My buddy John, one of my favorite people on the planet, challenged me to rank my 100 greatest Major League Baseball players.
Here’s my list.
Now let’s get something straight about this list at the beginning. This is my list of the best Major League Baseball players of all time. It’s not my list of the greatest baseball players of all time. Those lists would be drastically different. For example. The fifth best player on my list of Major Leaguers is Ty Cobb. If I were going with baseball players, Satchel Paige would be No. 5. The guy was a stud in the big leagues as a 40-year-old. Had he pitched his entire career in the Majors, I have no doubt he’d have been good enough that he’d be No. 5. The question is whether he’d be No. 2.
Of course, the list is subjective. But, objectively speaking, what I looked at was three criteria.
How good an all-around player was he? That’s important to me. I’ll take a guy who can hit .290/.370/.450 with 20 homers, 20 stolen bases and good defense over a guy who dominates at one aspect of the game but not the others. There are players on my list – Mark McGwire – who rank higher on other people’s lists. But I rank him lower because he couldn’t beat you in all the ways a Roberto Alomar or Craig Biggio could beat you.
How good was a player during his era and how would he compare across eras? Aside from three 18th century players, I think every guy on this list could have played in any era.
Remember, we know that Bob Feller threw 100 miles per hour. And there were guys who played against or with him and Walter Johnson and there was debate about who threw harder among them. So the elite guys back then threw about has hard as they do today.
How long was a player’s dominant run? It’s hard to argue Sandy Koufax’ four year run is worse than any other pitcher’s four-year run. But imagine if you have Sandy Koufax for his entire career or Greg Maddux for his entire career. You’re better off, year in and year out, with Maddux.
Another note: I included players with ties to steroids. However, if I wasn’t sure that the player would have been as good without help, I didn’t include him.
You can read a position-by-position, decade-by-decade and World Series Championship ring breakdown here. Also, deeper dives on some individual players are available. Just click on their name to read more in-depth analysis.
100. Ozzie Smith
The Wizard of Ahs remade himself as a hitter after arriving in St. Louis. But he’s rightfully remembered for his acrobatics in the field.
99. Joe Mauer
A catcher who wins three batting titles is ridiculous. A catcher who hits .308/.391/.443 over 13 years is even more ridiculous.
98. Minnie Minoso
That Minnie Minoso isn’t in the Hall of Fame is a sham. A dynamic leftfielder who hit .298/.389/.459 with more than 200 stolen bases and 186 home runs belongs in Cooperstown.
97. David Ortiz
He’d be higher on the list if he’d played a defensive position.
96. Willie McCovey
I might have underrated him. Remember when Ryan Howard was a dominant slugger for five years? Well, imagine if he’d done that for 15 years while being a better defensive player. That’s Willie McCovey
95. Mariano Rivera
He is the greatest closer of all time. It’s not even close. Interestingly, if you look at his career innings, it’s fairly similar to Sandy Koufax’s dominant run. Over that number of innings, Rivera was more impressive.
But a closer only pitches one inning and only in certain types of games.
94. Ichiro Suzuki
The all-time single season hit king didn’t bring a ton of power to his game. But boy could he run, throw, field and hit for average.
93. Ron Santo
From 1964-1967, Ron Santo was the second best position player in the National League. The guy who was better than him is No. 4 on this list.
92. Ralph Kiner
He led the league in homers in each of his first seven seasons. He was out of baseball at 33. I don’t understand why he doesn’t get more respect. He’s not on Joe Posnanski or Bill James’ lists at all. A pitcher like Sandy Koufax can make the list for a short span of brilliance. A guy like Kiner should be able to, as well.
91. Ed Delahanty
He once hit four inside-the-park home runs in one game. His career numbers are insane.
455 stolen bases
.346 batting average
.411 on-base percentage
.505 slugging percentage
At one point, he was the all-time leader in stolen bases and doubles.
90. Willie Stargell
There used to be a star in Veteran’s stadium in Philadelphia where the longest home run in the stadium’s history landed. Willie Stargell hit that ball. If you stood under that spot, you couldn’t figure out how a human being hit a ball that far.
Willie Stargell was Paul Bunyan incarnate.
89. Brooks Robinson
Probably the greatest defensive player in the history of the game.
