We salute 20 world-class athletes who have called Sacramento home.
The Sacramento region has produced hundreds of top-tier professional and amateur athletes. In their honor, Sacramento magazine presents the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame. Choosing just 20 sports superstars to induct into our own little Cooperstown wasn’t easy. To do this right, we came up with some rules to play by: First, the athletes had to be from our area (or pretty nearby) before they scored success. That cut out all-time greats like heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer and speed skater Eric Heiden, who moved here after their signature athletic achievements&emdash;and also eliminated any member of the Sacramento Kings or Sacramento River Cats. In addition, our Hall of Famers had to represent athletes across the sports spectrum, from baseball to car racing, football to golf. That meant a lot of teeth gnashing before we cut other exemplary local folks such as former major league baseball star Greg Vaughn, current Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee and standout NFLers such as New England Patriots wide receiver Dont Stallworth and Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. Even so, those who made the cut are compelling. We bet you’ll agree, but if you think otherwise, go to sacmag.com and tell us who you think deserves a spot in our Sacramento Hall of Fame.
Roseville native Summer Sanders earned three gold medals at the 1990 Goodwill Games. She topped that two years later when she earned two golds, a silver and a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. As a collegian, Sanders was named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year in 1991. She repeated that feat in 1992, leading Stanford to the NCAA swimming championship in the process. These days, Sanders, 34, spends much of her time at her home in Park City, Utah, although three months a year are spent in Roseville. Sanders is a media personality who co-hosts NBA Inside Stuff, a weekly half-hour behind-the-scenes TV show about the NBA and the WNBA. She’s also a spokesperson for Roseville Toyota.
In 1986, Greg LeMond, a Reno, Nev. native who later lived in Rancho Murieta, became the first American to win the Tour de France, the world’s most prestigious cycling event. He was seriously injured in a hunting accident in 1987, causing him to miss the 1988 Tour. Competing with 37 shotgun pellets still lodged in his body, LeMond made one of sport’s most amazing comebacks, winning the 1989 and 1990 Tour de France titles. He was named the 1989 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, the first cyclist to be so honored. In 1996, he was inducted into U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. LeMond, 46, lives in Minnesota with his wife and children and owns LeMond Fitness, which sells high-end home exercise bikes, and LeMond Cycles, which sells racing bikes.
A quarterback with the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, Ken O’Brien was part of the legendary Quarterback Class of 1983, which included Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly. Although New York fans booed his draft day selection, O’Brien became one of the top signal callers in the game, throwing for more than 25,000 yards and 128 touchdowns during a 10-year NFL career. In 1985, he became the first Jets player to lead the NFL in passing. Born on Long Island, he attended Jesuit High School in Carmichael before starring at UC Davis. O’Brien was named to two Pro Bowls and completed the longest pass in Jets history, a 96-yard touchdown toss to Wesley Walker in 1985. In 1997, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The 46-year-old lives in Los Angeles.
Bob Forsch was a pitcher who spent all but one year of his 15-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom he won 168 games and pitched two no-hitters. In 1977, he was a 20-game winner; in two other seasons, he won 15 games. Forsch, who was born in Sacramento and graduated from Hiram Johnson High School and Sacramento City College, appeared in three World Series with the Cardinals. His peers selected him as the best hitting pitcher in the National League in 1980 and 1987. Known for his durability, Forsch seven times pitched more than 200 innings in a season. He and his brother, Ken, are the only brothers in major league history to each have thrown a no-hitter. The 57-year-old resides in Chesterfield, Mo.
Race Car Driver
Scott Pruett, a Sacramento native, has won races in virtually every major racing series in the world, including NASCAR, CART, IMSA GTO/GTU/GTP, SCCA Trans Am and IROC. He won two IMSA GTO Championships and three SCCA Trans Am Championships and was named the 1989 Indianapolis 500 Co-Rookie of the Year. In 1991, he was inducted into the World Karting Association Hall of Fame. Still a ferocious competitor at 46, Pruett lives in Auburn with his wife and children and drives for the Chip Ganassi Racing team as one of the team’s top drivers.
