Top 25 'homegrown' New York athletes
Who says you can't go home? Not these athletes. A look at the top 25 sportsmen who were born and/or raised in the five boroughs or Long Island, and played in New York during their professional careers. Compiled by Mark Herrmann
25. NINA KUSCSIK
It is only a technicality that the Brooklyn native and Huntington Station resident was not officially a pro athlete when she became the first woman to run the New York City Marathon (1970) and was the race’s first repeat women’s champion (1972, 1973). Back then, the prizes were a laurel wreath and a bowl of stew. But largely because of this pioneering mother of three, women’s marathon champions now get six-figure checks. Kuscsik was inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1999 and the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame last year.
Notable quote: “People thought I was crazy. When I won Boston in ’72, now they understood what I was doing.”
24. RICHARD MIGLIORE
Riding two winners at Aqueduct on Feb. 4, 2005, the jockey born in Babylon and raised in Sheepshead Bay reached the 4,000 victory plateau. Many of those wins came on New York tracks, which twice won him the Eddie Arcaro Award as outstanding jockey of the year by the New York Turf Writers Association. Migliore showed true resolve in recovering from a 1988 spill at Belmont that was so bad it was depicted in the TV show “Rescue 911.”
Notable quote: “I’m proud of the achievement. I started my career here, and all of my success has been in the major leagues.”
BRIAN MULLEN, Right Wing
Islanders (1992-1993): 81 games, 18 G, 14 A, 32 PTS
Rangers (1987-1991): 307 games, 100 G, 148 A, 248 PTS
22. ED LOPAT
Unfazed that DeWitt Clinton High School did not have a baseball team, young Edmund Lopatynski played on club squads between shifts as an usher at Radio City Music Hall. He signed as a first baseman with the Dodgers, who changed his position and shortened his name. The Yankees acquired him in 1948 and averaged 16 wins during five World Championship years (1949-53).
Notable quote: “Get the ball over the plate and make them hit it” (his philosophy on throwing his bedeviling “junkball” pitches).
21. JAMES BRADDOCK
Having grown up in Hell’s Kitchen, he appeared washed up as a boxer and down and out as a man during the Depression, using $24 monthly government handouts to support himself, his wife and children. Then he mounted a comeback that climaxed with a 1935 victory as 10-1 underdog over heavyweight champion Max Baer at Madison Square Garden Bowl, an outdoor arena in Long Island City. “Cinderella Man,” the movie they made of it, also was a hit in New York.
Notable quote: “It looks like those lean days we had for the last two or three years are gone forever” (in an old news clip, as he hugged his wife).
20. BOBBY THOMSON
A Dodgers fan in Staten Island after his family emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland, Thomson signed with the Giants because they made a better offer. He made good on it, becoming a three-time all-star for them. Curiously, none of those honors came in 1951, when he hit the clinching home run over Brooklyn that is considered the most famous play in baseball history (“The Giants win the pennant…the Giants win the pennant!”)
Notable quote: “I’m in the phone book. I’m nobody special” (to a fan who considered him an icon).
19. CARL BRAUN
The Knicks' first big star, the Brooklyn native who grew up in Garden City, was a master of the two-handed set shot and was the team's top scorer in his first seven seasons. Against Providence in 1947, Braun, a rookie, set an NBA record with 47 points. He made five consecutive All-Star Games (1953-1957), which suggested that the arm injury that forced him to abandon his career as a Yankees minor league pitcher was a good break.
Notable quote: “That was just my night…but I never took 36 shots again” (years later, reflecting on his 47-point game).
18. MARK JACKSON
He carried his point guard skills from Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn to St. John’s to Madison Square Garden, and the skills carried him. Despite having been drafted relatively low, 18th overall, he was the 1988 NBA Rookie of the Year as a Knick. A year later, he was an all-star, teaming with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and others for a major Knicks revival.
Notable quote: “Being from New York helps a lot” (in February, 1988, on making a smooth transition to the pros).