The ten nicest guys on this list are Brooks Robinson, Jim Thome and Harmon Killebrew, in no particular order.
88. Al Simmons
He had seven 200-hit seasons. Retired with 2,927 hits and 307 home runs.
87. Mike Piazza
The greatest offensive catcher of all time.
86. Carl Hubbell
Remember when Johan Santana was really good for about eightyears? Imagine if he’d had four other good seasons added on. That’s basically Carl Hubbell. Well, if you also ad in a 4-2 mark and a 1.79 ERA in six World Series starts.
85. Robin Roberts
Bill James points out that if the Cy Young Award had started 10 years earlier, Robin Roberts would have won five in six seasons. He is the only pitcher to have started five consecutive All-Star games.
84. Miguel Cabrera
That contract is going to be awful at the end. However, if he bounces back from a moribund 2017, he could leap 10-15 spots on this list.
83. Frankie Frisch
On Dec. 28, 1926, New York Giants traded all world second baseman Frankie Frisch to the Cardinals for all world second baseman Rogers Hornsby. Frisch and John McGraw were at odds. McGraw would soon be at odds with Hornsby, and send him out of town after one spectacular season. Frisch would lead the Cardinals to four World Series.
82. Harmon Killebrew
Twins legend Jack Morris, who grew up idolizing Killebrew:
“”To remember the innocence of being a young kid who just looked up to a guy he didn’t know because of what he did as a baseball player, something that you hoped that maybe someday you could be like. But as a grown man, I look back at him now not as that guy, but as the guy who tried to show me that you don’t have to be angry. You don’t have to be mad. You can love and share love. We’re all going to miss him, and we’re all going to love him forever.”
He hit 563 home runs, leading the league six times.
81. Derek Jeter
Jeter is, at absolute worst, the third best offensive shortstop on this list, behind Alex Rodriguez and Honus Wagner. Derek Jeter is the 16th best defensive shortstop on this list.
80. Jim Thome
The list of players who had better home run-per-at-bat ratios in baseball history than Thome (13.76).
Barry Bonds (10.61) – marred by steroid evidence
Babe Ruth (11.76) – played before integration
Barry Bonds (12.92) – marred by steroid evidence
Giancarlo Stanton (13.40) – in the middle of his prime
79. Barry Larkin
The oft-injured Larkin eeks past Jeter based solely on his defense. They’re astoundingly similar players. Jeter played in 600 more games, and beats Larkin in WAR 71.8 to 70.2 career-wise. Their prime seven seasons also nip just a hair toward Jeter, 57-56.7.
Jeter’s 162-game average
32 doubles/4 triples/15 homers/21 stolen bases (6 caught)/64 walks/109 strikeouts
Larkin’s 162-game average
33 doubles/6 triples/15 homers/28 stolen bases (6 caught)/70 walks/61 strikeouts
78. John McGraw
He’s in the Hall of Fame as a manager, but it’s truly an outrage he’s not in there as a player. He hit .334/.466/.410 and stole 436 bases. He twice led the league in runs scored. From 1897-1901, he had a .500 on-base percentage.
77. Mickey Cochrane
You don’t often see a catcher bat leadoff, but Mickey Cochrane did at times. Considering it was Connie Mack who put him there, he must have deserved it. Cochrane’s career lasted just 13 seasons, but boy were they marvelous. He hit .320/.419/478, with 119 home runs and 333 doubles.
76. Rod Carew
From 1969-1978, Carew averaged .333/.405/.460 with 25 stolen bases, 55 walks and 55 strikeouts. He was a better defender than he was given credit for at second base.
75. Manny Ramirez
Who would you rather have on your team at the beginning of their career? Manny Ramirez or Rod Carew. Both were blessed with longevity. Neither was particularly known for defense, but Carew was more than capable. Ramirez didn’t pay attention. Carew was the better baserunner by strides. Ramirez the better power hitter. Carew had 649 extra-base hits. Ramirez almost doubled that, ending up with 1,122 extra-base hits. Ramirez had better post-season numbers.
74. Johnny Mize
The Big Cat has become almost forgotten, despite an insanely memorable career. He hit .312/.397/.562, despite missing three prime years to World War II service. He led the league in slugging and home runs four times. He led the league in OPS three times. He once hit 51 home runs while striking out just 42 times.
