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Athletes, teams post winning record in sports history Jess Willard, right, crumples on the mat after a battering by boxer Jack Dempsey during a July 4, 1919, title fight at Bay View Park in Toledo.
Jess Willard, right, crumples on the mat after a battering by boxer Jack Dempsey during a July 4, 1919, title fight at Bay View Park in Toledo.
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Published: Sunday, 3/2/2003

Athletes, teams post winning record in sports history


Name a sport, and Ohioans have played a role in making it what it is today.

Ohio was the maternity ward for professional baseball and football as we know it today, and Ohioans (native and adopted) rank among the elite athletes in those and other sports.

The state has produced more than its share of Heisman Trophy winners and Cy Young Award honorees — but not before it produced legendary coach John Heisman (from Cleveland) and star pitcher Cy Young (Gilmore).

Perhaps the state's biggest contribution has been its role in the racial desegregation of sports.

Jackie Robinson changed professional sports forever when he broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947. The man behind that plan, though, was Branch Rickey (Lucasville), the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager. Actually, Robinson wasn't the first black player in major league baseball. Moses Fleetwood Walker (Mount Pleasant) played for Toledo of the American Association in 1884, when that league was considered a major league.

A year after Robinson made his debut with Brooklyn, Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians became the first black player in the American League. And in 1975 the Indians made Frank Robinson the major leagues' first black manager.

Owens: 1936 Olympian won 4 gold medals. Owens: 1936 Olympian won 4 gold medals.

Another Ohioan whose performance echoed way beyond the field of play was track athlete Jesse Owens of Cleveland. While at Ohio State, he had what was likely the greatest single day in track and field history. Within a few hours at the 1935 Big Ten championship meet, Owens broke three world records and tied another. But that was only a prelude to his performance on a much larger stage. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Owens won four gold medals — in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and the 4x100-meter relay.

German dictator Adolf Hitler was mortified that Owens had so clearly disproved Nazi notions of Aryan supremacy and reportedly refused to shake Owens' hand.

Not all of the state's contributions were quite that dramatic.

BASEBALL: In 1869, the Cincinnati Redlegs became the first professional baseball team. When the first recognized major league — the National League — was formed in 1876, Cincinnati was represented.

When the American League was founded in 1901, Cleveland was a charter member.

The Cincinnati Reds have won five World Series, in 1919, 1940, 1975, 1976, and 1990. Their “Big Red Machine” teams of the mid-1970s are considered among the best in history. One of their stars was Cincinnati native Pete Rose, whose 4,256 hits are the most in baseball history.

PRO FOOTBALL: What we know as the National Football League began when a group of businessmen gathered at an automobile showroom in Canton.

Several Ohio cities have had teams, but Cleveland has had the most success. The Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1937, but a team coached by, and named after, Paul Brown (Massillon) was a charter member of the rival All-America Football Conference in 1946. The Browns won the league championship in all four years of its existence, then became one of three teams invited to join the NFL in 1950.

Jim Brown joined the Browns in 1957 and is considered by many experts the best running back in NFL history.

Cleveland was the site of the first Monday Night Football game, in 1970.

Canton's role in pro football's beginnings was recognized when the Hall of Fame opened there in 1963.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: College football in Ohio has been dominated by Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won seven national championships (in various polls) and produced five Heisman Trophy winners. Among them is Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman winner (1974-75). The Buckeyes' rivalry with Michigan was voted the best in the nation in an ESPN.com Internet poll.

Northwest Ohio has produced two Heisman winners: Maumee's Dick Kazmaier, for Princeton in 1951, and Fremont's Charles Woodson, for Michigan in 1997.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Ohio State has also had its share of outstanding basketball teams, especially the teams of 1960-62 that played in three consecutive national championship games. The Buckeyes won in 1960 and lost to Cincinnati the next two years. Those OSU teams featured future Basketball Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas (Middletown) and John Havlicek (Lansing), among others.

GOLF: Jack Nicklaus (Columbus) was one of the most famous athletes of the 20th century. His 18 victories in “major” tournaments, not including two amateur championships and six senior tour titles, are the most in history.

BOXING: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, no sport was bigger than boxing, and one of its most famous fighters won his first championship in Toledo. Jack Dempsey defeated heavyweight champion Jess Willard on July 4, 1919, at an outdoor venue at Bay View Park. He would hold the championship until 1926.

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