

    Mr. October!  He put the Oakland As on the 'map' - with all due respect to Catfish Hunter and Ricky Henderson.  He pulled them into the park, and was the megastar for the team.

    I'll never forget as long as I live the day he came into the men's store where I worked for a little shopping.  OMFG!  The salesgirls all ran into the back with me and we peeked out of the door at him while the manager went to show him around.  

    While he was playing , he seemed like the face of the Oakland As.  He is a 5 times world series champion, and both his numbers (#9) with the As, and (#44) with the New York Yankees, are retired.  

    [Hall of Fame].

7. Ricky Henderson

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    This guy is the all time greatest base runner that there is.  Revered by ball kids everywhere.

    Just watch this video. (3:30 min).

    A member of anybody's baseball dream team.

    He is a 2 times world series champion, and his number (#24) is retired by the Oakland As.

    [Hall of Fame].

6. Wilt Chamberlain

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    Wilt ChamberlainBrian Bahr/Getty Images

    You may have noticed that this is the first basketball player listed!  Go ahead.  Crucify me.  Nonetheless, in terms of notoriety, impact on the sport, popularity beyond the confines of the Bay Area, Wilt Chamberlain is not bettered by any other basketball player to play in the region.

    One of the greatest centers of all time (2nd best according to ESPN), he started out at a time when the Harlem Globetrotters were a serious franchise!  He did not win a basketball championship for the Warriors, but his list of accomplishments in the sport is very long. [Hall of Fame].

5. Steve Young

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    Steve YoungJ. Meric/Getty Images

    Steve Young is one of the most beloved sports heroes of the Bay Area.  Not least because of his heartbreaking wait to take over as quarterback of the 49ers while living legend Joe Montana was also playing.  His monumental achievements include another Superbowl (XXIX) for the franchise and many years of brilliant football.  Young is both loved and missed at the helm of this dynasty team. QB rating: 96.8. His number (#8) is retired by the San Francisco 49ers.  [Hall of Fame].

4. Willie McCovey

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    A statue of Willie McCoveyChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Stretch McCovey patrolled first base in a quintessential manner for the Giants.  You can't get his memory out of your head while watching other people play that position for the  Giants.  He would be one of your all-time dream team players.  He played almost 15 years for the Giants, and his number (#44) is retired.  

    [Hall of Fame].

3. Jerry Rice

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    Jerry Rice.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    I'm not sure if they ever gave him the key to the city.  But they may as well have. Everywhere he goes, people want to do things for him.  So many great plays, and years of great football, not only with the 49ers, but with the Raiders too.  His number (#80) is retired with the San Francisco 49ers.  [Hall of Fame].

2. Joe Montana

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    Joe MontanaEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    You ask - how can I rank Montana higher than Rice?  Joe Montana came to San Francisco, with coach Bill Walsh, and a slew of rookies, and gave the 49er 'faithful' their hearts desire - a Superbowl win, and the start of a dynasty.  Jerry Rice came later.  But it was Joe Montana who had the 'right stuff' that uncanny 'thing' that made it all work.  Other QBs were supposed to have better mechanics.  In particular, Dan Marino.  John Elway, a Stanford grad, was supposed to be more powerful.  But the proof of the pudding was in the rings.  It's rare that a city is blessed with brilliance in athletics of this kind.  Multiple superbowl MVP.  QG rating of 92.3.  His number (#16) is retired with the San Francisco 49ers.  [Hall of Fame].

1. Willie Mays

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    Willie MaysEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    It's been said that Willie Mays is like the current version of Babe Ruth. The most legendary baseball player still living today.  We are privileged that he is still around.

    In my household he has been revered for three generations.

    His number (#24) is retired by the San Francisco Giants.  But not in my house. Number 24 has been worn by two generations of men in my family, at Little League.  

    [Hall of Fame].

Honorable Mention: Seabiscuit

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    Julian Herbert/Getty Images

    It may seem funny to include an equine athlete as one of the most popular sports stars in the last 100 years.  Nonetheless, the numbers bear it out.

    Seabiscuit, a legend in American horseracing history, was not only popular in his day, but continues to be one of the most popular athletes of all time.  His name, along with that of Secretariat and Man of War, is instantly recognizable to people of all eras.  

    He launched his career at Bay Meadows race track and retired in Mendocino county, making him arguably a Bay Area athlete.

    In the 1930s when he raced against War Admiral in the Match Race of the Century, the nation came to a stop.  The radio audience was estimated at 40 million.  Since the total US population at the time was 130 million, that means an astonishing 30% of the nation were spectators for this one sporting event. (Let's see, what was this year's world series audience share?)  How many of the men and women on this list have seen movies made of their careers?  OK, Mark Spitz.

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