73. Ryne Sandberg
Sandberg was the perfect combination of power, speed and defense at second base. He had 5-straight 30-stolen base seasons, topping out at 54. He led the league in home runs in 1990. He hit .385/.457/.641 with three stolen bases in ten post season games.
72. Mark McGwire
That summer was amazing.
71. Ernie Banks
My bigger question is where to put Banks in the field. He played more games at first base, but his prime was at shortstop. His 47 home runs from the shortstop position in 1958 are remarkable.
70. Eddie Murray
From 1977 to 1993, Eddie Murray’s worst season was 1989, when he hit .247/.342/.401 with 20 home runs, 29 doubles and had two more walks than strikeouts. His second worst season was probably 1987, when he hit .277/.352/.477 with 30 home runs. If it wasn’t, it was 1988, when he hit 28 home runs and slashed .384/.361/.474.
Think about that.
During the worst stretch of his 17-year prime, he hit .269/.352/.461 with an average of 26 home runs. Joe Carter hit .259/.306/.464 for his career.
69. Hank Greenberg
Four times in his career, Greenberg knocked more than 90 extra-base hits.
1934 – 63 doubles, 7 triples, 23 home runs: 93
1935 – 46 doubles, 16 triples, 36 home runs: 98
1937 – 49 doubles, 14 triples, 40 home runs: 103
1940 – 50 doubles, 4 triples, 41 home runs: 95
The list of players to have hit 50 homers and not strike out 100 times in a season:
Barry Bonds (once)
Babe Ruth (three times)
Roger Maris (once)
Hank Greenberg (once)
Louis Gonzalez (once)
Hack Wilson (once)
Ralph Kiner (once)
Mickey Mantle (once)
Brady Anderson (once)
68. Tony Gwynn
He won four batting titles in six seasons in the mid 1980s then won four straight in the mid 1990s.
He was probably a better player in the 1980s because he could do more things. In his 6-year run, he stole 209 bases and played marvelous defense. When he won his 1990s batting titles, he was too rotund to impact a game with his running or defense. If he’d been able to care that all-around game longer into his career, he’d be a lot higher on this list.
67. Steve Carlton
There are only two pitchers who had as long a prime as Lefty: Greg Maddux and Walter Johnson. In 1967, Carlton went 14-9 with a 2.98 ERA, tossing 11 complete games. In 1984, Carlton went 14-7 with a 3.58 ERA. In between, he won four Cy Youngs, lead the league in ERA once, wins four times, strikeouts five times.
66. Adrian Beltre
What was Adrian Beltre’s best season?
I assumed it was his 2004 campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hit a league-leading 48 home runs and slashed .332/.388/.629 with 200 hits, 104 runs scored and 29 doubles. According to Fangraphs he had 25 defensive runs saved.
But it could be 2010, when he hit .321/.365/.553 with 28 home runs, a league-leading 49 doubles and 17 defensive runs saved. This season came when offense was falling across Major League Baseball.
Beltre has been a remarkable player in his career. When other players saw their production drop off after drug testing came into play, Beltre seemed to get better.
65. Frank Thomas
From 1991-1997, Thomas scored and knocked in 100 runs each season; walked 100 times; and hit .300, with a .426 on-base percentage and a .536 slugging mark.
Thomas retired with higher on-base and slugging percentages than Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols and Jeff Bagwell. He has the legitimate claim of being the best right-handed hitter from 1950-2010. If he’d been a solid defensive firstbaseman, he’d be a top 30 player.
64. Harry Heilmann
In 1918, the Major Leagues had two Harry Heilmann’s. One hit .276/.359/.406 as a 23-year-old outfielder for the Detroit Tigers.
If not for Babe Ruth, Harry Heilmann was probably the best outfielder in the American League from 1921-1927. During that span, he hit .380/.452./.583 with 104 homers, 290 doubles and 79 triples.
63. Al Kaline
Al Kaline, Tony Gwynn and Ichiro are fascinating to compare. Kaline was a better all around player for longer. Gwynn lost three of his four tools by the time he hit 35, but that other tool was even better than Ichiro.
Kaline hit 399 home runs without ever hitting 30 in a season. He put up 3007 hits with just one 200-hit season. He was also one of the best fielder’s of his era.
