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Who is Baltimore’s Greatest Athlete of All-Time?

Posted on September 30, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Many consider Johnny Unitas to be the greatest athlete in Baltimore sports history.

Many consider Johnny Unitas to be the greatest athlete in Baltimore sports history.

Measuring greatness is always a tough challenge. While athletes grow in size, stature and athletic ability, does it mean the athletes of today are greater than those of 30 years ago and were those athletes better than the stars of the 1940s and 1950s?

Through the years, Baltimore has been blessed with many great stars.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, Memorial Stadium was home to some of the greatest athletes in Baltimore sports history. Then since the Orioles moved to Camden Yards and the ravens came to town, there have been more superstars to call the city home

But who is the greatest of the greats?

We want to know who you believe is the greatest athlete in the history of Baltimore sports. Vote in the poll accompanying this article and then share with us your thoughts and memories on the athlete you believe is the most deserving.

Who is Baltimore's Greatest Sports Star of All-Time?

  • Cal Ripken Jr. (43%, 15 Votes)
  • Johnny Unitas (43%, 15 Votes)
  • Ray Lewis (9%, 3 Votes)
  • Brooks Robinson (3%, 1 Votes)
  • Frank Robinson (3%, 1 Votes)
  • Gino Marchetti (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Jim Palmer (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 35

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Out of the dozens of athletes who could have easily been considered, we have narrowed the field to seven finalists. Brief profiles are below.

Ray Lewis has been a defensive star for 13 seasons with the Ravens.

Ray Lewis has been a defensive star for 13 seasons with the Ravens.

Ray Lewis: The only active player on this list, Lewis is an original Raven having been picked by the team with one of their two first round picks in the 1996 NFL Draft. Amazingly, 25 teams passed on Lewis in the draft and he has been making everyone in the league pay for 13 seasons. One of the hardest hitting linebackers of his generation, Lewis has been the prototype linebacker since he joined the league. A 10 time Pro Bowl selection, Lewis has been a first team All-NFL selection six times. In 2000, the Baltimore defense emerged as the best in the league and Lewis was the leader of the charge. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and again in 2003. The Ravens went 12-4 in the 2000 regular season and then allowed a total of 23 points in four playoff games to earn their only Super Bowl title. He was honored as the Super Bowl MVP. Lewis has recorded more than 1,200 career tackles with 33.5 sacks, 28 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries. He remains the inspirational leader of the defense and a perennial All-Pro.

Gino Marchetti was a first team All-Pro seven times.

Gino Marchetti was a first team All-Pro seven times.

Gino Marchetti: Four decades before Ray Lewis, Gino Marchetti evoked the same kind of fear and frustration in offensive players as a defensive end for the Baltimore Colts. A dominating run stuffer and relentless pass rusher, Marchetti was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and seven-time first team All-Pro. After spending one season as an offensive lineman, he became a Pro Bowl defensive end in 1954 and served as the anchor of the Baltimore defense for 13 seasons. In the 1958 NFL Championship Game, Marchetti broke his leg early in the contest, but the captain refused to leave the field until after the Colts won in overtime. Marchetti was a member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1950s and in 1969 was named the top defensive end of the first 50 years of the NFL. He was also a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team.

Jim Palmer is the only player to be on all three Baltimore Orioles World Series Champions.

Jim Palmer is the only player to be on all three Baltimore Orioles World Series Champions.

Jim Palmer: The best pitcher in Baltimore Orioles history, Jim Palmer holds the distinction of being the only player to be on the active roster for all three Baltimore World Series titles, in 1966, 1970 and 1983. He actually recorded a victory in each of those World Series and had a 4-2 overall record in nine World Series games. As a 20-year old in 1966, Palmer had a 15-10 record and in game two tossed a four hit shutout to hand Sandy Koufax a loss in his final pitching appearance. Between 1970 and 1978, Palmer won at least 20 games eight out of nine years and claimed the Cy Young Award three times. He was a four-time Gold Glove winner and was named to six All-Star Games. In 1973 he went 22-9 with a 2.40 ERA to win his first Cy Young Award and finish second in the American League MVP voting. Palmer finished his career with a 268-152 record with a 2.86 ERA. He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.

