The United States of Athlete Streets
BY Sachin Dave Chandan, Ryan Hockensmith and Dana Lee
Quick, which athlete has the most roads in the U.S. named after him or her? (Hint: The athlete is not human. Like, literally not a person.) Which sport has the most streets named after its athletes? (Hint: Again, not humans.) After six months of unprecedented research, we can answer those questions and many more. So saddle up for a wild ride. (Hint: We're trying to tell you that this country loves horse racing way more than you thought.)
It sounded like such a fun idea: Let's find every street in the U.S. named after an athlete! Then we hit a huge pothole: There's no database or study or expert with that information. So we combed through 2010 census data, Google Maps and a slew of other sources and located a stunning 3,700-plus streets named after athletes in a country with about 1 million total roads -- around 1 in every 275.
Yep, Secretariat wins by a mile, with an average of 5.3 Secretariat streets per state. Why so much love for a horse from the early '70s? Perhaps the best explanation comes from Kate Chenery Tweedy, whose mother raised and owned Big Red. "Secretariat came along at a time of great crisis in our country -- Watergate, the Vietnam War, Nixon's impeachment," Tweedy says. "And unlike any other athlete ever has, he restored our sense that there is beauty and good in the world."
Say hello to the only human in our top 10. The Intimidator sure didn't scare off road namers. Earnhardt lapped the next non-horse on our list (Sam Snead, with 42 streets). And his appeal stretched well beyond the South: Earnhardt has a road named after him in a whopping 23 different states, including Delaware, New York and good ol' Earnhardt Drive in Williston, Vermont.
Mantle became the king of New York -- the legendary Yankee won seven World Series titles there -- but he ended up with 14 streets in seven different states ... none of which was New York. Of particular note: His home state of Oklahoma paid homage to the entire Mantle family, with three roads named after Mickey, one after his son Billy, who had Hodgkin's disease and died tragically of a heart attack at age 36, and even a sports complex in Commerce named after his dad, Mutt.
Athlete streets, by the numbers
Though we found 3,764 roads named after athletes, there were actually only 1,049 different sports figures whose fame was cemented with a street. Horses led the charge with 276, followed by golfers (207), football players (194) and baseball players (133). But smaller sports got into the action too -- the Babe Ruth of dog sledding, Jimmy Huntington, has a street named after him in Huslia, Alaska. But you don't need to be an immortal Hall of Famer to get a street either -- hence, Rex Grossman Boulevard in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.
TOP 10 ATHLETE STREETS
Horses win, by many, many lengths. But they earned it -- this group of nine won a combined six Triple Crowns, including Citation, winner of 16 straight overall races and the first horse to earn $1 million.
- 1 Secretariat263
- 2 Dale Earnhardt101
- 3 Citation86
- 4 Whirlaway84
- 5 Seabiscuit69
- 6 Man o' War60
- 7 Seattle Slew59
- 8 Riva Ridge50
- 9 Affirmed45
- 10 War Admiral45
MOST COMMON BY SPORT
Have we mentioned that we found lots of horse streets in America? OK, let's move on to the No. 2 entry -- by a landslide -- on this list, golf. A huge chunk of the golfer roads we found were nestled together, presumably by duffer land developers. Our favorite: an outbreak of nine golf streets in Wasilla, Alaska ... the state that Golf.com once anointed as having the lowest golfiness rating in America.
- 1 Horse racing1,835
- 2 Golf777
- 3 Baseball323
- 4 Football293
- 5 Motorsports186
- 6 Tennis84
- 7 Basketball79
- 8 Boxing58
- 9 Track and field39
- 10 Hockey17
MOST STREETS FOR ACTIVE ATHLETES
Speaking of golf ... golfers dominated our list of active athletes already enshrined with a road. But one football neighborhood caught our eye in San Antonio. If you're headed north on Novacek Boulevard, past Moose Circle, hang a left onto Aikman Way and quickly look to your left. Because yes, some optimistic Cowboys fan seems to have recently slapped Dak Avenue onto a road to honor Dallas' 27-year-old potential 2021 free agent who has one career playoff win. Hope that long-term contract situation works out!
