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Bruce Springsteen, originally from Long Branch, likely tops many lists of “Famous New Jersey Natives.”

In the mid-1980s Springsteen and The E Street Band delivered one of the most successful albums ever — “Born in the U.S.A.,” with “Glory Days” one of the project’s hit songs.

“Glory Days” begins with “The Boss” singing about an actual New Jersey high school friend, “a big baseball player” who “could throw that speedball by you.” And, apparently, make one look like a fool at bat in the process.

Bruce Springsteen American Heroes trading card.

Bruce Springsteen American Heroes trading card.

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A few decades after Springsteen’s teenage baseball struggles, another famous New Jersey son, current MLB superstar Mike Trout, made several batters look foolish as he pitched a no-hitter at Millville High School, near his birthplace of Vineland.

Trout, a three-time American League MVP winner, who hits for power and average and patrols center field for the Los Angeles Angels, begins our list of well-known pro athletes who started off in The Garden State. The topic seems like a natural as Atlantic City, N.J., “America’s Playground,” hosts this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention.

2011 Topps Update Mike Trout card.

2011 Topps Update Mike Trout card.

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Trout, on the fast track to the Baseball Hall of Fame, mainly played shortstop in his youth and donned No. 2 on his uniform, a nod to his childhood baseball idol, New York Yankees star Derek Jeter. Trout cards are among the highest selling in the hobby, with his rookie cards and special parallels ranging from five to six figures. His 2009 Bowman Draft Picks rookie is one of the top-selling cards of all time, selling for $3.9 million in 2020.

Many know Jeter as a Hall of Fame shortstop, a member of the 3,000 hit club, one who anchored many World Series winning teams beginning in the 1990s, and as someone who spent most of his formative years in Michigan. Jeter, however, came from Pequannock Township in New Jersey.

1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie card.

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In 2017 the Yankees elevated Jeter’s career even more with a plaque at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. Only a few dozen players, managers or executives in the storied franchise’s history have received such recognition. Jeter’s 1993 SP rookie card sold for a record $690,000 in 2021.

Sure, Trout and Jeter are easily recognizable MLB names, but one diamond king with Jersey roots does not enjoy such stature with most baseball fans: Joe “Ducky” Medwick of Carteret.

Medwick, an outfielder, played for several big league teams, but his best years were in the 1930s with the St. Louis Cardinals famed “Gashouse Gang.” That raucous squad won the World Series in 1934.

In 1937 Ducky enjoyed his best individual season as he cruised to the NL MVP award while winning the Triple Crown. Vintage Medwick cards from 1934-36 have sold for as much as $1,800.

1934 Batter-Up card of Joe Medwick.

1934 Batter-Up card of Joe Medwick.

After an extended wait Medwick finally earned Baseball Hall of Fame induction in 1968. About his long road to Cooperstown, the lifetime .324 hitter quipped, “This was the longest slump of my career. I had gone 0 for 20 before, but never 0 for 20 years.”

Another Medwick tidbit: Fabled Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne recruited the multi-sport high school star for the gridiron, but he ducked the invite.

One star who played football for Notre Dame and makes our roster is former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann. A native of New Brunswick, Theismann had a solid career for “The Fighting Irish” and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1970.

1975 Topps Joe Theismann card.

1975 Topps Joe Theismann card.

Selected in the 1971 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, Theismann and the team could not agree on a contract, so the quarterback played a few years in the Canadian Football League. In 1974 he joined the NFL’s Washington Redskins, where he played his entire 12-year NFL career, winning a Super Bowl in 1983 (over Miami, no less) and the 1983 NFL MVP award.

Among other attributes, Theismann was known for intensity and hustle. The same can be said for NFL Hall of Famer and Fort Dix native Franco Harris.

