The Greatest Hispanic Athletes Of All-Time

By Eric Williams
Updated: June 9, 2006

PHILADELPHIA– Compiling this list of the 10 greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time has been the toughest top ten list I have ever had to write. But, as I always say, since my children like to eat — and eat like full-grown adults — I have once again managed to accomplish the assignment that I set out to complete.

I must reiterate once again, after viewing all of the candidates for my top ten list — and then selecting them — not to mention, ranking them in order, was, by far, the toughest “Greatest of all-time” list I have had to come up with to date.

Now enough about how hard it was to put this column together. I’m sure you have better things to do than listen to me gripe. Here are my top ten Hispanic athletes of all-time.

Edison Arantes Do Nascimento (“Pele”)

Incredibly, I think a lot of people here in the United States may not fully realize how great of a player — and humanitarian — Pele actually was.

The former Brazilian soccer player began his football career at Santos Futebol Clube in eastern Brazil, at the age of 15 and went on to win three World Cup medals in a career that spanned almost two decades.

Also known as O Rei (The King) and Pe’ la Negra (The Black Pearl), Pele is widely regarded as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — soccer player of all time.

Considered the complete midfield and attacking player, Pele was a prolific finisher who displayed nearly unmatched skills at dribbling and passing. He was also a remarkably good tackler and was famed for his speed and kicking strength, not to mention his now legendary “bicycle kicks.”

The Brazilian legend scored 1,281 goals over the course of his career and at 16, became the top scorer in the league and a regular on the Brazilian national squad.

While at Santos, he won nine state championships, six Brazilian championships, two Libertadores Cups (South American Cup) and two Intercontinental Cups.

In the 1958 World Cup, Pele became the youngest ever World Cup winner in Sweden at the age of 17 and scored two goals in the final as Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm.

Pele competed on three more Brazilian World Cup teams in 1962, 1966 and 1970, two of which Brazil won (1962 and 1970) although his contributions were limited in 1962 and 1966 because of injuries.

The 1970 team is often considered to be the greatest national teams ever as Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 in the final, with Pele scoring one goal and setting up another.

Pele is in fourth place on the all-time list of goalscorers in international matches with 77 goals, and is tied for third place on the list of goal scorers in World Cup competition with 12 goals.

He ended his career with a total of 1281 goals in 1363 matches, nearly one per game, becoming the highest goalscorer in professional soccer history.

Pele was awarded Brazil’s Gold Medal for outstanding services to the sport, before being named Sports Minister in 1995, Also, in 1997, he was awarded an honorary British knighthood.

In 1992, Pele was appointed as a United Nations Ambassador for Ecology and the Environment and in 1995, he was appointed an Ambassador for UNESCO at the Goodwill Games.

Pele was also voted the athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1999 and in December of 2000, he was named Footballer of the Century by a special “Family of Football” committee appointed by FIFA.

That same year, he also received the Laureus World Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement Award from South African President Nelson Mandela and remains a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador to this very day.

In short, not only is Pele the greatest Hispanic athlete of all-time, but one of the greatest Hispanic humanitarians as well — and that was enough to earn him the number one spot on my all-time list of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time.

Roberto Clemente

Though I have Clemente ranked as my number two greatest Hispanic athlete of all-time, he is certainly the number one Hispanic athlete in American sporting history.

Out of all of Clemente’s vast skills, his best tool was probably his powerful right arm. From rightfield, he unleashed laser-like throws on a regular basis and set a record by leading the National League in assists in five different seasons.

Clemente probably would have led even more times, but players learned it wasn’t wise to run on Clemente and basically gave up on the idea of trying to take an extra base on the talented all-star. Combined with his arm and above average speed, his ability to track down fly balls earned him Gold Gloves the last 12 years of his career.

The right-handed hitting Clemente was a “five-tool” player could drive the ball to all fields equally well. After batting above .300 just once in his first five seasons, Clemente came into his own as a hitter.

Starting in 1960, he batted above .311 in 12 of his final 13 seasons, and won four batting titles in a seven-year period and became the 11th player in MLB history to achieve 3,000 hits. Clemente was also a clutch player who hit safely in all 14 World Series games he played in, helping the Pirates win both seven-game Series.

Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the youngest of seven children, Clemente took advantage of the weather in Puerto Rico to play baseball year-round and played for Santurce, a professional team in the Puerto Rican league where he hit .356 in the winter of 1952-53.

Clemente became a starter for Pittsburgh in 1955 but wasn’t an instant hit, batting just .255 with five homers in 124 games. The next year, he hit .311 and two years later, he recorded 22 assists, tops among outfielders.

By 1960, the Pirates would win the National League pennant with Clemente hitting .314 with 16 homers and a team-high 94 RBI while making his first All-Star team. He continued his stellar play in the World Series, hitting .310, as the Pirates defeated the New York Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning homer in Game 7.

