Best Athletes of the 1950s

The Top Ten
1 Gordie Howe Gordon "Gordie" Howe OC (March 31, 1928 – June 10, 2016) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player. From 1946 to 1980, he played twenty-six seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Mr. Hockey, the Detroit Red Wings legend, made this team a winner. In the 1949-50 season, he played well until an awful injury forced him out of the playoffs, but his Red Wings still won the Stanley Cup.

The next season, Howe, now healthy, began a dominance of NHL greatness the likes of which they had never seen before. The next four seasons saw Howe lead the NHL in points scored. In 1952-53, Howe became the first NHL player to score 90 points (95) and scored a career-high of 49 goals. The Red Wings won 4 Stanley Cups in the 1950s with Howe onboard. A legend for all times.

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2 Emil Zatopek
3 Willie Mays Willie Howard Mays, Jr., nicknamed "The Say Hey Kid", is an American former Major League Baseball center fielder who spent almost all of his 22-season career playing for the New York/San Francisco Giants, before finishing with the New York Mets.

The remarkable Mays from the 1950s is like Mantle because it's too long to print all the major awards and feats he's done. The one major thing he had in that decade was that he was a five-tool player: hit, hit with power, run, throw, and catch. He was baseball's first ultimate total package.
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4 Bob Pettit Robert Lee Pettit Jr. is an American retired professional basketball player. He played 11 seasons in the NBA.
5 Archie Moore

Archie fought in a decade that introduced boxing to television, and he was one of those who took advantage of it. As the Light Heavyweight Champion, Moore defended his title a lot and went 43-0-1 as a Light Heavyweight Champion in the 1950s. At the end of the 20th century, The Associated Press named him the Greatest Light Heavyweight of the 20th Century.
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6 Rocky Marciano

The first boxer to retire undefeated as heavyweight champion, he still holds the record for the highest knockout-to-win percentage in boxing history at 87.76 percent. One of those knockouts brought him the heavyweight championship on September 23, 1952, in Philadelphia. In the 13th round, Jersey Joe Walcott used his trademark feint to set up his right hand, but Marciano's Suzie Q landed first. A powerful right hook caused Walcott to slump to his knees with his arm draped over the ropes, and he was knocked out. Marciano became the new champ.

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7 Juan Manuel Fangio

He was Formula 1's first major superstar. He left footprints for drivers to follow. Fangio arrived as Formula 1 kicked off in 1950. Every time he raced in Formula 1, there was a good chance he might win a race.

Even today's drivers like Lewis Hamilton couldn't match Fangio's amazing stat: In the 52 races he entered in Formula 1, he won 24, a stat that is still amazing today. He was the first driver to win five Formula 1 World Driving Championships and the only Argentine to win the Argentine Grand Prix, which he did four times. Fangio, truly a legendary racer in a different era.

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8 Mickey Mantle

What else can you say about Mantle? From being parodied by the Flintstones as "Mickey Marble" to being honored in the song "I Love Mickey," the 1965 MLB Hutch Award winner provided courage on the field. He played hurt while leading the Yankees to great World Series championships. Yes, sadly, he got lots of strikeouts, but he made up for it with tape-measure home runs and was once the fastest player in baseball. Mickey was truly a baseball immortal.
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9 Sugar Ray Robinson Sugar Ray Robinson was an American professional boxer who competed from 1940 to 1965. Robinson's performances in the welterweight and middleweight divisions prompted sportswriters to create "pound for pound" rankings, where they compared fighters regardless of weight.

He was simply the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time, and even the great Muhammad Ali said so. Throughout the 1950s, Robinson won and lost titles and fought in some amazing fights.

One fight that fits Sugar Ray well happened on May 1, 1957, against the reigning middleweight champion Gene Fullmer at Chicago Stadium, an arena that would host many of its great moments. This was one of them. The bout was great as two warriors fought it out. After four rounds, the bout was even. But in the fifth, Robinson was able to win back his title for a fourth time by knocking out Fullmer with a lightning-fast, powerful left hook that, many decades later, was called "The Perfect Punch."

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10 Alfredo di Stéfano

Di Stefano was the first football player to definitively gain the title of the best football player in the world. The first half of the 20th century was a period without personal football awards (formal or informal), so there were at least 5 players (with or without the same career time) who could be believed to be the best. Di Stefano was the number 1 until Pele appeared (1958).

The Contenders
11 Ferenc Puskas Ferenc Puskás (1 April 1927 – 17 November 2006) was a Hungarian footballer and manager, widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time and the sport's first international superstar. He scored 84 goals in 85 international matches for Hungary, played four international matches for Spain... read more

He was one of the 'big five' of football of the 20th century (Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Di Stefano the others). If you add C. Ronaldo and L. Messi, you have the supreme football level in your mind.

12 Jackie Robinson Jack Roosevelt Robinson was an American professional baseball player who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.

Jackie's Brooklyn Dodgers were true pennant contenders when he was on the team. But numbers and pennants meant little to Jackie. He was a proven winner, and his leadership would, in time, pave the way for other great Dodgers in the future.

These players would continue the tradition and keep the Dodger Way alive for more great success in the years and decades to come. Today's Dodgers are, in a way, a throwback to the days when in Brooklyn, winning was everything to them. A big thanks to the man who started a Dodgers winning tradition, Jackie Robinson, who is also a great man.

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13 George Mikan George Lawrence Mikan Jr., nicknamed Mr. Basketball, was an American professional basketball player for the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League and the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBL, the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball Association.