17. JOHN SCHMITT
Born in Brooklyn and educated at Hofstra, the center had the most responsible, vital, rugged job of all the Jets in the late 1960s: He had to protect Joe Namath. Schmitt did it in the stunning Super Bowl III win, despite suffering from pneumonia. Lost his championship ring on vacation in Hawaii in the early 1970s and got it back 40 years later.
Notable quote: “The difference from then to now is like going from a covered wagon to a trip to the moon” (in 2009, reflecting on how the Super Bowl had grown into a spectacle since he played in it).
16. JUMBO ELLIOTT
Bill Parcells was particularly impressed with the Pro Bowl offensive lineman from Lake Ronkonkoma and Sachem High School, and considered him an integral part of the Super Bowl XXV champion Giants. Elliott also played for the Jets and made his only career touchdown reception, the tying play in the “Monday Night Miracle” comeback win over the Dolphins.
Notable quote: “Some of the game is a blur—parts of the celebration, I don’t remember a thing—but the ring is real. I’ll always have it.” (on being honored at Sachem on the Super Bowl win).
15. WILLIE RANDOLPH
Raised in Brooklyn (Tilden H.S.) after having moved from Holly Hill, S.C., Randolph became an all-time New York sports fixture in 13 years as a Yankee, making five All-Star Games, playing on two World Series championship teams and four pennant winners, and becoming the team’s first African American captain. On top of that, he was a Yankees coach during their next wave of dominance, and played for and managed the Mets.
Notable quote: “Today’s world is moving as fast as Jose Reyes going from first to third” (while Mets manager, giving the keynote speech at 2007 Fordham graduation, while his daughter was one of the graduates).
14. BERNARD KING
When he was a Knick in the mid-1980s, King was basketball’s most unstoppable force. The graduate of Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton High School was the first NBA player in 20 years to have successive 50-point games. On Christmas night 1984, against the Nets (his former team), he scored 60, on his way to leading the league with a 32.9 average. The NBA named him among “The Next Ten,” following its all-time Top 50 players list.
Notable quote: “At some point before the winter begins, I’m going to go in the backyard and score 350 points” (musing on the fact that major knee surgery kept him short of 20,000).
13. JOHN FRANCO
From Lafayette High School in Brooklyn to St. John’s, Franco was a devoted fan of the Mets. He still is, having set the team record with 276 saves, made an All-Star game, become the team captain and been on the mound when the club clinched the 2000 National League pennant. His only career World Series decision is a win, in Game 3 over the Yankees in 2000.
Notable quote: “Now to be sharing the wall with some of those guys, it’s truly amazing. It’s kind of cool” (reflecting on having been a 1969 Mets fan and being inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame).
12. WAITE HOYT
The sluggers in Murderers Row could not do it by themselves. The great Yankee teams of the 1920s needed pitching, too, and Hoyt was their ace. The righthander from Erasmus Hall, nicknamed “The Brooklyn Schoolboy,” won 22 games in 1927 and 23 in 1928 and won Game 1 of the World Series each time. A sophisticated multi-talented person who once sang at the Palace Theater, Hoyt finally made the Hall of Fame in 1969.
Notable quote: “Joe, so would the Babe” (to Joe Dugan at Babe Ruth’s funeral, after Dugan said, “I’d give my right arm for an ice-cold beer”).
11. WEE WILLIE KEELER
Long before George Steinbrenner, even before Jacob Rupert bought Babe Ruth, the Yankees (then called the Highlanders) paid big bucks for a star. Keeler was lured away from the National League’s Superbas in his home borough of Brooklyn for a $10,000 salary in 1903—more than three times what he had been making. Keeler’s .341 career batting average made him one of the earliest Hall of Fame inductees.
Notable quote: “Hit ‘em where they ain’t” (on his secret for getting singles instead of lineouts to outfielders).