“If Clemente didn’t beat you with his bat, he was able to do it with his glove.”

From 1964 to 1967, Clemente won three more batting titles and in the year he didn’t win one, he was voted the National League’s MVP.

In 1971, Clemente (.341) and Willie Stargell (48 homers and 125 RBI) led the Pirates to another pennant but although he was one of the game’s finest players, Clemente hadn’t received much national media attention up until that point.

However, that fact would drastically change in the World Series that year.

Clemente was a one-man wrecking crew against the Baltimore Orioles, chasing down fly balls all over the outfield, unleashing marvelous throws at every opportunity and blistering Baltimore pitchers at a .414 clip.

His home run in Game 7 provided the Pirates with the game’s first run in their 2-1 victory and he was voted the Series MVP.

“There was … Clemente playing a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before — throwing and running and hitting at something close to the level of absolute perfection, playing to win but also playing the game almost as if it were a form of punishment for everyone else on the field,” wrote author, Roger Angell in The Summer Game.

In 1972, at 38 years of age, Clemente batted .312, although injuries limited him to a career-low 378 at-bats. On September 30, Clemente doubled off New York Mets lefthander Jon Matlack for his 3,000th career hit.

No one knew it at the time, but that would be his last hit in the regular season.

On December 23, an earthquake that killed thousands, and left many more homeless rocked the city of Managua, Nicaragua. Clemente organized a relief effort for the quake victims and on New Year’s Eve, he and four others boarded a small DC-7 loaded with supplies for the victims. Shortly after takeoff, the plane exploded and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Clemente’s death wasn’t in vain however. The Baseball Writers Association of America held a special election and the mandatory five-year waiting period for the Hall of Fame was waived.

On Aug. 6, 1973, Clemente, who had a lifetime .317 average with 240 homers and 1,305 RBI, was posthumously inducted into Cooperstown and became the first Hispanic elected to the shrine.

Clemente’s legacy as one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time — and one of the greatest humanitarians ever — is set for all-time. Simply put, there will never be another Roberto Clemente.

Anthony Munoz

I recently wrote a column on the greatest offensive tackles of all-time and named Munoz as the number one offensive tackle in NFL history. The 6-foot- 6, 278-pound offensive tackle, who was the first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals and the third player selected overall was agile, quick, strong and possessed great foot quickness that he used to contain the best defensive ends in the league during his Hall of Fame career.

During his 13-seasons of play, the durable Munoz started 164 of 168 games from 1980-1990 and even caught seven passes and scored four touchdowns on tackle eligible plays.

Munoz was the recipient of virtually every possible honor and was elected to 11 consecutive Pro Bowls and named All-Pro 11 straight times from 1981 through 1991. He was also named the NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1987, and 1988 and the NFL Players Association Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1985, 1988 and 1989.

I fully believe that Munoz is the greatest offensive tackle in NFL history and one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time — and placing him third on this list only serves to justify how I feel about Munoz, one of the NFL’s classiest players ever.

Rod Carew

I think most Americans think Carew is of African-American descent, however, he certainly is not. I had to put Carew on this list above some guys I didn’t think I initially would because the man was one of the best hitters to ever play the games of baseball — no matter what nationality.

Born in October of 1945 in Gan, Panama, Carew was one of the Major League Baseball’s best hitters for nearly two decades. As a member of both, the Minnesota Twins and California Angels, in the 1970s and 80s, Carew established himself as a player who would be remembered as one of the greatest pure hitters in the history of the game.

Carew was an All-Star every year except for his final season and was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1967. In 1972, Carew led the American League in batting, without hitting a single home run.

He also won seven batting titles, including his best overall season, 1977, in which his .388 batting average was the highest in baseball since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.

Carew also won the AL’s MVP award that year and is also one of only two players (the other being Ty Cobb) to lead Major League Baseball in batting average three consecutive years, doing so from 1973 through 1975.

After playing for the Twins for a dozen seasons, Carew was traded to the Angels for four players where he finished out his career as brilliantly as he began it. Carew finished with 3,053 career hits and his seven batting titles are surpassed only by Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner, and equaled only by Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial.

Carew used a variety of crouched batting stances to hit over .300 in an amazing 15 consecutive seasons, achieving a .328 lifetime average in the process. He was honored as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1967, won the league MVP 10 years later and was named to 18 straight All-Star teams.

To this day, Carew remains a national hero in Panama — and one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time.

Did You Know that Rod Carew’s seven steals of home in 1969 is a single-season total surpassed only by Ty Cobb?

