Bob Feller and the Greatest Teenage Athletes Ever

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IDecember 17, 2010

Bob Feller and the Greatest Teenage Athletes Ever

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    In light of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller's passing on Dec. 15, we at Bleacher Report decided to give you the 30 greatest teenage athletes ever in honor of Feller.

    Feller makes it toward the top the list, but he's not No. 1.

    This will undoubtedly go without some controversy, but I think we all can agree none of the these athletes don't deserve to be put on this list.

    Who should be ranked higher or lower, however, should be a point of debate.

    It's worth mentioning that some athletes were only given honorable mention due to the fact they didn't do much in their actual teens at a professional or collegiate level. However, they were given honorable mention because they still excelled at a historic level.

    Some of these athletes were ranked lower because they only played at the pro levels or collegiate levels for a short time in their teens before turning 20 years of age.

    Your comments, as always, are welcomed.

    Let the debate begin.

Honorable Mention: Steven Stamkos

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    In the 2009-2010 season, Steven Stamkos scored 51 goals as a 19-year-old, tying Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (more on him later).

    Stamkos became the third-youngest player to score 50 or more goals, behind only Wayne Gretzky and Jimmy Carson.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett

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    EAST RUTHERFORD , NJ - MARCH 26:  Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on during their game against the New Jersey Nets on March 26, 2005 at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowl
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    As a freshman at age 18 in the 1995-1996 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA forward Kevin Garnett had a little trouble adjusting.

    Then came the 1996-1997 season when he averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.7 steals, leading the T-Wolves to their first playoff appearance in franchise history as a 19-year-old.

    Unfortunately, the T-Wolves ran into a Houston Rockets team in the first round that included Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Charles Barkley and were swept, but Garnett's All-Star selection is further proof that he was already becoming a star at 19 years of age.

Honorable Mention: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    LOS ANGELES - 1987:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a free throw during an NBA game at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles, California in 1987. (Photo by: Mike Powell/Getty Images)
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    Known as Lew Alcindor at the time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 1967 season with UCLA under coach John Wooden was so earth-shattering to the game of college basketball that the NCAA actually instituted a rule prohibiting dunking following the 1967 season.

    The rule, known as "The Lew Alcindor Rule," lasted until 1976.

    However, the only problem was that Abdul-Jabbar was 20 years old during that season.

    But his play before that time at Power Memorial Academy gets him onto this list (he led the team to three straight New York City Catholic titles, a 71-game winning streak, and a 79-2 overall record).

Honorable Mention: LeBron James

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    CLEVELAND - MAY 11:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives around Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 11, 2010 in Cleveland, O
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The problem with putting LeBron James on the top 30 is he only played one-and-a-half seasons before turning 20.

    However, he was Rookie of the Year as a teen and became the youngest player in NBA history to score 40 points in a game and record a triple-double.

    His team also missed out on the playoffs in his two seasons as a teen.

Honorable Mention: Bobby Fischer

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    Chess legend Bobby Fischer would probably be one of the top teenage athletes of all-time if he wasn't a chess player.

    But it's hard for me to call a chess player an athlete.

    Still, one of the great teenage minds the world of sports has ever seen.

Honorable Mention: Mario Lemieux

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    On Oct. 11, 1984, as a 19-year-old, hockey great Mario Lemieux stole the puck on his first shift of his debut.

    He proceeded to skate down the ice and score on his first NHL shot.

    He went on to make the NHL All-Star Game (becoming the first rookie named the All-Star Game's MVP) and scored 100 points on the season despite missing seven games.

    He won the Calder Memorial Trophy that year as Rookie of the Year.

30. Michelle Wie

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    DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 11:  Michelle Wie of the USA plays her second shot to the 16th hole during the final round of the 2010 Omega Dubai Ladies Masters on the Majilis Course at The Emirates Golf Club on December 11, 2010 in Dubai, United
    David Cannon/Getty Images

    At age 10, Wie became the youngest player ever to qualify for the USGA amateur championship.

    She turned pro at just 16 years of age.

    She placed for the first time on a professional level outside of her LPGA membership in 2006, at age 17.

    She placed third in the Fields Open in Hawaii.

29. Cheryl Miller

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    PALO ALTO, CA - Cheryl Miller #31 of USC Trojans passes the ball during a women basketball game against the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto, California. Cheryl Miller's college career lasted from 1983-1986. (Photo by: Mike Powell/Getty Images)
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    One of the great players in women's basketball history, Cheryl Miller (sister of Reggie Miller) never made it to college before she turned 20, but she led Riverside Polytechnic High School to a 132-4 record in her four years there from 1978-1982.

    From 1981 to 1982, Miller averaged 32.8 points and 15 rebounds a game, and scored 105 points in a single game in '82.