10. ED DANOWSKI
A farmer’s son from Aquebogue who starred at Riverhead High School and Fordham, he led the NFL in passing for two seasons as a halfback in the Giants’ single wing formation. He led the Giants to two titles, starring in the 1934 “Sneakers Game” triumph, when the team imported basketball shoes from Manhattan College at halftime to help traverse the frozen Polo Grounds field. Danowski ran for a touchdown, passed for another and made an interception against the Bears that day.
Notable quote: “We weren’t prepared for weather that cold” (in a 1991 interview).
9. DICK MCGUIRE
He started from the pavement of the Rockaway Beach playground, where he learned the passing skills that made even the legend Bob Cousy idolize him, and he ended in the rafters at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks retired his No. 15 (with co-honoree Earl Monroe) for a Hall of Fame career that had New York written all over it (he also starred at St. John?s and coached the Knicks).
Notable quote: ?There were times when I?d think, `God, tomorrow I?m going to shoot more.? But I don?t think you can change what you are? (on his pass-first style).
8. MATT SNELL
The 1959 Thorp Award winner as Nassau’s top high school player while he was a running back for Carle Place, Snell was drafted by both the Giants and Jets. He chose the latter and became the AFL Rookie of the Year and an all-star. His crowning achievement came in Super Bowl III—the game that began the Super Bowl’s transformation into a de facto national holiday—when he ran for 121 yards and caught four passes in a staggering upset victory. To this day, he is the only Jet to have scored a Super Bowl touchdown.
Notable quote: “Everything you always wanted in a beer—and less” (as the first athlete ever featured in a Miller Lite commercial).
7. Carmelo Anthony
Some people believed the Knicks gave up too much to the Nuggets in a trade for the Brooklyn native two years ago. But since then, he has blossomed into one of the NBA’s elite players and a future Hall of Famer. He has made the Knicks into a formidable team and led a pro basketball renaissance in New York.
Notable quote: “I was born in New York, so I had family who was in tune with what was going on with the Knicks” (on his arrival, being compared with fellow Brooklynite Bernard King).
6. ALEX RODRIGUEZ
Sure, this Washington Heights native has had his ups and downs as a Yankee, but there is no denying the milestones he has reached while playing in pinstripes: Two American League MVP awards, two home run titles, his 600th home run and a World Series championship (six home runs in the 2009 postseason).
Notable quote: “I look forward to putting this day behind us and having an amazing season. Because it will be the best season of our lives” (to his teammates during a February 2009 news conference in which he admitted taking steroids).
5. Phil Rizzuto
Discovered by Yankees scout Paul Krichell at a semipro game in Floral Park after having been told by the Dodgers and Giants he was too small to play shortstop in the big leagues, the product of Richmond Hill, Brooklyn, loomed large as a Yankees fixture for generations. He made the Hall of Fame as a key member of seven championship clubs and as the American League MVP in 1950—and then served as a beloved longtime broadcaster.
Notable quote: “Holy cow!”
4. JOHN MCENROE
He was dominant at the U.S. Open in Queens, his home borough, winning three in a row, starting in 1979 (against fellow New Yorker Vitas Gerulaitis) and one more in 1984. There also were four U.S. Open doubles titles in a successful, passionate, flamboyant career for athlete who was born in Wiesbaden, West Germany (his father was in the U.S. Air Force) and grew up in Douglaston.
Notable quote: “You cannot be serious!” (famously arguing a call on the way to his first Wimbledon title in 1981)
WHITEY FORD, P
236-106, 2.75 ERA, 10 SV
Ford played for the Yankees in 1950 and from 1953-1967. He holds records for most World Series games (22), Game 1 starts (8), wins (10) and losses (8) during a career spent entirely with the Yankees. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Nets' star Julius Erving was well known for his style and his iconic afro.
1. LOU GEHRIG
The legend that surrounds the Yankees iconic first baseman--the consecutive games streak that ended with the onset of the tragic illness that now bears his name—sometimes obscures the fact that the alumnus of Manhattan’s Commerce High School and Columbia University was an amazing player, with 493 home runs, 2,721 hits and a lifetime .361 World Series batting average.
Notable quote: “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” (on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939)