The best Latino athletes in the United States are part of the legend of world sports, and Latinos are standing out more and more in the North American professional leagues. Initially, the bulk of them belonged to the Major Leagues, but today, Latino presence is very visible in Major League Soccer (MLS), and quite a few of those born beyond the southern border can be seen in the most popular boxing billboards.
Who have been the best Latino athletes in the United States? PanamericanWorld offers a list including baseball, boxing, basketball, and soccer legends who succeeded at the highest level.
Julio César Chávez, the “Boxing Cesar”
Julio Cesar Chavez can be considered the most successful Latino boxer of all time. This Mexican pugilist fought 37 times in pursuit or in defense of a world title. He won the world title five times in three categories: lightweight, super featherweight and welterweight. He was undefeated for almost 14 years and triumphed in 107 of his 115 fights, 86 of them by KO.
This spectacular and long-lived Panamanian boxer stayed in the ring for 33 years, between 1968 and 2001. He was nicknamed “Hands of Stone” due to his punching power. He won four world titles, two of them at middleweight, also at welterweight by beating Sugar Ray Leonard in an epic fight, remembered as the “Brawl in Montreal ” in 1980, and at junior middleweight in 1983. In over three decades he recorded 103 wins, 70 of them by KO, and only lost 16 fights.
Juan Manuel Marquez and his Dynamite Punch
“Dynamite” Marquez is one of five Mexican boxers to win world titles in three different divisions. In his long and successful 19-year career in the ring, Marquez earned eight crowns from different organizations. Among his fiercest rivals was Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, against whom he squared off in four combats, surrounded by several controversies over refereeing decisions. The duel ended in favor of the Asian boxer by two wins, a reverse decision, and a draw. All in all, the Mexican won 56 fights, 40 of them by KO, and he lost 7.
Related article: The 10 greatest boxing legends in Latin America
Roberto Clemente’s Flight to Eternity
This formidable Puerto Rican ballplayer was one of the most successful Latino athletes with the brightest legacy in history. Clemente earned the posthumous right to become the first Latino baseball player inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. His impact on and off the field was enormous and every year the Majors acknowledge the player who does the most for his community with the “Roberto Clemente Award”.
Clemente was a big star in the majors: in 18 seasons he fired 3,000 hits, 240 home runs and drove in 1305 runs. He won four batting titles and two World Series rings with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In addition, he won the Golden Glove 123 times. In December 1972 he raised aid in Puerto Rico for the victims of an earthquake that caused thousands of deaths in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The player took a plane to personally deliver the aid, but the aircraft fell into the sea and the remains of the great Clemente could never be recovered.
The Perfect Saves of Mariano Rivera
Only one player has received all the votes from specialists to enter the Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame: Panamanian Mariano Rivera, considered the best closer of all time.
Rivera spent 19 years with the New York Yankees. With this franchise he won five World Series rings and saved a record 652 games in the regular season and another 42 in the playoffs. He was invited to the All-Star Game 13 times and earned the distinction as the best reliever of the Majors in five seasons.
Pedro “El Grande” Martínez, the Best Latino Pitcher in the Major Leagues
The discussion about who has been the best Hispanic pitcher in the Major Leagues is complicated. Many will rightly point to Juan Marichal, others to Fernando Valenzuela, and Nicaraguan pitcher Dennis Martínez would also enter the bid; but, by numbers and results, none was more accomplished than Dominican Pedro Martínez.
In his 18 years in the majors, Pedro “El Grande” won 219 games, struck out 3,154 batters and his ERA was spectacular: 2.93. He achieved three Cy Young Awards: in 1997 in the National League, when he wore the uniform of the then Montreal Expos, and in 1999 and 2000 with the Boston Red Sox. With this franchise he won the title in the 2004 World Series.
Jaime Moreno, the Top Latino Scorer at the MLS
The MLS had its first season in 1996 and, from the outset, Latino soccer players have been key to the growth of this league. Selecting the best Latino player in the MLS is also a difficult task. On the one hand is Guatemalan Carlos Ruiz, the only one with two titles, but we cannot fail to mention Colombian Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama, historical leader in assists, with 114. But at PanamericanWorld we selected Bolivian player Jaime Moreno, who is the highest scorer of all time, among Hispanics, with 133 goals.
Moreno played 15 seasons, most of them at D.C United, winning four MLS Cups and a Concacaf Champions Cup in 1998. In addition, on five occasions he was included in the Season’s Ideal XI.
Related article: Six Highly Influential Latino Executives in U.S. Sports.
The Spurs of Manu Ginobili at the NBA
In March 2019, the San Antonio Spurs did something that had never happened to a Latino basketball player before: they retired his number. This high honor went to Argentine Manu Ginobili, a basketball legend.
For 16 years, Ginobili defended the colors of the Spurs and was a key player in the four crowns of this franchise (2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014). In 2008 he was selected as the Best Sixth Man in the NBA. In addition, Manu shone with the national team, guiding it to Olympic title at the Athens Games in 2004 and to the world subchampionship in 2002.
Al Horford’s Fierce Defense
Another excellent and successful Latino basketball player is Al Horford from the Dominican Republic. The Atlanta Hawks chose him in the 2007 draft and he played nine playoff series with the team. He then went on to join the Boston Celtics.
Horford is acknowledged as one of the best defenders today and his numbers show that he is still a very useful player: 14 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Tom Flores, a Latin Legend at the NFL
The most successful Latino athlete in the NFL has been Tom Flores. The son of Mexican parents, Flores has the honor of being the first Latino quarterback to have started a game in the defunct AFL; he was also the first Latino to win a Super Bowl as the head coach of the then Oakland Raiders in 1978, and then, in 1984, as the general manager of that franchise.