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Sports Then and Now

Best California-Born Athletes in History

Posted on March 19, 2014 by Martin Banks

What comes to mind when you think of California? The answer for me is beaches and sports. With a great history of teams, from the Lakers to the 49ers to USC and more, California is a land of athletes. But which greats were actually born in California? Whether you are talking about football, baseball, tennis or nearly any other sport, California has been the birthplace of some legendary athletes. And with much difficulty in cutting down what could be a humongous list, here are the best California-born athletes in the history of modern sports.



Whether or not you include the likes of Barry Bonds on this list, there are plenty of legends born in California on the baseball diamond.

With a lifetime batting average of .339, Tony Gwynn is a California great from Los Angeles. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2007 after a career including over 3,000 hits, 15 All-Star selections and five Gold Gloves.

From San Diego, Ted Williams is an absolute titan of the sport. He is the best all-around hitter of all time with a career average of .344 and 521 homeruns. He batted .406 in 1941 and earned a Hall of Fame induction with 19 All-Star selections and two MVPs.

The other baseball legend is Joe DiMaggio, born in Martinez, California. His 56-game hit streak is one of the greatest records in any sport. DiMaggio is a Hall of Famer with nine World Series championships, 13 All-Star selections and three MVPs.

Just missing the list: Randy Johnson, Barry Bonds and Trevor Hoffman.


Quarterbacks and running backs; that is all you need to know about California-born football players.

Born in West Covina, Troy Aikman was a Hall of Fame quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and, more importantly, led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories in the 90s with one Super Bowl MVP award.

Tom Brady was born in San Mateo before being selected 199th overall by the New England Patriots. His five AFC championships and three Super Bowl victories made the Patriots a dynasty since the turn of the century. Brady has two Super Bowl MVPs and is a surefire Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible.

O.J. Simpson may be on the list of every California lawyer, but he is also one of California’s greatest athletes. Born in San Francisco, Simpson won the Heisman Trophy in 1968 before going pro. He became the first running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and had five All-Pro selections.

Just missing the list: Marcus Allen, Warren Moon, Terrell Davis and Anthony Munoz.


There are two tennis legends from the state of California — one male and one female.

From Los Angeles, Pete Sampras is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. With seven Wimbledon titles and five US Open titles, Sampras had the most Grand Slam titles in his discipline until Roger Federer took the crown. Sampras also had 64 career titles and 762 wins.

Billie Jean King is from Long Beach and is one of the most influential athletes in recent times. With as much impact off the court as on, King is one of California’s best athletes. She won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles with 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles and 11 in mixed doubles.

Other Sports

The rest of the California-born greats are all solo in their respective sports. One swimmer, one golfer and one soccer player round out the rest of the list.

Mark Spitz was one of the greatest American Olympians ever. From Modesto, Spitz was the Michael Phelps of his time. He won seven gold medals in one Olympics — a record that stood until it was beaten by Phelps — and ended with a total of nine gold medals.

Born in Cypress, Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers of all time despite recently being involved in scandal. His 14 major championships have him just four away from the all-time lead set by Jack Nicklaus. Woods also has 97 professional wins.

Landon Donovan is the final player on this list. From Ontario, California, Donovan is the greatest player in the history of US soccer. In addition to his domestic club soccer success with the L.A. Galaxy, Donovan is the leader in goals, assists and caps for US Soccer.

With warm beaches and perfect skiing slopes within a day’s drive from many California locations, it’s no wonder that California has turned out some of the best world athletes.

Scott Huntington is a sports writer specializing in sports history.  Follow Scott at@SMHuntington or check out his blog,

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