ESPN recently did a series where they ranked the top 10 players of all time at each respective position. Now, it’s normal for there to be some dissension between fans and writers-it’s simply in the nature of the game. It’s also difficult to compare players from different eras. Rod Carew once won the batting title hitting under .300, and it’s difficult to judge anything from the dead ball era, because baseball was just funky back then. Players did things you just don’t see now, and I find it hard to believe that the records set back in 1898 were set because the players were so much better.
All of that being said, ESPN’s choices were…interesting. Maybe it’s just me, but not ranking Nolan Ryan as one of the top 10 right handed pitchers and making A-Rod the number three shortstop of all time? Roger Clemens as the 5th best righthander, PED’s and all?
When disagreeing about something, often times a person will defend their point with a “Well then, who else?” argument. If I’m going to criticize, ESPN, I have to back it up. However, to make it interesting, here is my all time 25 man roster. If I had access to every MLB player in their prime to add to my roster, this is how I would play it out. A slightly different take on the greatest of all time mantra. Today, we’re starting with the 80’s pop band, The Outfield.
Hank Aaron spent the majority of his days in right field, but he had the speed, range, and arm to play anywhere in the outfield. Left field is typically occupied by the weakest fielder of the trio of outfielders, so anyone who can man center or right can usually handle left.
Aaron is synonymous with the term “Home Run King”, even after Barry Bonds passed him almost ten years ago now. That’s because Aaron conquered the seemingly unreachable Ruthian total of 714, a record that many felt would never fall, and surpassed it by 41, unaided by steroids or anything other than the power of a flick of his wrists.
Yet Henry Aaron is so much more than that. You might know that Pete Rose is the all time hits leader, and the more savvy baseball fans are aware that Ty Cobb, the only other man besides Rose to reach 4,000 hits, resides in second place. (A fact that surely would have rankled him.) Yet few know that it is Aaron, not Honus Wagner or Stan Musial (though Musial is just 140 hits behind him), nor George Brett that occupies the number three spot on the list: It is none other than Hank Aaron. Aaron’s greatness lies in his remarkable consistency: He never once hit even 50 home runs in a season, yet he hit 40 or more 8 times and 30 or more 14 times. 50 home runs was a regular occurrence in the steroid era: players such as Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and Greg Vaughn all reached that plateau, and none of them are anywhere close to the Hall of Fame. Yet the only player from this inflated offensive era in baseball history who even approached Aaron was the man who eventually passed him.
Aaron also spend much of his prime in the high mound era of the sixties than was so dominant for pitchers that the mound had lowered to keep competitive balance-but Aaron still managed to win two batting titles before the mound was lowered. He also collected three Gold Glove Awards-the pinnacle of most players’ careers, but a mere footnote in his.
There are a great number of terrific outfielders-perhaps more so than there are at any other position. Picking three is no easy task, but Aaron was perhaps the easiest selection of them all.
William Howard Mays, Junior is considered by many to be the most complete baseball player of all time. Not only could Mays hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, field, and throw, he could do it better than anyone else.
These days, the term 5-tool player is thrown around when a guy hits .300 with 25 homers and 25 stolen bases while being a good defender. Willie would hit .330 with 50 homers and steal 40 bases. Mays won 12 Gold Glove Awards, and he would have won more had the award been instated before 1957. He holds the record for the most putouts in baseball history-and the most iconic catch in the history of the game.
Mays was so good for so long, and his peak value was unlike anyone else. If he didn’t lose two years of his prime to the Korean War, he easily would have easily surpassed 700 and most likely would have passed Ruth himself. The statistics are staggering-but that’s only half the story. What makes Mays special is how he played the game. He was amazingly durable. He was the greatest defensive player ever by many metrics-and one of the best to ever swing the lumber, too.
Many believe that Mays is the greatest to ever step in between the lines. Even those who don’t must grudgingly admit that he was certainly the most complete player to lace them up.
Willie Mays could do it all-and he did.
Three of the greatest baseball players of all time, men who defined an era of American history and were revered as household names across the land during baseball’s golden age-didn’t make the list. Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Stan Musial dominated the 1950’s, yet none of them cracked this list. They were left off in favor of three of baseball’s most hallowed names. The next man on this list is perhaps the most recognizable of them all.
Babe Ruth would probably make this list as a pitcher, had he stuck with his original position. Instead, he became the most revered slugger the game has ever known. (Madison Bumgarner, this could be you.)
Ruth’s untouchable 714 has now been passed twice, but that doesn’t make it any less special. It wasn’t just the ball that created the lack of home runs in the dead ball era-it was the approach. Everybody tried to hit like Ichiro because it was the most consistent way of garnering success at the plate. Anyone who tried to launch moonshots ended up with a can of corn instead. Ruth changed all of that.
After leading the league with 11 homers (seriously), Ruth shocked the baseball world when he swatted 29 the next year. That was more homers than entire teams hit back in those days. Those who figured that it was a once in a lifetime fluke were drastically mistaken when Ruth nearly doubled his total and smacked 54 the next year. That was nothing short of unheard of in those days. None of the great home run hitters who followed him would have done what they did without one George Herman Ruth.
As baseball and advanced statistics evolve, it becomes even more clear how dominant Ruth was. Sabermetrics love Ruth, grading him as the best ever with their sacred OPS statistic, which combines on base percentage with slugging percentage.
Just think of how many homers Ruth could have hit had he started his career in the outfield with the live ball they use today. 800 is not out of the question. Four years to hit 86 home runs when he was young would have been a piece of cake.
Ruth’s weight problem made him no great shakes in the outfield, but the other parts of his game are often overlooked. Would you believe me if I told you Ruth’s career batting average is well ahead of Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner, and Wade Boggs? That it’s just .002 points behind Ted Williams and Ichiro is almost 30 points behind?
Something that seems impossible is seen as a “Ruthian Task.” For all of Mays and Aaron’s greatness, they never made it into common vernacular in the way Ruth did. He epitomized all the grandeur and success of the Roaring 20’s, and did his best to distract a nation from the desolation of the Great Depression.
Ruth was not without his numerous faults-but there were almost none when he stepped inside the batter’s box.