Cal Ripken Jr. played in a record 2,632 consecutive games for the Orioles.

Cal Ripken Jr. played in a record 2,632 consecutive games for the Orioles.

Cal Ripken, Jr.: For nearly 20 years, Cal Ripken Jr. represented the city of Baltimore and the Orioles with grace and class. The ultimate lunch pale player, Ripken played in a major league record 2,632 consecutive games and played in 3,001 total games in his career. He was in his second year when the Orioles won the World Series in 1983. Ripken, who brought power to the shortstop position, was named the American League MVP after hitting .318 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI. He hit more than 20 home runs in 10 straight seasons between 1982 and 1991. In 1991, Ripken claimed his second AL MVP Award while hitting .323 while establishing career-highs with 34 home runs and 114 RBI. He made 19 consecutive All-Star appearances and eight times claimed the Silver Slugger Award as the top hitting shortstop. Ripken retired following the 2001 season with 3,184 hits, 431 home runs and 1,695 RBI. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Brooks Robinson won 16 straight Gold Glove awards.

Brooks Robinson won 16 straight Gold Glove awards.

Brooks Robinson: No one ever fielded their position better than Brooks Robinson patrolled the area around baseball’s hot corner. Robinson claimed 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards between 1960 and 1975. He was the American League MVP in 1964 and finished third in 1965 and second in 1966. In 1966 the Orioles claimed their first World Series title with a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Robinson is best remembered for using both his glove and bat to completely dominate the 1970 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Robinson hit .429 with two home runs and six RBI. He also robbed the Reds of countless base hits with his amazing fielding. It was no surprise when he was named the Series MVP. In 23 major league seasons, Robinson hit .267 with 268 home runs and 1,357 RBI. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Frank Robinson won the American League MVP Award and Triple Crown in 1966.

Frank Robinson won the American League MVP Award and Triple Crown in 1966.

Frank Robinson: Frank Robinson spent only six seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, but it was an amazing six year stretch. Already an established superstar after a decade with the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson was just the player needed to put the Orioles over the top. He made an immediate splash in 1966 as he claimed the Triple Crown with 49 home runs, 122 RBI and a .316 batting average. Ironically, it was the only time in his career that Robinson led the league in any of those three categories. The Orioles reached the World Series for the first time in team history and swept the Los Angeles Dodgers as Robinson hit two home runs and drove home three runs. Between 1969 and 1971, the Orioles reached three straight World Series and claimed the title in 1970. Robinson was traded following the 1971 season despite leading the Orioles to four World Series appearances in six years. He hit .300 with 179 home runs and 545 RBI in six seasons with the Birds. For his career, Robinson hit .294 with 586 home runs and 1,812 RBI. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Johnny Unitas was the NFL MVP three-times.

Johnny Unitas was the NFL MVP three-times.

Johnny Unitas: After being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnny Unitas was playing semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams when the former quarterback at Louisville received a tryout with the Baltimore Colts. As they say, the rest is history as Unitas eventually emerged as the greatest quarterback of his generation. After entering the lineup when starter George Shaw broke his leg in the fourth game of the 1956 season, Unitas quickly established himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in football. In 1957, his first full season as the starter, Unitas led the league passing yards and touchdown passes to earn his first Pro Bowl selection. The following season, Unitas led the Colts to the playoffs for the first time in team history. In the dramatic NFL Championship Game, Unitas led the Colts on a last minute drive to send the game into overtime. Then, in the first overtime game in NFL history Unitas led the Colts down the field to the winning score. The Colts repeated as champions in 1959. By the 1960s, Unitas was rewriting the NFL record books. He finished his career with then records of 290 touchdown passes and 40,239 career passing yards. A 10-time Pro Bowl selection and five time first team All-Pro, Unitas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

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