Who are the best 10 Latin American athletes of all times? Answering that question is undoubtedly complicated because this region has been the cradle of some of the finest soccer and baseball players in history; a region that has counted on boxers who wrote their lines on record books. Handpicking only 10 turns out to be kind of risky, but Panamerican World suggests a well-assorted selection. Polemic is welcomed.
Pelé: “King of Soccer”
Edson Arantes Dos Nascimentos, “Pelé” in the soccer realm, was officially labeled “Best Soccer Player of the Century” by FIFA and “Finest Athlete of the 20th Century” by the International Olympic Committee. The Brazilian player’s numbers were amazing: he scored over 1 thousand goals throughout his extensive career and played the leading role in terms of the world titles achieved by Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
Diego Armando Maradona: A Polemic “Pelusa”
Diego Armando Maradona could do anything on a soccer field with the ball in his magic left leg. He scored tremendous goals —the unforgettable “hand of God” and his gallop from the center of the field, against England, during the quarter finals in the 1986 Mexico Cup—, delivered magnificent assists and became an idol, not only in his country. “Pelusa”headed the white-and-sky blue team that took the world title back home in 1986 and became runner-up in 1990; besides, his goals helped Napoles win two Italian leagues and rub shoulders with the top European clubs. Away from the field, both drugs and incendiary comments have had Maradona surrounded by polemic.
Lionel Messi: A “Pulga” with Many Records
At the age of 27, the Argentinean player has practically achieved everything in terms of soccer and stands as the top scorer in the Spanish League and UEFA’s Champion League. His award list is huge (over 50), including four FIFA Golden Balls. As a member of Barcelona team, he has won six titles in the so-called “Stars League”, three Champion Leagues and two Club World Cups; but the highest prize is still to be reached: the crown in a World Cup. Messi was close in the Brazil edition, 2014, but Argentina couldn’t defeat Germany in the final match.
Roberto Clemente: A Great Man and Baseball Player
This Puerto Rican man was an outstanding baseball player and exceptional human being. He developed his career in Major League Baseball between 1955 and 1972. We can describe him as the first Latin star in Major League. He had a 317-batting average in over 10 thousand visits to home plate. Mr. Clemente won four batting crowns, was chosen to play in 15 editions of the All-Star Game and 12 Golden Gloves. Clemente was the first Hispanic American inducted into the Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown. Out of the field, the charity work carried out by Roberto Clemente increased his legend. In December 1972, the Puerto Rican was flying with humanitarian help for earthquake victims in Nicaragua and his plane crashed off the coast. MLB paid tribute to Clemente by establishing an annual award to praise the altruistic work developed by baseball players.
“Big” Pedro Martínez: A Pitcher from another Time
The Dominican baseball player is described as one of the best MLB pitchers of all times. In an age when batters prevailed and steroids helped sluggers hit lots of home runs, Martínez achieved jaw-dropping numbers. He won 219 games, delivered 3,154 strikeouts and his effectiveness average was 2.93. The strength of his arm and his control made him win three Cy Young awards. He played in eight All-Star Games, helped Boston Red Sox triumph in the 2004 World Series (thus putting an end to the “curse” that dated back from 1918) and in 2015 he became the second Dominican baseball player —the other one is giant Juan Marichal— to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown.
Teófilo Stevenson: The Most Powerful Punch in Cuban Boxing
This formidable Cuban boxer achieved three Olympic titles (1972, 1976 and 1980) and made history with his devastating punch; besides, he was a three-time world champion. Stevenson won 301 out of 321 fights throughout his 20-year career and only one man could defeat him twice: Soviet Igor Visotski. There was some speculation on a possible clash between Stevenson (the best amateur fighter) and Muhammad Alí (the finest professional boxer); nevertheless, that fight never took place and both men became friends. This pugilism legend passed away in 2012, at the age of 60.
Julio César Chávez: the “Boxing Caesar”
During his 25-year career, this Mexican boxer was a five-time world title winner, in three different divisions (CMB super featherweight (1984), AMB lightweight (1987), CMB lightweight (1988), CMB super lightweight (1989), IBF super lightweight (1990) and CMB super lightweight (1994). He was inducted into the boxing Hall of Fame in 2011. His career came to an end with a record of 107 victories, 6 defeats and two ties. Julio César Chávez stands among the top fighters of all times.
Mariano Rivera: “Turn it off and Let’s Go”
The Panamanian baseball player has been labeled best closer in the history of Major Baseball League. He won five World Series titles with New York Yankees (the Most Valuable Player in the Classic, Fall 1999) and his postseason performance was absolutely great: 8 victories, one defeat, 0.70 average and 42 games saved. Rivera is the closer with more challenges saved of all times (652). His position among the finest players is untouchable.
Juan Manuel Fangio: Speed Master
The most successful Latin American pilot in the history of Formula 1. This great man won everything on the speedway and his five world titles (1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957) turned him into a speed legend. During four decades, Fangio ranked 1 in F1 championships, until German Michael Schumacher defeated him in 2003. The German pilot commented: “Fangio stands in a higher level. His achievements are very important. You cannot take such figures as Fangio and compare them to the present development of Formula 1. Such a comparison is not possible at all.”
He can be described as the most successful Latin American basketball player in history. Before making headlines in the NBA, “Manu” stood out in Argentinean and Italian leagues. He made his debut in the NBA in 2002, with San Antonio Spurs, where he still plays. The Argentinean has won four NBA titles: 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014. In 2008, he was named Best Sixth Man by the NBA. With his country’s team, “Manu” got the title during the Athens Olympic Games, 2004, and the bronze medal in Beijing 2008; he was also a world runner-up in 2002.
Other Unforgettable Sportsmen
The list of remarkable Latin American stars is huge and it cannot left aside, for instance, soccer players Alfredo di Stéfano, Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima or Hugo Sánchez; pilot Ayrton Senna; baseball players Martín Dihigo, Juan Marichal, Fernando Valenzuela, Dennis Martínez, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols; boxers Kid Chocolate, Félix Savón and Roberto ‘Stone Hand’ Durán; athletes Alberto Juantorena and Javier Sotomayor; fencer Ramón Fonst; diver Joaquín Capilla and chess player José Raúl Capablanca.