- 1 Tom Watson19
- 2 Tiger Woods16
- 3 John Daly7
- T4 Ernie Els3
- T4 Phil Mickelson3
- T4 Vijay Singh3
MOST STREETS, BY STATE
Our top three were what you'd expect -- the three most populated states had the most athlete streets. But then ... Kentucky? More than 80% of the Bluegrass State's 283 athlete streets were devoted to horses, but 33 were named after sports people, ranging from the inspirational (Mary T. Meagher Drive, named for the Olympic swimming champion) to the controversial (two different towns in Kentucky have roads named after Rick Pitino).
- 1 Texas630
- 2 California429
- 3 Florida318
- 4 Kentucky283
- 5 North Carolina187
- 6 Illinois126
- 7 Indiana125
- 8 Virginia108
- 9 Tennessee106
- 10 Maryland104
If it hasn't hit you yet, let's just come out and say it: We ran into a lot of surprising and weird things while researching this project. Here are five quirky takeaways we'd be remiss if we didn't highlight.
Welcome to El Paso, Texas, home to the most streets in the U.S. named after athletes -- 135! (Owensboro, Kentucky, is second with 65.) More than 20 MLB Hall of Famers have their own road in El Paso, and the Sun City's numbers are really juiced by the pocket of golf streets nestled around Lee Trevino Parkway, which cuts through the east side of the city and features streets named after golfers ranging from all-time greats like Nancy Lopez to lesser-knowns like Art Wall Jr. If you're wondering who Art Wall is, he's the 1959 Masters winner who for many years held the unofficial world record with 45 career holes-in-one.
The 1980 U.S. men's hockey team is paved in immortality with an entire neighborhood in ... Austin, Texas? The Rancho Alto neighborhood in south Austin features 14 streets named after team members, including captain Mike Eruzione and head coach Herb Brooks. And if you're thinking maybe some of the players or coaches had roots in Texas, well, they didn't. Nobody was born there.
Experts say renaming streets in the U.S. is difficult to do, requiring near-unanimous support from town commissions and residents. But it does happen occasionally. The Red Sox recently changed Yawkey Way to Jersey Street because of former owner Tom Yawkey's refusal to integrate the team decades earlier. And in Miami, the city commissioner didn't enjoy local legend Jose Canseco's book outlining rampant steroid use in baseball and led a campaign to take the slugger's name off of Jose Canseco Street, near Florida International University. Joe Martinez called Canseco a snitch and said, "He started the tarnishment of America's favorite pastime." The replacement name? The considerably less interesting Southwest 16th Street.
Even fictional athletes have streets named after them, as we discovered in the neighborhood of Fieldside. Minutes away from the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs' stadium is a pocket of streets named after Roy Hobbs, Mighty Casey and Crash Davis. Other streets in this fun neighborhood include Hammerin Hank and the Splendid Splinter. We were just as intrigued as you are, so we asked, and it turns out there is a very simple answer: The land developer loves baseball. Same here.
Naming a street isn't that hard. In huge chunks of the country, land developers can basically present street names to local commissions and get sign-off. But geez, guys, maybe double-check the spelling before you throw up those road signs? We found dozens of misspellings, ranging from the semi-acceptable (Sea Biscuit or Seabisquit instead of Seabiscuit) to the less forgivable (we found four Earnhart streets instead of Earnhardt). And then there are the totally perplexing -- seriously, Bluffdale, Utah, how'd you come up with Seattle Slue Drive?
Now that you're hooked on athlete street news just like us, be sure to keep an eye on Staples Center. The Los Angeles City Council announced on Aug. 24 that Figueroa Street will soon be renamed Kobe Bryant Boulevard.