Considered by many to be the greatest all-around swimmer in history, Mark Spitz was born in Lodi and trained at Arden Hills Swim Club (now Arden Hills Resort Club & Spa) before moving with his family to Santa Clara at age 14. Spitz first drew world acclaim by winning four medals&emdash;two gold, one silver and one bronze&emdash;at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. He spectacularly topped that four years later by winning a still-unsurpassed seven gold medals, setting world records in each event, at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany. He was named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971 and 1972. Overall, Spitz set 23 world and 35 U.S. records during his career. Today, Spitz, 57, lives in Los Angeles, where he pursues various entrepreneurial endeavors.
Born in Shreveport, La., Evelyn Ashford graduated from Roseville High School, where she was the only girl on the boys track team. She competed in five Olympiads during a spectacular 16-year track career, winning four gold medals and one silver medal, including two golds at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. In 1984, she set the women’s 100-meter world record of 10.76 seconds. Ashford later anchored the women’s 4×100 relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where at 35 she became the oldest woman in Olympic history to win a track-and-field gold medal. She was the first American woman to break the 11-second barrier at 100 meters and the 22-second barrier at 200 meters and was ranked first in the world four times. Now 50 and living in Southern California, Ashford was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2006.
This Oak Park neighborhood native and three-time NBA All-Star graduated from Sacramento High School, where he starred in both basketball and baseball. Drafted as a shortstop by the Oakland A’s, he instead chose to attend UC Berkeley on a basketball scholarship. In 1987, he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the seventh player taken, and a year later was traded to the Phoenix Suns. A premier point guard and scorer known for his incredible speed and quickness, Johnson helped turn the Suns from one of the league’s worst teams into one of its best and led them to the NBA finals in the 1992â€“93 season. He is one of only a handful of players in league history to average more than 20 points and 10 assists in three different seasons. At 41, Johnson splits time between Phoenix and Sacramento, where he founded and operates the nonprofit community development corporation St. HOPE and pursues other development projects.
Stacy Dragila, considered the best female U.S. vaulter, won the first women’s indoor (1997) and outdoor (1999) world championships before earning the first Olympic gold medal given in women’s pole vault at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. She has won nine U.S. outdoor championships and seven indoor titles and set numerous world records. Born in Auburn, she graduated from Placer High School. The 36-year-old currently lives in Pocatello, Idaho, where she is in training to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.
Dusty Baker was an outfielder who spent 19 years in the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. Born in Riverside, Calif., he graduated from Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks. A two-time All-Star, he was a key player for the Dodgers as they won National League pennants in 1977 and ’78 and the World Series in ’81. A clutch hitter, he often was at his best in the postseason. Later, Baker was a three-time National League Manager of the Year with the Giants and went on to manage the Chicago Cubs for four seasons. Today, the 58-year-old lives in the Sacramento area and does baseball analysis for ESPN. This is really a nice breather [from managing], Baker said recently. But I’ll be back soon. I’m definitely not done yet.
This 7-foot center played 15 seasons for the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Seattle Supersonics and was the starting center on the historic Bulls team that included Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Born in Lodi, Bill Cartwright graduated from Elk Grove High School before starring at the University of San Francisco. The third overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft, he was later named to 1979â€“80 NBA All-Star and All-Rookie teams. In 1988, he was traded to Chicago, where he shifted his focus from offense to defense and rebounding, making him an integral part of three NBA championship teams. Cartwright earned two more championships with Chicago as an assistant coach. Now 49, he is an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets.
This Sacramento native played second base for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s from 1981 to 1994. In 1982, Steve Sax was National League Rookie of the Year. He twice had 200-plus hits in a season and in 1986 earned the Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting player at his position. Blessed with great speed, Sax stole more than 400 bases during his 13-year career. A five-time All-Star, he helped lead the Dodgers to two World Series championships, in 1981 and 1988. Now 47, Sax is a financial consultant and branch manager for RBC Dain Rauscher, LLC in Roseville. I love my job, he told Sacramento magazine. I have the same passion for this as I did for baseball.