Julio Cesar Chavez

There have been numerous outstanding Hispanic boxers and if I named them all, I would be writing this column for about three days. However, I firmly believe that Chavez is the greatest — and certainly most beloved — Hispanic boxer of all-time.

The former world champion boxer was born on July 12, 1962 and grew up in Culiac-Sinaloa, and lived in Mexicali, Baja California, for a several years.

Chavez won an astounding five world titles: The WBC Super featherweight title in 1984, the WBA Lightweight title in 1987, the WBC Lightweight title in 1988, the WBC Super lightweight title in 1989, the IBF Junior welterweight title in 1990 and the lightweight title in three different divisions in 1994.

Chavez also went undefeated for 89 bouts before originally retiring with a record of 104-5-2, with 80 knockouts. On September 17th of 2006, he lost by a knockout in five rounds to Grover Wiley, after allegedly injuring his right hand and then told his promoter Bob Arum that he was definitely retiring from boxing.

Chavez holds a career record of 107 wins, 6 losses and 2 draws, with 80 knockouts. He also holds the records for most successful defenses of a world title (27) and most title fights (37).

Chavez also earned the second best winning streak, an amazing 89-0, for an undefeated fighter in boxing history.

I’m not sure he Chavez is the greatest Hispanic boxer of all-time, but his legacy, which began before the era of mega paydays and international television coverge, was so amazing that I could not deny Chavez’ greatness no matter how hard I tried.

Yes, I know he tarnished his legacy towards the end of his career (like a lot of other boxers) but Chavez? longevity for over two decades and impact on the sport of boxing will resound forever in boxing history — and his 89-0 start — makes him one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time.

Juan Antonio Marichal Sanchez

Simply put, Marichal is one of the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball history — Hispanic or otherwise. Born October 20, 1937 in Laguna Verde, Dominican Republic, Marichal is remembered for his high leg kick, dominating pitches and old school intimidation tactics, which included aiming pitches directly at the opposing batters’ helmets if the occasion called for it.

Marichal entered the major leagues in 1960 with the San Francisco Giants and made an immediate impression by going 6-2 in eleven starts with a 2.66 ERA. He improved his victory totals to13 and 18 over the following two seasons respectively before finally breaking the 21-victory plateau in 1963, when he went 25-8 with 248 strikeouts and a 2.41 ERA.

Marichal enjoyed similar success all the way through the 1969 season, posting over 20 victories in every season except 1967 and never posting an ERA higher than 2.76. He also led the league in victories in 1963 and 1968 when he won 26 games.

Marichal played briefly with the Boston Red Sox in 1974 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1975 before retiring from professional baseball. He finished his career with an impressive 243 victories, 142 losses, 244 complete games, 2303 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA over 3507.3 innings pitched.

Marichal also pitched a no-hitter on June 15, 1963 and was named to nine All-Star teams, being selected MVP in the 1965 game. Marichal was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983 and his uniform number (27) has been retired by the Giants.

I’m sure a lot of younger people may not even remember who Juan Marichal was, but I certainly do — and I can unequivocally say that he is one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time.

Nancy Lopez

Born in January of 1957 in Torrance, California and raised in Roswell, New Mexico, Lopez is one of the most famous women golfers of all-time and the number one female Hispanic golfer of all-time.

Lopez dominated women’s golf in the late 1970s and was a major force well into the 1980s. As a young player, Lopez won the United States Girls Junior Amateur Golf Championship in 1972 and 1974 and took the LPGA tour by storm, winning 17 tournaments in her first two full years.

She remains the only player to win Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Vardon Trophy (best scoring average) in the same year (1978).

A four-time Player of the Year, she has 48 career tour victories, including three LPGA Championships. In 1998, Lopez was awarded the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of her distinguished sportsmanship.

Incredibly, the four-time LPGA Player of the Year (1978-79,85,88), Rookie of Year (1977) and three-time winner of the LPGA Championship, reached Hall of Fame by the age of 30 with 35 victories.

On Lopez’s first full year on the LPGA Tour, the 21-year-old’s talent awed Hall of Fame golfer Mickey Wright. “Never in my life have I seen such control in someone so young,” Wright said.

Being of Mexican descent, Lopez remembered experiencing racism while growing up. “I thought we weren’t members of the country club because we couldn’t afford it,” she said. “Now I think it was discrimination.” As a senior in high school, Lopez tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open in 1975.

The 5-foot-5 Lopez may have been diminutive in stature, but one thing is for sure. She is undeniably one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time — and the only female to make this list.

Juan “Chi-Chi” Rodriguez

I’m not necessarily sure if Rodriguez was necessarily a better athlete than some of the athletes I left off of this list. However, as the unquestionable, greatest Hispanic golfer of all-time, I couldn?t deny his greatness, impact or longevity.

