Hometown Heroes

The top 5 athletes in Houston sports history

Hakeem Olajuwon changed sports in Houston. Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

Texas is known for having some of the most talented athletes from across the world. College coaches consider Houston to be one of the best recruiting hot spots every year, so it's no surprise that some of these incredible players would wind up playing professionally in Houston.

Not all the players on this list are from Texas originally, but they got here as soon as they could. This list is only five players deep —see who made the cut.

5. Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio comes in at No. 5. Biggio became the first player to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Houston Astro in 2015, and he finished his career with 3,060 hits. He began his career with the Astros in 1988 as a catcher, and he eventually moved positions several times over the years. Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and a second baseman, something that had never been accomplished in the history of baseball. His seven All-Star appearances and his 668 career doubles ranked him fifth in major league history and are the most ever by a right-handed hitter.

His career averages were very impressive as well, as he was able to rack up 105 runs, 17 homers, 38 doubles, 67 RBI, and 24 stolen bases on average per season. Biggio's No. 7 was retired from the Astros in 2008, making him the ninth player in Astros history to have this honor. He has a strong relationship with the Astros front office and players and will always be remembered as the first player to be inducted into Cooperstown as an Astro.

4. Jeff Bagwell

The last two spots are reserved for the most famous of the Killer B's: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The order of these two players is clearly subjective, but Jeff Bagwell ranks ahead of Biggio for one big reason: power. This decision is mostly based on statistics, and which player I thought was better in his prime. Bagwell, on average, was much better than Biggio in some of the most important offensive categories, such as runs, home runs, RBIs, and batting average. He finished with a career season average of 114 runs scored, 34 home runs, 115 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and a .297 career batting average. Yes, he averaged those numbers for his entire career.

He won Rookie of the Year in 1991 and made the All-Star team four times. That's saying something when you consider the Hall of Fame first basemen he was competing against throughout his career. Albert Pujols, anyone? Bagwell also has a National League MVP on his resume from the strike-shortened 1994 season in which Bagwell already had 39 bombs and 116 RBI through only 110 games.

He was a member of the only Astros team to play in a World Series, but didn’t have much left at that point in his career. The team was swept by the Chicago White Sox, and Bagwell’s severe shoulder injury would eventually end his career. Bagwell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017, and remains one of the most revered athletes to ever play in Houston.

3. Earl Campbell

The third name on the list is one of the best running backs in the history of college football and the NFL, Earl Campbell. Earl was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1978 and had a rookie season for the ages. Campbell won the Rookie of the Year award and was named to the All-Pro team after rushing for 1,450 yards with 13 TDs in his first season.

Campbell's best season was two years later when he rushed for a mind-boggling 1,934 yards and an unbelievable 5.2 yards per carry. Not to mention, Campbell won the MVP in 1979 with 1,697 rushing yards and a whopping 19 TDs. His overall resume is incredibly impressive: He finished his college career with a Heisman trophy at the University of Texas in 1977, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1978, five Pro Bowls, three Offensive Player of the Year awards, and the MVP of the National Football League in 1979.

His career was short-lived due to the pounding he took in college and the pros, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991 after only eight seasons in the league. “The Tyler Rose” is still a local favorite in Houston for being a big part of the Luv Ya Blue Oilers teams that just couldn't get past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. He remains one of the most iconic players to ever play in front of a Houston crowd.

2. Nolan Ryan

The second spot on the list goes to the iconic Nolan Ryan. Nothing says badass more than Nolan Ryan, and maybe Chuck Norris. His combination of talent and intimidation is something that every young pitcher dreams of. A 100 mph fastball and a willingness to throw inside made him a legend, and racking up Ks at a never-before-seen pace sure didn’t hurt his reputation.

For a pitcher, strikeouts show just how nasty your stuff is, and Ryan is the all-time king of strikeouts, with over 5,000 in his career — talk about a record that will never be broken. One of his biggest achievements was throwing his record-breaking fifth no-hitter for the Astros in 1981 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was already 34 years old at the time, but nobody knew he had another decade left in that right arm.

His other super human ability, besides his blazing fastball, was his longevity. He was able to pitch until the age of 46 and was still considered a power pitcher upon retirement. Ryan played on some great Astros teams, particularly in 1980 and 1986. Both teams came very close to a World Series appearance, and Ryan was a huge part of those teams.

He finished his career with the Texas Rangers, but will always have a special place in the hearts of Houston fans. The Astros were not interested in bringing him back after the 1988 season, and didn’t foresee he would have so many more quality years left. You can still catch Nolan at the ball park quite often, and his Nolan Ryan Beef is a huge hit at Minute Maid Park, especially on Wednesday nights for dollar hot dogs. Oh, and by the way, his son is the president of the Astros. Pretty amazing considering the Astros might have the blue print for one of the best run teams in Major League Baseball.

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

When we're talking about the best Houston player of all-time, championships have to be the first thing considered. No offense to Robert Horry or any of the other guys, but it was very clear which player was the driving force behind the Rockets' back-to-back NBA championships. Look no further than "The Dream," Hakeem Olajuwon.

Hakeem was drafted by the Rockets in 1984 and started his career with a bang, being voted runner-up as Rookie of the Year finishing just behind the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Olajuwon ended up making the All-Star team 12 times, was voted Defensive Player of the Year twice, and finished as the regular season and finals MVP in 1994. He was also voted finals MVP in 1995 when the Rockets won their second championship in a row.

The Rockets are the only Houston team to win it all in modern times, and that feat places Olajuwon in a lonely tier of all-time Houston athletes. We've had some talented HOF players over the years, but it's all about winning in the end, and no other athlete comes close to the achievements of Olajuwon.

He almost captured a college championship as well for the city of Houston, but he and the University of Houston Cougars fell just short in an all-time upset against North Carolina State in 1983. Dealing with that failure may have been a critical learning experience that eventually led to back-to-back championships with the Rockets. Olajuwon is still a big presence in the Rockets organization and is well-known for helping young players develop their skills in the post.

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Correa knows it's time for his payday. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Rangers made a big splash over the weekend when they agreed to terms on a 7-year $175 million contract with infielder Marcus Semien. Apparently, that was just the tip of the iceberg. According to multiple reports, the Rangers have also added arguably the most coveted player in free agency, Corey Seager. Seager and the Rangers have agreed to a massive 10-year $325 million contract.

Before the Seager news broke, many were starting to wonder if teams would be willing to hand out 10-year deals for over 300 million dollars with the lockout just around the corner. Now we have our answer, and Carlos Correa has to be a very happy man to see how the market is shifting. The Rangers not only added two incredible players, but they also made it pretty much a certainty that Correa will either leave Houston, or the Astros will have to sign him to a long-term $300 million deal, which is not likely based on their stance on multi-year big money contracts.

The Rangers aren't the only team in the AL West making blockbuster moves. The Mariners agreed to terms with 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray on Monday. Ray and Seattle agreed to a 5-year, $115 million contract.

The Angels joined in on the action a couple of weeks ago when they signed Noah Syndergard to a 1-year 21 million dollar deal.

Clearly, the AL West is on notice that they're going to have to make big changes if they want to compete with the Houston Astros who have dominated the AL recently with 5 straight ALCS appearances and 3 trips to the World Series. With Correa likely out the door in Houston, these teams might believe this is a perfect time to make a run at the division and finally knock off the Astros. Only time will tell if these deals will work, and the Astros look to have a terrific team this season whether Correa returns or not.

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