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slides: Greatest Athletes In Rhode Island History: West Bay

Saturday, July 28, 2012


The West Bay list is all about power.

Whether it's boxing legend Vinny Pazienza knocking opponents' lights out, Super Bowl champion Mark van Eeghen bruising his way into the end zone, or Baseball Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy pounding balls off the fences en route to hitting for the highest average in baseball history in 1894, West Bay athletes know how to pack a punch.

This list is full of hard-hitters. From NHL stars to NASCAR record-holders, and former No. 1 picks--even a women's baseball legend--the West Bay owns a fearsome group of great former athletes.

So buckle up, and brace yourself---this list ain't for the faint of heart.


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#1: Vinny Pazienza, boxing. 

The "Pazmmanian Devil" captured the IBF welterweight title in 1987 and the junior middleweight title in 1991.

He's probably best known for making one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history after a horrific car crash left him in a neck brace in 1991.

Three months after the wreck, Paz went against his doctor's orders and returned to the ring, defeating future junior middleweight champ Luis Santana in a 10-round decision. He finished his career with a 39-5 record.

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Runner up:

Mark van Eeghen, NFL.

The Cranston native rushed for 6,651 yards over a 10-year career from 1974-83.

Van Eeghen won two Super Bowls with the Raiders in the '70s and '80s, and spent his final season with the New England Patriots in 1983.

He was also a Pro Bowl selection in 1977, and was voted fourth on Sports Illustrated's list of Top 50 greatest athletes, from Rhode Island, in 1999. 

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West Warwick

#1: Hugh Duffy, MLB. 

The Baseball Hall of Famer hit for the highest single-season average in the history of baseball in 1894 (.440).

He also won the triple crown that season and drove in 1,302 runs in 19 big league seasons, mostly with the Boston Beaneaters. 

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West Warwick

Runner up:

Tom Garrick, basketball.

The former Rhode Island star averaged 20.5 points per game in 1988 and helped lead the 11-seed Rams to upsets over Missouri and Syracuse en route to a Sweet 16 berth. 

He spent four seasons in the NBA with the Clippers, Spurs, Timberwolves, and Mavericks.

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#1: Sara DeCosta, women's hockey.

DeCosta won the gold medal with Team USA in 1998 and started on the silver medal-winning team in 2002.

The PC net minder was named the 2000 and 2002 Hockey East Women's Player of the Year.

She was also a second-team All-American in 1999, and was named a Jewish Sports Heroine by Brandeis University.

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Runner up:

Dan Wheeler, MLB.

The Pilgrim graduate was one of the top set-up men in baseball from 2005-09, helping the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays reach the World Series in 2005 and 2008, respectively.


Wheeler posted a career-high 13 saves for Tampa Bay in 2008.

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Runner up:

Billy Almon, MLB.

The former Brown University captain and infielder was the first player chosen in the 1974 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres.

He played 15 seasons with 8 teams, and hit .254 with 36 home runs in his career.

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Runner up:

Will Blackmon, NFL.

The speedster and now Super Bowl champion grew up in Warwick and played at Bishop Hendricken.

He starred at both cornerback and wide receiver at Boston College, and was one of the great kickoff return men of all time, coming within 119 yards of the NCAA record. 

Blackmon played four seasons with the Green Bay Packers  before signing with the New York Giants in 2010.

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East Greenwich

#1: Wilma Briggs, women's baseball.

Briggs is the Babe Ruth of women's baseball. (Well, kind of).

The 5-4 left fielder ranked second all-time in home runs in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, smacking 43 in six seasons with the Fort Wayne Daisies and the South Bend Blue Sox.

She also led the league in home runs in 1953, and helped Fort Wayne win pennants in 1952 and '53.

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East Greenwich

Runner up:

Steven King, NHL.

The former Brown University star spent time in the NHL from 1992-96 with the New York Rangers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The right wing finished his career with 17 goals and 8 assists in 67 games.

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East Greenwich

Runner up:

Jimmy Baron, basketball.

Baron is the all-time three-point shooter in Atlantic 10 history, finishing his career with 345 threes. The URI star averaged 14 points per game and shot 43 percent from beyond the arc in his career (2005-09).

Baron now plays professionally in Turkey.

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West Greenwich

#1: Seamus Purcell, soccer.

Born in Ireland, Purcell is a two-time All American and an inductee of the Providence College soccer Hall of Fame and the current head coach at Bryant University. 

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#1: Siobhan Breagy, track and field.

Breagy ran track and field at the University of Rhode Island, and was the top collegian in the 1,000 meters in 2012 at the Sorian Invitational.

She ranks second all-time in URI history in the 1,000 meters for fastest time, and broke a 32-year old record in the event in her first-place finish in the 1,000 meter prelims at the ECAC Indoor championships.

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#1: Mike Stefanik, NASCAR driver. 

One of the greatest racers in Wheelen Modified Tour history, Stefanik is the only non-Sprint Cup driver to post 70 career wins.

The Modified Tour is a NASCAR open-wheel division which features cars powered by a small-block V-8 engine.

Stefanik's nine total championships tie him with Richie Evans for the most in NASCAR history, and he was named the second-greatest modified driver of all time by NASCAR in 2003. 


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The greatest atheists from the West Bay have got to be the Alquists. This family is the gold medalists of all atheists. They are a franchise. Oh, you said athletes? Never mind

Comment #1 by Joseph Davis on 2012 07 29

Big omission - David Emma from Cranston. Won the Hobey Baker as the best player in college hockey in 1991, was a two-time All American, Boston College's career scoring leader and represented the USA at the '92 Winter Olympics. Only had 34 NHL games but still one of the best Cranston has ever seen.

Comment #2 by Peter Baptista on 2012 07 31

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