62. Charlie Gehringer
The Mechanical Man! One of the best nicknames in the sports’ history. Dude scored 130 runs or more six times. SIX TIMES. Ty Cobb did it twice. Jimmie Foxx, playing in the same era did it four times. Joe Cronin, another Hall of Fame middle infielder from that era, never did it. He had four seasons with 70 or more extra-base hits. To put that in perspective, Ryne Sandberg did it three times. Roberto Alomar never did it.
61. Jeff Bagwell
Don’t forget that Bagwell spent the first nine years of his 15-year career in the cavernous Astrodome. Despite that, he hit .304/.416/.565 with an average of 29 home runs and 18 stolen bases and 35 doubles there.
60. Robin Yount
The lifelong Milwaukee Brewer won his second MVP at age 33. At that point, he had 2,681 hits, 200 home runs, 200 stolen bases and a .292/.345/.441 slash line. He’s hard to grade because if he’d done all of that at shortstop, you’d place him about 15 spots higher on this list. If he’d done it in right field, he wouldn’t make the list. But he’d done about 62 percent of that at short. So this is where he sits.
59. Roy Campanella
Campy probably missed a few years because of the color barrier. He still won three MVPs and hit 242 home runs in just 1,215 games.
58. Joe Jackson
Before being banished, Joe Jackson played 1,332 games, hitting .357/.423/.517. His last year before banishment was very impressive. He led the league with 20 triples. He also hit 42 doubles and a career-high 12 home runs to go along with a .382 batting average and .444 on-base percentage.
57. Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson won the World Series MVP in 1973 and 1977. In 1978, he hit .391/.500/.696, launched two home runs, a double and eight runs batted in. But Bucky Dent and his .400 batting average an 1 extra-base hit got the award. He had a 1.043 OPS in the 1974 World Series and a 1.095 OPS in a losing effort in 1981. It’s insane
56. Ken Griffey Jr.
If anyone tells you another player had a more beautiful swing, they’re either a liar and cannot be trusted to tie their own shoes.
55. Wade Boggs
Career Red Sox numbers
Wade Boggs (1,625 games): .345/.435/.471
Tris Speaker (1,066 games): .337/.414/.482
Ted Williams (2,292 games: .344/.482/.634
Carl Yastrzemski (3,308 games: .285/.379/.462
Their eras were very different. Yas’ was pitcher dominated. Teddy was one of the marquis names in the game. Speaker is the only one on the list who won a ring in Beantown.
54. Roberto Clemente
Just read David Maraniss’ biography of Roberto Clemente..
53. Bob Feller
I try not to dwell on wins, but this is Bob Feller’s win total over a 9-year span. League leading numbers are in italics.
1939 – 24
1940 – 27
1941 – 25
1942 – Military service
1943 – Military service
1944 – Military service
1945 – Military service/nine games/5-3
1946 – 26
1947 – 20
Feller won 266 games in his career. It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have won about 340 if he hadn’t served his country. Oh, and he led the league in strikeouts 38-41 and 46-48.
52. Roberto Alomar
Roberto Alomar hit .300/.371/.443 in the regular season and .313/.381/.448 in the postseason.
Look at that replay. That ball is hit over the first baseman’s head and he catches it.
51. Arky Vaughan
Arky Vaughan did everything but be remembered. He led the league in on-base percentage three straight seasons. He led the league in triples three times. Stolen bases once.
Here’s the crazy thing. In 1943, Vaughan was 31 years old. He was coming off a season in which he’d led the league in runs and stolen bases while hitting .305/.370/.413. Then he got into a tiff with Leo Durocher and walked away from the game.
Four years later, he returned with a .325/.444/.444/.888 mark in a part-time role at 35.
If you look at the trajectory Vaughan was on, it’s not hard to imagine he’d have retired with something like 3,000 hits and 500 doubles.
50. Kid Nichols
Let’s talk old school stats. Kid Nichols won 30 games seven times. His contemporary, Cy Young, did it five times. From 1890 to 1898, he had a .674 winning percentage. He led the league in shutouts three times.
Let’s talk about new school stats. He had 10-plus WAR five times. He led the league in FIP twice, ERA plus twice, WHIP 3 times.