Tedy Bruschi, a linebacker with the New England Patriots since 1996, is widely recognized as the team’s defensive leader and a critical component of their three Super Bowl championship teams. Born in San Francisco, he starred in multiple sports at Roseville High School before going on to an All-American career at the University of Arizona, where he tied the NCAA record for quarterback sacks. Considered to be one of the best big game players in the league, he holds the NFL record for returning four consecutive interceptions for touchdowns. Bruschi was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2004. At 34, he’s preparing for his 12th season with the Patriots.
When Natalie Gulbis won the California Women’s Amateur Championship in 1997 at 14, she was the youngest player ever to qualify for an LPGA event (a record eventually topped by a 12-year-old Michelle Wie). Born in Sacramento, she graduated from Granite Bay High School and attended the University of Arizona on a golf scholarship, where she was named All-American after her freshman year. She turned pro after that season and finished second in Rookie of the Year points on the 2002 LPGA Tour. Gulbis has yet to win on the Tour, but she’s finished in the top 10 in 25 of her 143 career tournaments and has earned more than $2.5 million in her professional career. She’s also known for her sexy calendars, which the LPGA has deemed too provocative. Gulbis, 24, lives in Las Vegas and competes on the LPGA Tour.
Sacramento native Tony Lopez, aka The Tiger, was a three-time world champion across three weight classes (Junior Lightweight, Lightweight and Junior Welterweight). Known as a ferocious puncher, he won 50 of his 59 professional bouts, 34 of those by knockout. His upset victory over the heavily favored Rocky Lockridge in 1988 was named The Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year. Today, the 44-year-old Lopez owns and operates Tony The Tiger Bail Bonds in downtown Sacramento.
Born in Sacramento in 1909, Stan Hack was a third baseman who played 16 years in the major leagues (1932 to 1947), all with the Chicago Cubs. Generally considered the top third baseman of his era, he was a five-time All-Star who played on four National League pennant winners. A lifetime .300 hitter, Hack racked up 2,193 hits and scored 100-plus runs seven times. In 1945, he was coaxed out of early retirement only to have his best season, batting .323 and helping lead the Cubs to, rather astonishingly, their most recent World Series appearance. Nicknamed Smiling Stan for his friendly demeanor, Hack died in Dixon, Ill., in 1979.
Tommy Kono, a Sacramento native and Sacramento High School graduate, is considered by many to be the greatest weightlifter in history. He won gold medals at the 1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne Olympics and a silver medal at the 1960 Games in Rome. Kono set 26 world records during his storied career and was the only weightlifter to set world records in four weight classes, a feat that never has been equaled. Kono later turned to bodybuilding, where he won three Mr. Universe titles and one Mr. World crown. After retiring from bodybuilding, he returned to weightlifting to become one of the most respected coaches in the world. Kono is a member of the International Weightlifting and Olympic halls of fame and was named by the International Weightlifting Federation the Lifter of the Century. At 77, he is retired and living in Hawaii.
Born in Sacramento, Larry Bowa was one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball history, starring mostly for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs. He never made his high school baseball team, but he played well enough at Sacramento City College to earn a contract as an undrafted free agent with the Phillies in 1965. Bowa went on to play 15 years in the major leagues, retiring as the National League record holder (a record since broken) for the highest lifetime fielding percentage as a shortstop. Bowa won two Gold Gloves and made five National League All-Star teams during his career. Bowa hit .375 in the 1980 World Series, helping lead the Phillies to their only World Series championship. He later managed the team, earning National League Manager of the Year in 2001. Bowa, 61, currently is a coach with the New York Yankees.
Born in Maryland, Debbie Meyer graduated from Rio Americano High School and was one of the world’s top swimmers by age 16. She won three gold medals in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, the first swimmer to take three golds in one Olympiad. She set world records in three events: the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle. Overall, Meyer broke many records during her career, earning her a spot in the Olympic Hall of Fame. Today, Meyer, 54, runs the Debbie Meyer Swim School in Carmichael.
A lot of outstanding area athletes did not make it into our Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame. Here is a sampling of some, grouped by sport.
Track and Field