28. Shaun White

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    VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 18:  Shaun White of United States celebrates his gold medal during the medal ceremony for the Men๏ฟฝs Halfpipe on day 7 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 18, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Kevork D
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Considered one of the great snowboarders of our time, Shaun White turned pro at age 17 after being recognized by the likes of Tony Hawk as early as age nine.

    In his first Winter Olympics in 2006 before he turned 20, White won the gold medal in the half-pipe.

27. Kobe Bryant

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    19 Jun 2000:  Kobe Bryant #8 and Shaquille O''Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers looking on during the NBA Finals Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers defeated the Pacers in 116-111.  NOTE TO USER
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Although Kobe had a mediocre season in his first year in the 1996-1997 season, he quickly ascended the ranks on a talented Los Angeles Lakers squad in the next season. He averaged 15.4 points per game as a sixth man and was runner-up for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.

    Despite not starting in the regular season, Bryant was so dynamic he still was named an All-Star in the 1997-1998 season as a teen, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to become an All-Star team starter.

26. Marcus Dupree

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    Featured in ESPN 30 for 30's documentary "The Best There Never Was," Marcus Dupree was already being compared to one of the great running backs in the history of college football as a true freshman for Oklahoma.

    Just ask coach Barry Switzer:

    "He was the best player on the field. Earl Campbell was the only other guy I ever saw who was like that: physically ready, as a true freshman, to be the best player on a great college team. Maybe even ready for the NFL at that age."

    Despite not starting until the seventh game of his rookie season, Dupree rushed for 1,144 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    But a rift between him and Switzer had him leave Oklahoma the following year, and after turning pro in the USFL, a freak knee injury ended his career.

    He came back later to the NFL in 1990, but it was short-lived, as he never was the same player.

25. Freddy Adu

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    COMMERCE CITY, CO - NOVEMBER 19:  Freddy Adu #10 of the USA controls the ball against Guatemala during their semifinal round FIFA World Cup qualifier match at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on November 19, 2008 in Commerce City, Colorado. USA defeated Guatema
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    At age 14, soccer phenom Freddy Adu turned pro.

    His ability to perform at a high level at this age when he entered the professional leagues is remarkable enough.

    The fact that he scored three goals in the Under-17 World Championships as a 14-year-old is unfathomable.

24. Herschel Walker

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    Considered one of the great college football players of all-time, Herschel Walker exploded onto the season at the University of Georgia as a teen in 1980 and 1981.

    He rushed for over 1,600 yards both years and had 15 and 18 touchdowns, respectively.

23. Mary Lou Retton

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    A passionate follower of Nadia Comaneci (more on her later), Mary Lou Retton was the first female gymnast outside Eastern Europe to win an Olympic all-around title.

    After winning her second American Cup, the U.S. Nationals, and the US Olympic Trials as a 16-year-old in 1984, Retton had to undergo an operation on her knee before the 1984 Summer Olympics.

    She recovered just in time, and proceeded to win the all-around title. She was named the "Sportswoman of the Year" that year.

22. Maria Sharapova

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    Tennis player Maria Sharapova is not only gorgeous, she also is a fantastic athlete.

    She won the 2004 Wimbledon at 17 years of age and won the US Open in 2006 before she hit 20.

    One of the great teenage tennis players to ever play the game.

21. Chris Evert

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    Evert's career winโ€“loss record in singles matches of 1,309โ€“146 (.900) is the best of any professional player in tennis history.

    She was the runner-up in the French Open and Wimbledon as an 18-year-old in 1973.

    She won both the next year as a 19-year-old and claimed her first Grand Slam titles.

20. Nadia Comaneci

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    Gymnast Nadia Comaneci was the winner of three gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics as a 14-year-old (the first gymnast ever to receive a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event) and tacked on two more gold medals in the 1980 Olympics as an 18-year-old.

    She is one of the best-known gymnasts in the world.

19. Gary Nolan

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    Pitcher Greg Nolan's first Major League Baseball game was as an 18-year-old.

    In his rookie season, he went 14-8, and had a 2.58 ERA with 206 strikeouts.

    Despite all of this, he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He had the luck of being a rookie the same year Tom Seaver was.

18. Houston McTear

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    One of the great early sprinters, as a teen Houston McTear was rated in the Top 10 in the 100 meters for the United States, but was even a better 60-meter sprinter.

    His meteoric rise as a teen led up to his 60-meter record as a 21-year-old in 1978, a record that stood until Ben Johnson broke it in 1986.

17. Martina Hingis

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    Martina Hingis was a freak of nature as a teen.

    A list of her accomplishments, all before she turned 20:

    Singles: winner of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open in 1997; winner of the Australian Open and WTA Tour Championships in 1998; winner of the Australian Open and French Open in 1999.