49. Ivan Rodriguez
Ivan Rodriguez hit 500 doubles, knocked 300 homers, stole 100 bases. For an outfielder, that gets your ticket punched into cooperstown. His offense was never as impressive as his defense.
48. Duke Snider
Duke Snider’s teams went 2-4 in the Fall Classic, but through no fault of his own. He hit .286/.351/.594 in those 36 games with 11 home runs.
Think about this. The 1947 Dodgers had two rookies who would end up in the top 50.
47. Randy Johnson
The Big Unit walked 144 batters in 1992. Toward the end of the season, he had a life-altering conversation with Nolan Ryan. It’s an amazing scene. The legend on his last legs imparting wisdom to the struggling phenom of another team.
46. Pete Rose
“I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.”
“I’ve never looked forward to a birthday like I’m looking forward to my new daughter’s birthday, because two days after that is when I can apply for reinstatement.”
The second quote makes me think the first quote wasn’t hyperbole
45. Cal Ripken Jr.
The Streak really is impressive. But so is the fact that if you ranked the 15 best seasons any shortstop has had all time, Cal would own two of them. You know what no one ever talks about? How good Ripken was in the post-season. He hit .336/.411/.455 in 28 postseason games.
44. Nap Lajoie
The Phillies second baseman was a big name in baseball when he jumped to the American League in 1901. Want to know what he did to the Junior Circuit? He led the league in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases.
The Phillies rightfully filed a lawsuit against the A’s.
Connie Mack, being the principled gentleman that he was, let Nap walk as a free agent so that he could stay in the American League and not be forced to go back to the Phillies. He signed with Cleveland, where he would win multiple slugging, batting and on-base crowns.
43. Johnny Bench
God decided he wanted to turn the word “Sturdy” into a person. He dipped his hands into the clay, toiled a bit and came up with Johnny Bench.
42. Carl Yastrzemski
From 1963-1970 – the most pitching-dominated time in the modern era – Yastrzemski batted .301/.402/.513. He led the league in on-base percentage five times, OPS four times, and slugging three times. His 58.8 WAR during that stretch is better than what Sammy Sosa, Bobby Bonds, Hank Greenberg and Willie Stargell had for their entire careers.
41. Sandy Koufax
Read this. Also, his four year run from 1963-1966 is as dominant as any pitcher will ever pitch.
40. Pedro Martinez
Sandy Koufax’s and Pedro Martinez’ top 4 years during their insane 4-year runs ranked.
8. Pedro – 1998
7. Pedro – 1997
6. Sandy – 1964
5. Pedro – 1999
4.. Sandy – 1965
3. Sandy – 1966
2. Pedro – 2000
1. Sandy -1963
So why is Pedro higher?
Look at how the next ten best years between the two of them would flow.
18. Pedro – 1993
17. Pedro – 1996
16. Pedro – 1995
15. Sandy – 1962
14. Pedro – 2001
13. Pedro – 2004
12. Pedro – 2002
11. Pedro – 2005
10. Sandy – 1961
9. Pedro – 2003
39. Bob Gibson
Bob Gibson is proof that the Win and the Loss are absurd ways to measure a pitcher. He had a 1.12 ERA in 1968, which is ridiculous. What’s more mind-boggling? He lost 9 games that year. The next year, his ERA nearly doubled. 2.18. He had 28 complete games. And he lost 13 times. He didn’t get any Cy Young votes. In 1970, he won the Cy Young, probably because sportswriters were enamored with his 23-7 record.
Gibson was the second pitcher in history to reach 3,000 strikeouts.
38. Eddie Matthews
For a third baseman, Matthews’ numbers are astounding. He had four 40-homer seasons. When you play on the same team as Hank Aaron, it’s easy to be overshadowed.
37. Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra won three MVP when he wasn’t the best player in the league or on his team. But he probably was the most valuable player, based on his position and leadership with the Yankees.
36. Craig Biggio
Go ahead laugh. Guess what, Bill James had him at No. 35 in his “New Historical Baseball Abstract.”
Craig Biggio? OK, Craig Biggio
Craig Biggio is the best player in Major League Baseball today. IF you compare Criag Biggio very carefully to Ken Griffey Jr. in almost any season you will find that Biggio has contributed more to his team than Griffey has. Let’s do 1998 as a starting point. In 1998 Griffey outhomered Biggio 56-20, which is a huge thing, 36 homers. Biggio’s advantages were … well, everything else; apart from hitting home runs, he did everything better than Griffey.