1973 Topps card of Franco Harris.

1973 Topps card of Franco Harris.

Although Harris helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls starting in the mid-1970s, the fullback is perhaps best known for “The Immaculate Reception.” That catch took place in a 1972 AFC playoff game against the Oakland Raiders when Harris grabbed from his shoe tops a deflected pass meant for another teammate and ran it in for a game-winning touchdown. NFL Films chose the controversial “Reception” as the greatest play in league history.

Trenton native Dennis Rodman was known for controversy and his colorful lifestyle, both on and off the basketball court. But keeping the focus on his Hall of Fame hoops career, Rodman used his fierce rebounding skills and overall great defensive play to help the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls win multiple NBA titles beginning in the late 1980s.

Ultimate Collection Dennis Rodman card.

Ultimate Collection Dennis Rodman card.

While Rodman is and was unorthodox in many ways, Rick Barry was unique in one particular way — shooting free throws underhanded.

As odd as that method seemed to most, they could not quibble with the player from Elizabeth, N.J. who had tremendous success at the foul line. Barry, perhaps best known for his time on the San Francisco and later Golden State Warriors, earned his place in the Hall of Fame as a forward while playing with championship teams in the American Basketball Association (ABA) and the NBA.

1971 Topps Rick Barry.

1971 Topps Rick Barry.

While Rodman and Barry both played for several pro teams, our next Garden State great established himself with one organization.

Arriving in the world in Jersey City, Tom Heinsohn made his mark playing forward for the Boston Celtics, starting with a Rookie of the Year award and NBA title in 1957. When his career was done Heinsohn owned eight championship rings as a player and two as a head coach. He also clocked in some 30 years as a Celtics’ broadcaster.

1957-58 Topps Tom Heinsohn rookie card.

1957-58 Topps Tom Heinsohn rookie card.

“Mr. Celtic” is one of a handful of NBA stars who earned Pro Basketball Hall of Fame honors as a player and a coach.

Another hoop king with Jersey roots (Newark) is none other than one of the best big men in NBA history — Shaquille O’Neal. At 7-1 and 300-some pounds — and lots of muscle — “Shaq” is more like a duplex.

1997 Bowman's Best and 1992 Stadium Club Shaquille O'Neal cards.

1997 Bowman's Best and 1992 Stadium Club Shaquille O'Neal cards.

In the 1990s through 2011 Shaq played center for six teams in his pro career, but the Orlando Magic, L.A. Lakers and Miami Heat brought him the most highlights, including an MVP award and four NBA championships.

MAKING A NAME FOR THEMSELVES

While O’Neal did a great deal of “boxing out” on the basketball court, another product of Newark excelled in the boxing ring — Marvin Hagler. In a career spanning the 1970s and ’80s, the inductee of both The International Boxing and World Boxing Halls of Fame successfully defended his middleweight crown numerous times and took on the nickname “Marvelous.” But when Hagler felt media types were not referring to him enough by this moniker he had his name legally changed to begin with the adjective.

Marvin Hagler trading card.

Marvin Hagler trading card.

Hagler, by the way, was also deemed one of “The Four Kings” in boxing along with contemporaries Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and “Sugar” Ray Leonard. No haggling with that quartet.

Born Arnold Raymond Cream in Pennsauken Township, the final famous athlete on our list is best known as “Jersey Joe” Walcott. The boxer’s pro career spanned the 1930s through the early 1950s.

1951 Topps Ringside card of "Jersey Joe" Walcott.

1951 Topps Ringside card of "Jersey Joe" Walcott.

In 1951 Walcott reached his goal of becoming the world heavyweight champ. He won the crown at age 37, the oldest to do so at that point, which showed that sometimes it takes a bit longer for the Cream to rise to the top.

Some of those pro sports stars from The Garden State certainly qualify among the best of their era, while others transcend that level and firmly rest in “best of all-time” discussions. Others from Jersey will definitely follow similar paths, which, one way or another, guarantees many more “Glory Days.”

— Doug Koztoski is a frequent SCD contributor. He can be reached at dkoz3000@gmail.com

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