Baseball’s Greatest Volume X: Overall Part 4 The Top 10

After the previous nine articles breaking down the greatest at all the other positions; we can now move on to ranking those players for where they should be overall in the history of the great game we call baseball. In order to be on the overall list, a player had to be ranked at a position, so that means the players who were honorable mentions or will/may be didn’t make the cut.

Keep in mind; active players (or players not officially retired like Bonds, Clemens or Pedro) were not eligible to be ranked at their respective positions, so they will not appear on this list.

The Hall of Fame opened its doors in 1939 and welcomed its first four classes of inductees, which included (clockwise from top left) Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Connie Mack, Babe Ruth and Eddie Collins (Ty Cobb arrived too late for the photo).
The Hall of Fame opened its doors in 1939 and welcomed its first four classes of inductees, which included (clockwise from top left) Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Connie Mack, Babe Ruth and Eddie Collins (Ty Cobb arrived too late for the photo).

There ended up being 74 ranked players, so we started at number 74 and are working our way up to number 1.       We looked at numbers 74-51 two weeks ago, numbers 50-26 last week and now on to the best of the best, the Top 25.

I will list the players overall rank, their name, their position used for the position rankings, their ranking at that position and the stats used to compare them to others. I will also give a brief explanation of my feelings regarding each player and their place in history.

For these rankings, stats play a part in determining where a player was ranked. However, these rankings are for overall greatest baseball player, so other factors also came into play such as but not limited to; did the player play multiple positions well, was their talent balanced between offense and defense and/or what was their overall importance to the game.

We are now into the Top 10; the cream of the crop, the best of the best. In my opinion, there is a clear cut number one; after that however; a case could legitimately be made that any of the remaining nine could be ranked in any order from two through ten. And if I did the Top 10 twenty different times, I’d probably come up with a different order each time.

Rogers Hornsby10.   Rogers Hornsby (2B #1):

HOF, 2 MVPs (and 2 other top-5 finishes), 1 National League Batting Triple Crown, 1 Major League Batting Triple Crown, 2259 games, .358 batting average, .434 OBP, .577 Slugging %, 301 HRs, 1584 RBIs, 2930 Hits, 1038 BBs and 679 Ks.

–          Rogers is considered amongst the greatest hitters the game’s ever seen. He hit for average and for power, his OBP was fantastic and is the only player to get a NL Batting Triple Crown twice (one of which was a MLB Batting Triple Crown). He owns the record for highest batting average in a season (.424). Rogers is also the only player in history to hit over 40 HRs and bat over .400 in the same season. Hornsby owns the record for leading the National League in Slugging % (9 times). Keep in mind; Rogers did all this as a second basemen, which back then was a “defensive position”. Rogers is in the discussion for greatest right-handed hitter in history.

Aaron9.      Hank Aaron (RF #2):

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.

–          Hank was one of the most consistent hitters in history. He hit over 30 HRs in a season 15 times, had over 150 hits in 17 seasons, and either owns the record or is in the top 5 for the following categories; RBIs, extra base hits, total bases, HRs, hits and runs scored. However, you have to keep in mind he is also third all-time in games played and second all-time for at-bats.

Stan Musial8. Stan Musial (LF #2):

HOF, 3 MVPs (and 6 other top-5 finishes), 20 time All-Star, 3026 games, .331 batting average, .417 OBP, .559 Slugging %, 475 HRs, 1951 RBIs, 3630 Hits, 1599 BBs and 696 Ks.

–          Stan “The Man” is easily one of the best hitters the game’s ever seen. Most hitters, you see a difference between hitting at home or hitting on the road, hitting during the day and hitting at night; this is not the case for Stan. He had 1815 hits at home and 1815 hits on the road, batted .336 at home and .326 on the road, .340 in day games and .320 in night games. Stan also only struck out more than 40 times in a season three times, two of which were in his final seasons and only struck out more than he walked once in his final season. Musial finished in the top-10 for MVP voting 14 times, with 6 top-5s and was a 3-time winner. Similar to Aaron, Musial played at a consistent level for a very long time.

JDimaggio7. Joe DiMaggio (CF #3):

HOF, 3 MVPs (and 3 other top-5 finishes), 13 time All-Star, 1736 Games, .325 batting average, .398 OBP, .579 Slugging %, 361 HRs, 1537 RBIs, 2214 Hits, 790 BBs and 369 Ks.