Biggio’s key advantages were 18 doubes (51-33) and 49 singles (137-88). How do you balance those things? Pete Palmer in The Hidden Game of Baseball pegged the value of a home run at 1.4 runs, a double at .8 runs, a single at .46, numbers which are probably as good as any other. That appraises Griffey’s advantage at 50.4 runs and Biggio’s advantage at 37 runs, give or take a tenth (18 times .8, plus 49 times .46, which makes a total of 36.94. Griffey is still 13 and a half runs ahead. But we’re just getting started.
Griffey had 76 walks and was hit by seven pitches, total of 83. Biggio drew 64 walks and was hit by 23 pitches, total of 87. Biggio stole 30 more bags (50-20) with only threw more times caught stealing. Biggio made 436 batting outs (646 at-bats minus 210 hits); Griffey made 453 batting outs (644 minus 180). Griffey hit one more triple but grounded into four more double plays.
James goes on. Its actually an incredibly convincing argument.
35. Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols burst onto the season with a .329/.403/610 performance as a rookie in 2001.
He was the best player in baseball in 2006.
He was the best player in baseball in 2007.
He was the best player in baseball in 2008.
He was the best player in baseball in 2009.
34. Warren Spahn
Warren Spahn is fascinating because he didn’t have a short run of dominance like Sandy Koufax and he didn’t have the postseason exploits and the marvelous single season of Bob Gibson. But he was so consistently good for so incredibly long, it’s a marvel.
Consider, from 1947 to 1962, a span of 16 seasons, he finished in the top 10 in pitcher WAR 14 times. Twelve times, he finished in the top 5.
Spahn led the league in ERA in three separate decades.
33. Mel Ott
In 1941, Tom Seaver hit .286/.403/.493 and finished second in the league with 27 home runs and seventh in runs batted in with 90.
It was his worst season in 12 years.
32. Tom Seaver
I’m going to paraphrase something Bill James said.
Yes, wins are far from a perfect way to measure a pitcher. It’s about as inefficient as measuring a pitcher by their slugging percentage. But sometimes they can give us an impressive perspective. Seaver has 106 more wins than losses. But his teams he played on accumulated an overall sub-.500 record.
31. Mike Trout
This is the list of players who have lead their league in WAR for five consecutive seasons.
Walter Johnson: 1912-1916
Babe Ruth: 1926-1931
Mike Trout: 2012-2016
The kid is 25. He was having his best season this year when he got hurt.
30. Jack Robinson
There’s a solid reason Jackie Robinson the person overshadows Jackie Robinson the ballplayer. But the ballplayer shouldn’t be forgotten. No player in history was more scrutinized for just being on the ballfield.
Robinson led the league in stolen bases and sacrifice bunts his rookie year. And he got better, despite the abuse. The year he finally was allowed to fight back, he beat the hell out of everyone. He led the league in stolen bases (37), drove in 124 runs, scored 120 runs, hit 16 homers and 12 triples and slashed .342/.432/.528. In fact, in his 10 big league seasons, he hit better than .300/.400/.500 six times.
29. George Brett
Unlike some of the guys who are better ranked on this list, George Brett did not play in an offensively dominant era. Only two players hit 50 or more home runs during his career. Only eight players batted above .350 in a single season. So Brett’s .305/.369/.487 and 317 home runs are more impressive than some gaudier numbers in bigger offensive eras.
He also played good defense and was a solid base-runner.
28. Jimmie Foxx
He stood barely 6-feet tall. He weighted just under 200 pounds. They called him “The Beast.” People use this to say how small players were back then.
Here’s the deal. The people who called him that when he was a 24-year-old belting 58 home runs in 1932 knew a dozen of his teammates were taller than him.
The Tasmanian Devil isn’t that imposing physically. It’s still a beast.
27. Frank Robinson
I always thought Frank Robinson looked so series.
“I don’t see why you reporters keep confusing Brooks (Robinson)and me. Can’t you see that we wear different numbers.”
26. Eddie Collins
I don’t think I would have liked to play with Cocky Collins. But he must have been a marvel. He hit .333/.424/.429 with 741 stolen bases, 438 doubles and 187 triples. He won five World Series rings.