    Doubles: winner of Wimbledon in 1996; winner of Australian Open in 1997; winner of French Open, Australian Open, Wimbledon, and US Open in 1998; winner Australian Open in 1999.

    You get the idea. She was good.

16. Marty Liquori

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    Marty Liquori became the third American high schooler to break a four-minute mile in 1967 (three years after Jim Ryun did it).

    He made the US Olympic Team in 1968 as a 19-year-old.

    Injuries and being overshadowed by Ryun didn't give Liquori the recognition he deserved, but he was one of the great teenage middle-distance runners ever.

15. Mel Ott

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    At only 5'9" tall, it was amazing what "Master Melvin" could do with the bat.

    He was one of the great teenage home run hitters of all-time.

    In 1928 at 19 years of age, Ott hit .322 with 18 homers in the "dead-ball era."

    The rest of his career he proceeded to do even more damage.

14. Mike Tyson

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    "Iron Mike" made his professional debut on March 6, 1985.

    He didn't waste any time making an impression on the boxing world, knocking out Hector Mercedes in the first round.

    In his 15 fights as an 18-year-old, he won by either TKO or KO.

    He took the boxing world by storm.

13. Michael Phelps

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    Michael Phelps won 13 gold medals in swimming before he turned 20 years old.

    He turned 20 just two weeks before he won five more in the 2005 World Championships.

    Do you really need to know anything else?

12. Sidney Crosby

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    At 18 years of age, in his first NHL season, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins finished sixth in scoring with 102 points.

    In his second season, he led the NHL with 120 points and became the youngest player and only teenager to win a scoring title in any major North American sports league.

    That same year, Crosby won the Hart Memorial Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award, given out to the most valuable player in the NHL.

11. Jennifer Capriati

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    Jennifer Capriati debuted in professional tennis in 1990 as a 14-year-old.

    Later that year, she became the youngest player ever to crack the top 10.

    Between 1990 and 1993 (14 to 17 years of age), Capriati won six singles titles, including the Gold Medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, defeating none other than Steffi Graf in the final.

    After a loss in the 1993 US Open, Capriati's personal life took a downward turn, but her record from 1990 to 1993 will always live on.

10. Tony Conigliaro

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    No teenager ever hit more home runs in a single season than Tony Conigliaro, who hit 24 for the Boston Red Sox as a 19-year-old in 1964.

    He did this despite playing only 101 games before breaking his arm in August.

9. Dwight Gooden

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    Pitcher Doc Gooden rocketed up to the major leagues at age 19 in 1984 with the New York Mets.

    He went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and a rookie-record 260 strikeouts in 218 innings.

    One of the greatest baseball seasons ever by teenager.

8. Jim Ryun

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    Jim Ryun was the first high schooler ever to run a sub-four minute mile.

    He actually broke the world record as a 19-year-old with a time of 3:51.3.

7. Steve Cauthen

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    From 1976-1977, Cauthen won 85 of 330 mounts as a pro at 16 years of age.

    In 1977, he was named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year and SI's Sportsman of the Year.

    In 1978, Steve Cauthen became the youngest jockey ever to win the Triple Crown, as an 18-year-old.

    Yeah, that qualifies him on this list.

6. Boris Becker

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    A legend to a lot of young tennis players growing up (including Andre Agassi), Germany's Boris Becker became the youngest player ever to win the men's Wimbledon singles title at age 17 in 1985.

    He followed that up by repeating in 1986.

5. Tracy Austin

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    At 16 years of age, Tracy Austin became the youngest player ever to win the US Open in 1979.

    Her competition?

    Martina Navratilova and, yes, Chris Evert.

    She won her first pro title at age 14.

    In 1980, she became the youngest sports millionaire ever.

    In 1981, she won the US Open again for good measure.

4. Bob Feller

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    Bob Feller was only 17 when he debuted for the Cleveland Indians in 1936.

    In fact, he was going to high school.

    He struck out 15 batters in his first major league game and later in the season tied the record with 17 strikeouts in a game.

    Feller posted a 3.39 ERA as an 18-year-old with 150 strikeouts, and followed that up in 1938 by leading the league in strikeouts (240) as a 19-year-old.

3. Bob Mathias

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    At only 17 years old, Bob Mathias won the 1948 Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, on top of the world as the best all-around athlete.

    He went on to win four straight AAU titles and break his own record, winning the gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Games.

2. Wayne Gretzky

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    "The Great One."

    In his first season in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky won the MVP.

    He was only 19 years old.

    It was the first of eight straight Hart Trophies.

1. Pele

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    Pele, arguably the greatest soccer player of all-time, made his World Cup debut in 1958 at only 17 years of age.

    How did he respond?

    He scored three goals in a semifinal win against France and two more in Brazil's championship win against Sweden.

    He was carried off the field on his team's shoulders.

    He never looked back.


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