Chi-Chi Rodriguez is also one of the great showmen — and one of my personal favorites in all of sports history. In a career that spanned four decades, Rodriguez won 22 Senior PGA Tour victories, 8 regular PGA Tours and earned over $7 million dollars — setting the stage for a multitude of Hispanic golfers to follow in his immense footsteps.

Born in Rio Piedras in 1935 Rodriguez began caddying at the age of six and actually learned how to play golf with clubs made out of guava tree limbs and tin cans hammered into balls.

It has been said that, pound for pound, Rodriguez was the longest hitter in the history of golf. Standing only 5-feet-7 and weighing anywhere between 112-130 pounds, the wiry Puerto Rican has at times driven a golf ball over 350 yards. Throughout his career, he has consistently driven the ball over 250 yards — no small feat, mind you.

Rodriguez has also founded the “Chi-Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation” in Clearwater Florida for troubled and abused youngsters.

Rodriguez once explained his philosophy. “I figure kids are the future. If I made it, anybody can do it. I think I can be a good role model for them because they could look at me and say, “look, he’s a small guy, he was poor and he worked hard and made it.”

Rodriguez was the first player on the Senior Tour to win the same event three consecutive years and set a senior tour record with eight consecutive birdies as he cruised to a win at the 1987 Silver Pages Classic.

Rodriguez also represented Puerto Rico on 12 World Cup Teams, won the Hispanic Achievement Recognition Award (’86) and Replica’s Hispanic Man of the Year Award in 1988 before being inducted into the PGA World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992.

As the greatest Hispanic golfer ever, it’s easy to see that Rodriguez is clearly one of the best Hispanic athletes of all-time.

Oscar De LaHoya

I know De LaHoya beat Chavez and I have Julio Caesar ranked higher on this list, but I fully believe that, at this point in time, that Chavez’s contributions to the sport of boxing — and his Hispanic brethren — has been greater than De LaHoya’s.

I fully expect that, as De LaHoya ages and finishes his career for good, his stature, achievements and contributions will be more recognized for its greatness than it currently is.

At any rate, De LaHoya’s accomplishments cannot be denied. Simply put, he has been one of the greatest fighters in his weight class during his — or any other era.

During his amateur boxing career, De La Hoya’s record was an outstanding 223-5 with 163 knockouts. When De LaHoya turned pro, he became one of the greatest fighters of all-time.

By winning titles in five different weight classes, De LaHoya accomplished a feat that only legends, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns had accomplished up until that point.

De LaHoya won world crowns at 130, 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds beating several impressive boxers along the way. De LaHoya became a six-time world champ when he won the WBO middleweight title on June 5, 2004.

Despite a few losses in his boxing career, Oscar De La Hoya is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing history and one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time.

Tony Perez

Perez is considered one of the greatest Latino baseball players to ever play the game — and rightfully so. The Cuban born legend began his distinguished 23-year career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1964 and soon after was known as one of baseball’s best clutch hitters and RBI-men of the 1970s.

At the age of 17, Perez signed with the Cincinnati Reds while he was still in Cuba. When he reported for his first spring of minor-league ball in 1960 in upstate N.Y. it was so cold, Perez once said, “I could feel it in my bones, how I missed the heat of my country and the love of my family.”

Once Perez reached the majors in 1964, after hitting .348 with 160 hits and 132 RBI’s in the Penn League (AAA) one season, he learned a lot when he saw the sights of Frank Robinson’s daily hustle and Pete Rose and how they approached the game like there was no tomorrow.

From 1964-66, Perez shared the first-base job with Gordy Coleman but at the start of the ’67 season, he proved to everyone that he was a legitimate starting major league player when he was nominated to play in the All-Star Game — and ended up hitting a 15th-inning home run off Catfish Hunter to become the All-Star Game MVP.

His 102 RBI that season began a run of 11 straight seasons of 90 or more.

In 1970, Perez finished with his best overall season, hitting .317 with 40 homers and 129 RBI. In the 1975 World Series, Perez solidified his status as “Mr. Clutch” when he hit a home run in the sixth inning against Bill Lee and the Boston Red Sox to help the Reds rally for a 4-3 victory and win the World Championship.

“He’s the best clutch hitter I’ve ever seen,” former manager and Hall of Famer, Sparky Anderson once said of Perez.

On Oct. 4, 1986, one day before his retirement, Perez hit his 379th career home run, to tie another Hall of Famer, Orlando Cepeda, for the most career homeruns by a Hispanic player. His 1,652 RBI is also tops among Latinos. Perez was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 but remains one of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time.

There were several other outstanding Hispanic athletes that I felt absolutely terrible about leaving off of this list, but in the end, these ten stood out for me more than any others. Whether you agree with all of the selections or not, all of these athletes are some of the greatest Hispanic athletes of all-time.