25. Rickey Henderson
One of the game’s best self-promoters could really back it up. He ran, he hit for power, he got on base, he played defense and he won. No one comes close to being as good a leadoff hitter as Rickey.
24. Joe Morgan
Bill James studied all the players in baseball history and once came up with a way at looking at who was the smartest player, according to what you could measure. He ended up with Joe Morgan. This would shock many people who listened to him as a broadcaster.
I thought he had many faults as a broadcaster, but many of his comments were truly valuable. That said, if I could pick any position player whose career started after integration to start a team around, he’s my guy.
23. Alex Rodriguez
Maybe he was built in a lab. But the results were ridiculous. He hit 696 home runs, was one of the best defensive shortstops of all time, and handled the move to third base with aplomb.
22. Cy Young
When he wasn’t among the first group of players inducted into the Hall of Fame, an annual pitching award was set up and named after him. Young is remembered mostly for his 511 wins, 94 more than the guy in second place. It’s an unbreakable record.
But young should be remembered for much more than that. Eleven times, he led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He had the lowest walks per nine innings a ridiculously astounding 14 times. He won the first World Series game.
21. Roger Clemens
A thug. A great pitcher, yes. But a thug.
20. Mike Schmidt
The greatest third baseman of all time was a ridiculous blend of power and defense. Only Babe Ruth has more home run titles. He led the league in OPS plus 6 times. He was an offensive star in an era dominated by strong pitchers.
19. Greg Maddux
Maddux dominated an offensive era like no pitcher in history. His run of dominance lasted from 1992-2000 included finishing in the Top 3 in Pitcher WAR each season. He led the league in ERA four times, FIP four times, ERA Plus five times. He went 19-9 with a 3.57 ERA during the worst year of that run. Take away those years and he still went 190-156 with a 3.72 ERA.
18. Mickey Mantle
Branch Rickey was as tight-fisted a spendthrift as ever sat in a General Manager’s chair. Of Mickey Mantle, he said.
“”Fill in any figure you want for that boy. Whatever the figure, it’s a deal.”
Rickey, of course, wasn’t responsible for paying the bills.
A three-time MVP who led the league in WAR five times and seven-time World Series winner, The Mick had a frightening combination of power and speed.
17. Clayton Kershaw
This is where he ranks right now. He has the lowest ERA (2.36) of any starting pitcher whose career started after 1920. The next lowest is Whitey Ford at 2.75. Let that sink in. Kershaw’s career ERA after 10 years in the big leagues sits with guys who were born during the Civil War. He’s possibly going to win his fourth Cy Young this year. If he has one or two more excellent seasons – he’s only 29 – He could rocket up this list. Oh, and you know that talk of pitchers not winning 300 games. Don’t look now, but he’s got 144. It’s not out of the question he pulls it off. He’s averaged more than 16 wins a season for the past 7 years. If he keeps that up for another five years, he’ll be at 220 at 34.
16. Joe DiMaggio
“Heroes are people who are all good with no bad in them. That’s the way I always saw Joe DiMaggio. He was beyond question one of the greatest players of the century.” — Mickey Mantle
My favorite DiMaggio story is that he was asked about why he hustled on a play that didn’t matter and responded “There’s always some kid who might be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.” I doubt this story is true. But damn it, I hope it is.
DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe. When she died, he ordered that a rose be placed on her grave in perpetuity.
Most people put Mantle over DiMaggio. I don’t think either is really wrong.
15. Grover Cleveland Alexander
Old Pete was a work horse. He was probably the greatest rookie pitcher of all time. In 1911, he won a league-leading 28 games with a 2.57 ERA in a league-leading 367 innings. He also lead the league with 31 complete games and seven shutouts. He led the league in innings pitched seven times. He led the league in WHIP five times.
14. Lou Gehrig
It’s doubtful that any player in history produced actual runs like Henry Louis Gehrig. Consider:
In 1927, Gehrig hit fourth for the Yankees. Babe Ruth batted third. Ruth hit 60 home runs. So in 60 at-bats, Gehrig came to the plate with no one on base. Still, he drove in 173 runs. Gehrig had 11 consecutive seasons of 120 runs batted in. He also had 12 consecutive seasons of 120 runs scored. Twice, Gehrig scored and drove in 150 runs in the same season. A three-time home run champ who led the league in on-base percentage five consecutive seasons, he was a beast. The season before he retired because of ALS, he hit .295/.410/.523. He was 35. He probably would have had two or three more good seasons in him.
