San Francisco Bay Area's 100 Greatest Athletes of All Time

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San Francisco Bay Area's 100 Greatest Athletes of All Time


Andrew Brining

(Featured Columnist) on August 27, 2010

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The San Francisco Bay Area is known for many things—some good and some bad unless you happen to be a resident of these parts.

In that case, there is no bad...just good, better, and seismic.

We've got the Golden Gate Bridge, the beautiful San Francisco Bay, the equally picturesque Oakland Hills, the two major earthquakes (1906 and 1989), the Gold Rush, the hippie histories penned in equal parts by activists in Berkeley and free-lovers in the Haight-Ashbury, and other landmarks of the architectural/natural/historical variety.

However, the figurative and literal landscape has never been known as a particularly sporting one.

This despite boasting six franchises from the four major American leagues—the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics from MLB, the 49ers and Raiders from the NFL, the Golden State Warriors from the NBA, and the San Jose Sharks from the NHL.

Nevertheless, the Bay Area isn't known as a breeding ground of legendary sports figures or a place steeped in athletic lore.

Which seems absurd when you group our best athletes together.

Before we get to the list, though, the criteria bear mentioning. Not in hopes of stifling disagreement, but for peace of mind.

What follows are the greatest 100 athletes to ply their trades in the Bay Area, ranked in order according to a highly subjective mix of (A) sheer ability; (B) personal and team achievements; (C) what he or she meant to the locals; (D) what he or she meant to a specific sport; and (E) the intangible factors that endear certain people to a city's population.

Full disclosure—these qualifiers give a substantial advantage to the San Francisco franchises where the market is split due to the dominance of the Giants' and Niners' over said market.

With those caveats on the table, let the carnage begin:

No. 100—Jose Canseco, OF, Oakland Athletics

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Career Highlights:

—Two-time World Series champion in 1989 and 2000

—1988 AL MVP

—Six-time AL All-Star (1986, 1988-90, 1992, 1999)

—1986 AL Rookie of the Year

—462 career home runs with 200 career stolen bases

—Member of the 40-40 Club


In all objectivity, Canseco probably deserves to be higher on this list. In his prime, he was an incredible athlete—he was a serious threat with both his thump and speed. Along with Mark McGwire, the Cuban-born ballplayer formed the backbone of the Oakland Athletics' offense that powered its way to the 1989 World Series.

However, nobody likes a rat and that's exactly what Jose is.

I consider myself charitable even including him on the list.

No. 99—Johnny Miller, Professional Golfer

Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

Career Highlights:

—1996 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame

—1974 PGA Player of the Year

—1973 US Open Champion

—1976 British Open Champion

—25 PGA Tour wins


Miller was born and raised in San Francisco where he honed his skills on the majestic courses of the City's Olympic Club. After making a name for himself as an amateur golfer by winning the San Francisco junior title at the tender age of 16, he took his skills to Brigham Young University and continued his development as he won All-American honors.

Though he was never able to take a Masters championship, the Bay Area product found himself cast as the runner-up an agonizing three times in the span of about a decade.

No. 98—Cung Le, Mixed Martial Artist

Career Highlights:

—Strikeforce Middleweight Champion in 2008 (since vacated)

—Three-time US International Open Martial Arts Champion (1994-1996)

—Four-time US National Champion in Shidokan karate (1994-1997)

—1990 California Junior College State Wrestling Champion at 158 lbs.

—Career kickboxing record of 17-0; career MMA record of 8-1


Though born in Saigon in 1972, Le and his mother immigrated to San Jose soon after the eventual-world-champion was born. Legend has it that the kickboxing virtuoso traded machine gun fire for racial bullying and began his combat training in response to the new provocation; whether that's part of the aspiring actor's flair for the dramatic or not, it's clear the decision to pursue martial arts was a good one.

The Tae Kwon Do black belt has only tasted defeat once, to Scott Smith, and he avenged that knockout by destroying "Hands of Stone" in a savage two-round obliteration back in June.
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