The Big Apple's 10 Most Beloved Sports Figures

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IJanuary 10, 2014

The Big Apple's 10 Most Beloved Sports Figures

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    New York City has had its share of unbelievable athletes and incredibly successful teams over the past century or so, and it loves its sports figures as much as, if not more than any other city.

    With so many New York teams having longstanding winning traditions, narrowing down this list to just 10 was extremely difficult. Guys like Lawrence Taylor, Joe Torre, Thurmon Munson, Yogi Berra and Phil Simms just missed the cut.

    There's a lot of legendary names on this list, and it's no surprise that more than half of them are Yankees. 

    Here's a list of the Big Apple's 10 most beloved sports figures.

10. Mark Messier

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    Messier had more success with the Edmonton Oilers than with the Rangers, but he'll always have a very special place in New York fans' hearts for his Stanley Cup victory in 1994.

    As team captain, Messier guaranteed a win in the Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6 while the Rangers faced elimination. Messier went out and scored a hat-trick in the victory, and then led New York on to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

9. Eli Manning

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    If there's one thing New York loves above all else, it's a winner. And if there's one thing that Manning has proved over his career so far, it's that he can win on the highest stage.

    He doesn't have a big personality or enormous numbers, but he has beaten Tom Brady in two Super Bowls while winning Super Bowl MVPs in each game.  He's also the Giants' all-time leader in passing touchdowns and yards, and will only be 33 when the 2014 season kicks off.

    Eli still has at least another few years to further improve his legacy, but he's already cemented his status as an all-time great in the Big Apple.

8. Joe DiMaggio

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    "Joltin Joe" went from being a California kid to one of the most famous New York Yankees of all time. He's best known for his nearly unbreakable 56-game hitting streak, but he did so much more than that.

    He rose to the rank of Sergeant during his time in the Army - right in the middle of his playing career. Proving his character, Joe felt that the comfortable lifestyle the army afforded him because of his fame was embarrassing, and (unsuccessfully) demanded combat duty.

    DiMaggio also happened to be one of the most successful players ever, winning nine World Series and getting elected to 13 All-Star Games over his illustrious career.  

7. Joe Namath

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    Broadway Joe redefined football as we know it in America. He guaranteed a victory in Super Bowl III against the favored Indianapolis Colts of the NFL, while the New York Jets were part of the inferior AFL at the time, and delivered. The Jets beat the Colts 16-7.

    The two leagues would then merge and begin the NFL that still thrives today. Namath would go on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career, and was loved as much for his personality and off-the-field antics as he was for his accomplishments.

    The nickname alone helps to prove his status as an honorary New Yorker.

6. Mickey Mantle

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    Mantle is arguably the best switch hitter of all time.  Some consider him best hitter period. He was named to the All-Star Game in each of his 16 seasons, and won an unbelievable seven World Series.

    He had an extremely decorated career, but his off-the-field issues and personal demons keep him a little farther down this list. Even so, it's impossible for New Yorkers to not love "The Mick" despite his shortcomings.

5. Mariano Rivera

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    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26:  Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees sits in the dugout after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 26, 2013 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.Rivera is retiring after this season.This i
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The newly-retired Rivera spent 19 seasons in New York after being drafted by the Yankees in 1990. He was not a highly-regarded prospect by any means and had a rough start to his career, but became one of the greatest players in baseball history thanks to his legendary cutter.

    Rivera was known for maintaining a low profile off the field, and was known as a very reserved, yet intense player on the field, which added to his lore of being a closer who would come through in the clutch.

    He used that demeanor, along with his signature cutter, to help the Yankees win five championships, be named to the All-Star Game 13 times, and set the MLB record for career saves.

4. Willis Reed

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    This may be a bit random for some younger people, but Reed was one of the best Knicks' players of all-time, and spent his entire Hall of Fame career in New York while winning two championships.

    Reed's humble personality and hardworking, aggressive style of play endeared him to fans, although one particular moment solidified his status as a legend.

    After suffering a torn muscle in his thigh that kept him out of Game 6 of the 1970 Finals, Reed shocked everyone by walking out onto the court during warmups and starting in Game 7. Although his tangible impact was minimal in the game, his presence no doubt helped lift his teammates and secure a victory against the Lakers.

3. Derek Jeter

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    The youngest and only currently active baseball player on this list, Jeter has officially cemented his legacy as an all-time New York great even though he's still a little ways from retirement.

    Jeter owns New York Yankees' records for most games played, most plate appearances, and most hits, among other things. He's led New York to five championships across two decades while earning the nickname "Captain Clutch".

    He has also managed to keep a somewhat low profile in the city, and maintains a level of professionalism that is rare for today's star athletes and will forever be loved for winning with class.

2. Babe Ruth

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    He may be one of the most famous athletes of all time anywhere, but Ruth spent most of his career in pinstripes and was revered in New York for his big home runs and even bigger personality.

    "The Bambino" hit nearly 700 home runs as a Yankee, not to mention the long-balls he hit in Boston before being shipped to the Big Apple, starting the classic New York-Boston rivalry that still exists today.

    That small (but significant) Boston caveat is what ultimately kept him from the top spot on this list.

1. Lou Gehrig

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    There’s a good case to be made for everyone in the top three to take this blue ribbon, but Gehrig’s New York roots and the unbelievably tragic, yet humble way he left the game put him at the top.

    After growing up in Manhattan and playing baseball at Columbia, Gehrig spent 18 seasons as a Yankee, and played in an incredible 2,130 straight games, a record which stood until 1995. He was a two-time AL MVP, seven-time all-star, and team captain.

    He suffered from ALS, a rare disease which took his life at only 37 years of age. He removed himself from the lineup when it began affecting his play, and then retired to focus on battling his disease.

    Gehrig’s famous final speech at his retirement ceremony, seen in the video here, was truly as beautiful a spectacle as the sports world will ever see.

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