Michigan’s All-Time Greatest Athlete In Each Sport

In a year where the Golden State Warriors were a game away from possibly being crowned the greatest team in the history of professional basketball, it makes one reflect back on what it truly means to be great. The state of Michigan has certainly cranked out its share of memorable players and teams over the years, but it’s interesting to look back historically and try to decide who are the absolute best in each professional sport, and also born here. What follows is my completely unscientific attempt to identify the greatest professional player ever to come from the Great Lakes state in the four major sports. I welcome angry comments and criticism…

Michigan’s Best Baseball Player

charlie gehringer Charlie Gehringer, Second Baseman

This was a very tough call with some pretty stiff competition. I’m sure people closer to my age are screaming for John Smoltz or Kirk Gibson, but I gave Gehringer the close nod over Hal Newhouser who was the MVP in 1944, 45 and second in the voting in 1946. I’ll do this for the same reason MVPs are rarely pitchers these days – every day players are more valuable. Though, that’s a testament to Newhouser’s greatness that I almost gave him the nod. For you non-baseball historians here’s the lowdown on Gehringer:

  • Born in Fowlerville, Michigan.
  • Played second base and was with the Tigers his entire career from 1924-1942.
  • 1937 MVP and finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting a whopping eight times.
  • 2,839 career hits.
  • Never struck out more than 42 times in a season.
  • 80.6 WAR for his career with a high of 8.4 in 1934. If you don’t know what WAR is learn more here. For reference, only four position players in MLB had a higher mark in 2015.
  • Member of the MLB Hall of Fame.

Michigan’s Best Football Player

jerome bettis Jerome Bettis, Running Back

We do love our football around Michigan, and the Wolverines and the Spartans might both be contenders in 2016, while the Lions continue to give most Michigan residents ulcers. Unfortunately, Barry Sanders wasn’t born in Michigan or the Lions could at least make a positive contribution to this post. Michigan’s best football player, though, did have a career highlight in Detroit, and that’s when he and his Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XL in 2006.

  • Born in Detroit, Michigan.
  • Played for the Rams from 1993-1995 and the Steelers from 1996-2005.
  • 6-time Pro Bowl selection and 2 time first team All-Pro.
  • Super Bowl Champion.
  • 13,662 career rushing yards (sixth all-time), 1,449 receiving yards and 91 touchdowns.
  • Member of NFL Hall of Fame.

Michigan’s Best Hockey Player

Mike Modano Mike Modano, Center

This one is no contest. Mike Modano is not only the best hockey player from Michigan, he’s arguably the best player our country has ever produced. Modano is the all-time NHL points leader among players from the United States. Fortunately for the hockey crazy people of Michigan, Modano got to finish off his career playing his final season in a Red Wings jersey after signing a one-year contract in 2010. It took Modano all of two shifts to score his first goal as a Red Wing.

  • Born in Livonia, Michigan.
  • 1st pick in the 1988 draft by the Minnesota North Stars.
  • Played in the NHL from 1989-2011.
  • 561 career goals (24th all-time).
  • 1,374 career points (23rd all-time).
  • Made 8 NHL All-Star Teams, captain of Western Conference in 2003.
  • Stanley Cup Champion (1999)
  • Member of Hockey Hall of Fame

Michigan’s Best Basketball Player

magic johnson Magic Johnson, Point Guard

Of all the professional sports Michigan has been most successful in producing players for the NBA. There have been a number of tremendously successful NBA players from Michigan including Glen Rice, Chris Webber, Jason Richardson, Dave DeBusschere, Steve Smith, Rudy Tomjanovich, Jalen Rose, Dan Majerle and many others. Many people may not know that the all-time leading NBA scorer from the state of Michigan is George Gervin, who was born in Detroit in 1952. The top of the list of Michigan born players, though, has to go to Earvin “Magic” Johnson. One of the most famous players in the history of the sport, his list of achievements is about as long as it gets. Here’s the breakdown on Magic:

  • Born in Lansing, Michigan.
  • 1st overall pick in 1979 draft to the LA Lakers.
  • 5-time NBA champion.
  • 3-time NBA MVP.
  • 3-time NBA finals MVP.
  • 9-time first team all NBA.
  • 12-time All-Star.
  • Member of the NBA Hall of Fame.

Alright, now’s your time to yell at me (or God forbid, give me credit) in the comments below.

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