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Who is the best athlete born on Leap Day?

Montreal Canadiens forward Henri Richard hugs the

Montreal Canadiens forward Henri Richard hugs the Stanley Cup on May 5, 1966. Richard scored the game-winning goal in overtime play to give Montreal the 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. Credit: AP

There is no more exclusive birthday club in humanity than the one that celebrates its quadrennial big day on Monday, when the roughly one in every 1,500 people born on Feb. 29 get to bring their dusty party hats out of storage.

Which prompted a question: Who is the best athlete born on Leap Day?

While Feb. 29 cannot compare to some other sports birthdays — such as Dec. 30 (Sandy Koufax, Tiger Woods, LeBron James) or Feb. 17 (Jim Brown, Michael Jordan) — it holds its own considering its obvious disadvantages.

Local bonus points go to Amityville’s John Niland, who will celebrate his 18th birthday Monday and was a six-time Pro Bowl guard and Super Bowl VI champion for the Cowboys.

Al Rosen, who died last year having celebrated 22 birthdays, was the 1953 American League MVP as an Indians third baseman, but is recalled around New York for his tumultuous tenure as a Yankees executive in the 1970s.

George Steinbrenner famously berated him for losing a coin flip that would determine home field for the 1978 AL East playoff against the Red Sox.

Pepper Martin, the Wild Horse of the Osage, rates mention for his heroics in leading the Cardinals to an upset of the Athletics in the 1931 World Series. He died in 1965, a year after his 15th birthday.

Our winner: Henri Richard, a Hall of Famer who in 20 seasons as a Canadien won 11 Stanley Cups as a player, more than anyone else in history. Happy 20th, Pocket Rocket!

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