This is the eighth in a series of articles dealing with baseball’s greatest players, position by position, culminating in an overall list of the greatest ever. For the most part, they will be top-ten type lists — though they may be shorter (if there aren’t enough “great” players) or longer (if there is a logjam of “great” players). I will say if the player is in the Hall of Fame, list any major awards the player won and provide their key stats. All stats and awards were obtained from Baseball Reference. A couple of notes about the stats — they will include their total offensive numbers, not just stats for their main position (for example, Yogi Berra’s stats include his batting stats when he played left field and first base); any stats in italics mean they were the leader in that category out of the players in the list and players will be listed for the position they are most known for (for example, Pete Rose played the most games in the outfield as a whole, but he played the most games there in left , so he will be included there, however, Ernie Banks, though he played the most games at first, is recognized as a shortstop because that is where he had his best seasons). At the end, I will then describe any reasoning behind my choices regarding their actual ranking.
- The players have to actually be retired. They cannot be unsigned players who haven’t officially retired yet (i.e. Pedro, Bonds, Clemens etc).
- Sorry, but no Negro League players will be on these lists unless they had long-term MLB service (any records or stats from the Negro Leagues are “questionable” at best due to the record keeping: i.e. Josh Gibson’s HR totals).
We’ve covered the greatest catchers, the greatest first basemen, the greatest second basemen the greatest shortstops, and the greatest third basemen, and the greatest left fielders, and the greatest center fielders; now it’s the right fielders’ turn. Here’s the rankings:
- Babe Ruth: HOF, 1 MVP (and 1 other top-5 finish), 2 time All-Star, 2503 games, .342 batting average, .474 OBP, .690 Slugging %, 714 HRs, 2217 RBIs, 2873 Hits, 2062 BBs and 1330 Ks.
- Hank Aaron: HOF, 1 MVP (and 7 other top-5 finishes), 21 time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, 3298 games, .305 batting average, .374 OBP, .555 Slugging %, 755 HRs, 2297 RBIs, 3771 Hits, 1402 BBs and 1383 Ks.
- Roberto Clemente: HOF, 1 MVP (and 3 other top-5 finishes), 12 time All-Star, 12 Gold Gloves, 2433 games, .317 batting average, .359 OBP, .475 Slugging %, 240 HRs, 1305 RBIs, 3000 Hits, 621 BBs and 1230 Ks.
- Frank Robinson: HOF, 2 MVPs (and 4 other top-5 finishes), 1 ROY, 1 AL Batting Triple Crown, 12 time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 2808 games, .294 batting average, .389 OBP, .537 Slugging %, 586 HRs, 1812 RBIs, 2943 Hits, 1420 BBs and 1532 Ks.
- Mel Ott: HOF, 3 top-5 MVP finishes, 11 time All-Star, 2730 games, .304 batting average, .414 OBP, .533 Slugging %, 511 HRs, 1860 RBIs, 2876 Hits, 1708 BBs and 896 Ks.
- Reggie Jackson: HOF, 1 MVP (and 4 other top-5 finishes), 14 time All-Star, 2 Silver Sluggers, 2820 games, .262 batting average, .356 OBP, .490 Slugging %, 563 HRs, 1702 RBIs, 2584 Hits, 1375 BBs and 2597 Ks.
- Al Kaline: HOF, 3 top-5 MVP finishes, 15 time All-Star, 10 Gold Gloves, 2834 games, .297 batting average, .376 OBP, .480 Slugging %, 399 HRs, 1583 RBIs, 3007 Hits, 1277 BBs and 1020 Ks.
- Tony Gwynn: HOF, 1 top-5 MVP finish, 15 time All-Star, 5 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, 2440 games, .338 batting average, .388 OBP, .459 Slugging %, 135 HRs, 1138 RBIs, 3141 Hits, 790 BBs and 434 Ks.
Honorable Mention: Roger Maris, Enos Slaughter and Dave Winfield
Will/may be on this list someday: Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro and Gary Sheffield
Number one on this list has to be Babe Ruth. What he did is beyond description. He hit more home runs in single seasons than entire teams did; he got on base almost half the time he stepped to the plate. Most of his career records have since been broken; however, when he retired he owned 54 individual records. I will cover Ruth in greater detail when I do the overall rankings in a couple of weeks.
Hank Aaron comes in at number two. Yes, he finished with more HRs, hits, and RBIs than Ruth, but he did all that in almost 800 more games than Ruth. Aaron’s greatness can’t be denied; he was a great player for a very long time. If he and Ruth played the same number of games, I firmly believe he doesn’t come close to Ruth in HRs, hits etc. so he ends up behind Ruth in these rankings.
Numbers three and four are tough. I initially had Clemente at three and Robinson at four, then switched them and then switched them back again. They were both tremendous players in their time. Robinson is the only RF in this list to win a batting Triple Crown (Ty Cobb is the only other player in history to win the Triple Crown as a right fielder) and Clemente is the greatest defensive RF in history. Depending on what you value more, power or defense, you could put either one of these guys at three or four and you wouldn’t be wrong. For me, outside of the HR totals, Robinson was a slightly better hitter than Clemente, but Clemente’s defense was enough of a difference to get him the third spot.
Numbers five, six and seven had the same issues as three and four. Similar hitters, with one having an advantage defensively. Ott was the best National League RF until Hank Aaron came along. Overall offensively he was better than Kaline and Jackson; and defensively, he was better than Jackson. So Ott gets the nod at fifth. Reggie’s performances in the spotlight and big moments gave him the edge over Kaline. The “straw that stirs the drink” gets number six by the slimmest of margins. Kaline was a really good hitter and if it wasn’t for Clemente, would be the best defender on this list so he gets seventh.
Rounding out the best right fielders is Tony Gwynn, one of the best hitters in the 1980s and one of the best contact hitters the game has ever seen. Tony wasn’t going to take a lot of walks, strikeout a lot or hit for power — all he would do is put the ball in play and make the defense do their job He also was pretty decent with the glove in right field. It’s this balance that earned him the final spot on this list.
The players who received honorable mentions all could have arguments made for them being ranked. However, they missed the list for assorted reasons:
- Maris has been, and always will be, underappreciated for what he did. His career just didn’t last long enough in my opinion (only 12 seasons with a couple truly great years).
- Enos Slaughter put up decent numbers, but never had that truly great set of years.
- Dave Winfield is probably the greatest athlete on this list (who was drafted for the MLB, NBA and NFL) but his career numbers were “compiler-like”. He never had that truly great set of years either.
So, what do you think? Do you have a problem with the order? Did I leave someone off? If so, let me know. Don’t just say “you left off so-and-so” — give me a good explanation of why they belong and where in the order they belong. If you present a good enough case, I just might add them to the list.
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