Oh, in seven World Series, he hit .361/.483/.731
13. Rogers Hornsby
Probably the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. From 1921-1926, the Maharaja of Mash hit .402/.474/.690 with 144 home runs, 615 runs scored. He had a 49.9 WAR. He did that as a second baseman.
12. Stan Musial
Visiting players had to go through the home dugout at Sportsmans Park. Stan the Man noticed his bats started to disappear whenever the Dodgers came to town. After retiring, he found out that Pee Wee Reese and a teammate had been stealing them. It didn’t help.
Musial hit a robust .341/.436/.596 against the Dodgers in his career.
They weren’t his only victims.
A three-time World Series champion, he had an unorthodox stance and a unique statline. He led the league in OPS+ six times in nine seasons. He once had seven consecutive seasons with an on-base percentage above .430. He led the league in doubles eight times, triples four times and runs scored five times.
At the age of 41, he hit .330/.416/.508 with more walks than strikeouts and 19 home runs.
11. Lefty Grove
Lefty Grove didn’t arrive in the Big Leagues until he was 25-years-old.
Remember what we wrote about Greg Maddux. Now consider this:
Grove led the league in ERA a record nine times.
Grove led the league in FIP eight times.
Grove led the league in WHIP five times.
Grove led the league in K/BB eight times.
Grove led the league in strikeouts in each of his first seven seasons.
10. Tris Speaker
The Gray Eagle was a maestro at getting on-base, holding down a career .428 clip. He was also a wizard with the glove and one of the greatest base-runners of all time. He remains the all-time leader in doubles, with 792.
9. Ted Williams
No player got on-base at a better rate. Williams’ .482 on-base percentage is astounding. Williams retired with 521 home runs (3rd all time at the time), 1,798 runs scored (8th at the time) and 1,829 runs batted in (7th in runs batted in). But he’d missed more than four full seasons to military service. If he had put up similar numbers to what he did during the years surrounding those seasons, he’d have possibly retired the all-time leader in runs scored, runs batted in and had around 600 home runs.
8. Henry Aaron
Take away all of Hank Aaron’s home runs and he has 3,016 hits. That’s more than Al Kaline, Wade Boggs and Roberto Clemente. The long-time home run king was so much more than long balls.
Aaron’s daring do on the basepaths is very underappreciated. He stole 240 bases in his career, against just 73 times being caught. That’s a .77 percent success rate. He also had an extra-base taken rate of 51. He had a .32 run-scoring percentage. Both of those numbers were noticeably above the league averages of the day, (around 46 and 29, respectively). He stole home twice.
7. Ty Cobb
In 1907, Cobb played on a Tigers team that finished first in the American League in Runs. He led the league in hits with 212. Impressively, he drove in 127 runs with just 47 extra-base hits. But he only scored 97 runs. Why? The 20-year-old hadn’t learned the value of patience. He walked just 24 times. So his league-leading .350 batting average meant he had just a .380 on-base percentage.
Eight years later, with 208 hits, he scored an astounding 144 runs. that’s thanks to a league-leading 96 walks.
6. Christy Mathewson
Five ERA Titles and six FIP titles is pretty damn impressive. So is throwing three shutouts in one World Series.
5. Honus Wagner
I give him a hat tip over Cobb for two reasons. The first, Wagner greatly outshined him when they faced off in the World Series. Second, I don’t like racist pigs.
4. Willie Mays
Grace personified is what happened when God made Willie Mays
3. Barry Bonds
Look, steroids bother me. But it happened. And he’s the second greatest player of all time. Funny thing is, without them, he still would have been top 20. And I think he’d have been a better all-around player for longer.
2. Walter Johnson
He threw 110 shutouts. The next guy on the list, Grover Cleveland Alexander, has 90. When Johnson retired with 3,509 Ks in 1927, it would be another 40 years before a pitcher joined him in the 3,000 K club.
1. Babe Ruth
Look, as great as Bonds was, Ruth excelled at pitching, too. The guy likely goes to the Hall of Fame as a pitcher if he never converts.