The first 10 years in the NBA saw very low scoring, teams traveling on trains, and unknown cities that had NBA teams. Then there was one true superstar in the first decade, George Mikan. He was the NBA's first celebrity figure. He was so popular that, in one scene at Madison Square Garden, the sign once said George Mikan vs. Knicks.

His awards were numerous, but here are a few worthy ones. Mikan was named to the NBA 25th Anniversary All-Time Team, the NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team, and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996). He was truly Mr. Basketball.

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14 Dezso Gyarmati

The most decorated water polo player of all time, Dezso led his country, Hungary, to great heights, especially during Olympic time. Three times Hungary won the gold with him around, including in 1952 and 1956. He was one of the fastest water polo players ever, once swimming the 100 meters in 58.5 seconds. Dezso was truly amazing, and FINA, the international committee for the Olympics, said, "The left-handed genius could play in all positions on the field. Known for his fearless approach in every game, he was able to decide the biggest clashes single-handedly."

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15 Paul Anderson

A weightlifter who was the U.S. best ever, his presence in the weightlifting world is still being felt even after his 1994 death. In the clean and press, he lifted 408.5 pounds at the 1955 World Championships. In the snatch, he lifted 335 pounds at the 1956 Senior Nationals. In that same event, he did the clean and jerk at 440 pounds - truly feats of strength.
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16 Babe Didrikson Zaharias
17 Johnny Unitas John Constantine Unitas, nicknamed "Johnny U", or "The Golden Arm", was an American professional football player from the 1950s through the 1970s.

It's the ultimate Cinderella story, a story that almost did not make Unitas a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He had a legendary career at the University of Louisville, but in his senior season, he was injured and didn't see action until week 3.

After graduation, Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1955 NFL Draft. But he was cut from the team, as he was involved in a four-man quarterback battle for just three spots on the Steelers. Unitas was the odd man out. Then he was forced to play semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams. Then the Baltimore Colts wanted a quarterback to join them. He accepted, and a great career was underway.

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18 Bob Mathias

He was a true decathlon athlete, so much so that he even played college football for Stanford and actually played in the 1952 Rose Bowl. But it was the decathlon that made him a legend. The 1952 Summer Olympics saw him set all of his personal bests to establish himself as an Olympic legend. He won gold there. He also won the decathlon at the 1950 U.S. National Decathlon Championship, a feat he would do again in 1951 and 1952. Bob was a 1948 James E. Sullivan Award winner.
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19 Bobby Charlton Sir Robert "Bobby" Charlton is an English football player, regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time. He was an essential member of the England team that won the World Cup in 1966, the same year he also won the Ballon d'Or.

Bobby shined in the 1966 World Cup year, but this is focused on the beginnings of his great career. He joined Manchester United in 1956 and, in just two years, became a promising star. He scored two goals in his professional debut and even a hat trick in a 1957 game against Charlton Athletic.

He survived a tragic 1958 plane crash that claimed the lives of eight Manchester United players and came back as one of football's all-time greats. He eventually earned a place on the 1994 FIFA World Cup All-Time Team, a place on the FIFA 100, and the 2008 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.

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20 Sam Snead
21 Stanley Matthews

He was known as the Magician, and Stanley Matthews fit it and became one of England's best footballers ever. He was a part of many football teams that were great when he was on those teams and kept playing football until he was 50 years old. In the 50s, he played for Blackpool, and there he scored 17 goals and played in a remarkable 379 games. It was with them that they reached the 1951 FA Cup Final, and in the 1953 FA Cup Final, they won it as he led his team to a comeback 4-3 win and a place in football history. Stanley Matthews, one of its very best.

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22 Bobby Morrow

1956 was his year, and the Summer Olympics were his showcase for his blazing speed. After his brilliant performances in the 100 and 200 meters at the Olympic Trials and winning the AAU title, Morrow first won the 100 meters. Then, in the 200 meters, he was hot as he set a world record of 20.6. He was also part of a gold medal-winning 4x100 meter relay team that set a world record.

Not since 1936 had an athlete won those three gold medals in those three mentioned events. His greatness was applauded when he was named the 1956 James A. Sullivan Amateur Athlete of the Year and the coveted Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Bobby Morrow, a true American immortal.

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23 Duke Snider

How can you have the 1950s without this guy? He knows postseason pressure and has lots of power. For five years in a row (1953-1957), he hit 40 or more home runs. He was the 1955 Sporting News National League Player of the Year, played in seven straight All-Star Games this decade (1950-1956), had over 1,000 RBIs this decade, and led the Dodgers to the 1955 World Championship.

24 Yogi Berra Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra was an American professional baseball catcher, manager, and coach who played 19 seasons in Major League Baseball, all but the last for the New York Yankees.

The quotes, the clutch hits, the championships - all three reasons why Yogi is in the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1972. In the 1950s, the debate over who's the best catcher in New York baseball was one of the big topics. For Yankee fans, it's Yogi. He played in every All-Star Game in the '50s and was a three-time American League MVP (1951, 1954, 1955).

Here's what else was said at his Monument Park Plaque: Hit most home runs by a Yankee catcher, led Yankees to 14 pennants and 10 World Championships, a legendary Yankee, and his famous quote, It ain't over 'til it's over.
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25 Ben Hogan

What Ben did in 1953 was truly remarkable. He won 3 of the 4 majors that year. First, he won another Masters golf tournament at -14 under par. Then, it was another U.S. Open golf championship, followed by the big one, the Open Championship, held that year at Carnoustie, Scotland. It would eventually be Hogan's only Open appearance.

After starting rough in the first two rounds, Hogan found his groove in Round 3, making a birdie at hole 18 to tie for the lead. In the final round, with many leaders faltering, he shined with a 68 to capture that championship in his great year.

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