–          “Joltin’ Joe” is the 3rd highest ranked center fielder in the Top 10 (does that tell you how deep that position is?). Joe is another of a long line of players that missed time because of military service and as with the others; you have to ask yourself “What If?” What if Joe didn’t miss that time? What if Joe wasn’t a right-handed hitter in the cavernous Yankee Stadium “where home runs went to die”? To better illustrate the affect Yankee Stadium had on him, here’s some interesting stats; he hit 148 home runs in 3,360 at-bats at home and hit 213 home runs in 3,461 at-bats on the road, his Slugging Percentage at home was .546 and on the road it was .610, his on-base percentage at home was .391 and on the road it was .405, he drove in 720 RBI at home and 817 on the road. Joe had a hit streak of 61 games in the minors and the 56 game hit streak in MLB. But did you know that when the 56-game streak ended, Joe then hit safely in 16 straight meaning he hit safely in 72 of 73 games? I haven’t even touched on his defense in CF which is considered amongst the best ever. Joe was a ballplayer’s ballplayer and a consummate professional.

ty-cobb-390676. Ty Cobb (CF #2):

HOF, 1 MVP, 3035 Games, .366 batting average, .433 OBP, .512 Slugging %, 117 HRs, 1937 RBIs, 4189 Hits, 1249 BBs and 357 Ks.

–           Cobb was a tremendous five-tool player (don’t let his low HR totals confuse you – he once hit 6 HRs in 9 at-bats to prove he could and being a leadoff hitter, he wasn’t supposed to hit HRs). Many historians have mixed feelings about Cobb. Some believe he was a dirty player while others believe he did whatever was needed to win. There’s a fine line between being competitive and being dirty and Cobb constantly bounced between the two. Did you know that for the first Hall of Fame class, the player that got the highest percentage of votes wasn’t Ruth or Wagner or Mathewson or Johnson? That’s right, it was Cobb. While Ruth’s legend has grown as the years have passed, Cobb’s seems to have declined.

walter johnson5. Walter Johnson (SP #1):

HOF, 2 MVPs (and 2 other top-5 finishes) 1 AL Pitching Triple Crown, 2 MLB Pitching Triple Crowns, 417 Wins, .599 Win %, 666 Games Started, 531 Complete Games, 110 Shutouts, 5914.2 Innings Pitched, 2.17 ERA, 147 ERA+, 1.061 WHIP, 3509 Ks, 1363 BBs, 2.57 K/BB Ratio and 5.3 K/9 Ratio

–          The biggest question regarding Walter, was not did he belong in the top-5, but where?  Where do you put arguably one of the most dominant pitchers in history? How can you judge one of the best power pitchers in history (for the pre-WWII era players, the next closest to Walter for Ks for a career was 1000 behind him)?  Some people will say his stats were only this good because the league wasn’t integrated yet or he didn’t face any real competition due to small number of teams etc. However, those people may not realize that because there weren’t many teams and he was in the American League, he had to face hitters like Ruth, Cobb and Gehrig on a regular basis and I can’t think of a pitcher in history that had to face three hitters of that caliber as frequently as Johnson faced them (due to more games and more teams today and five man rotations, pitchers don’t face the tough hitters as often as they used to).       Johnson is regarded as having the first true fastball. Radar guns didn’t exist back then, but studies have been done that put Walter’s fastball at around 91 mile per hour; yes, 91 is nothing today, however, back then that was unreal leading Ty Cobb to recount this story about Johnson in the book; Cobb: A Biography, written by Al Stump – “On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us… He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance… One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: ‘Get the pitchfork ready, Joe– your hayseed’s on his way back to the barn.’ …The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him… every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.”  So, if a pitcher can receive that kind of praise from one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen, I have no problems putting one of the first members of the MLB Hall of Fame and the greatest pitcher ever in the Top 5 of my rankings.

Mays 14. Willie Mays (CF #1):

HOF, 2 MVPs, (and 7 other top-5 finishes), 1 ROY, 20 time All-Star, 12 Gold Gloves, 2992 Games,  .302 batting average, .384 OBP, .557 Slugging %, 660 HRs, 1903 RBIs, 3283 Hits, 1464 BBs and 1526 Ks.

–          Mays is arguably the greatest five-tool player in history. He hit for a decent average, great power, had great speed, an awesome arm and is considered one of the best defensive players in the game. While Mays surpasses the three players ahead of him in this list in some categories, in the main categories of batting average, OBP and Slugging % he falls short (behind in OBP by at least .060, behind in batting average by .040 and behind in Slugging % by at least .070). Don’t get me wrong, Willie is one of the greatest overall players in history and it was tough to put him as low as 4th. Mays played at an extremely high level for his entire career. Where he sets himself apart from other players was his defense. Playing center field requires a combination of speed, glovework and arm strength; this is where Willie’s real talent was at.

lou gehrig3.  Lou Gehrig (1B #1):

HOF, 2 MVPs (and 6 other top-5 finishes), 7 time All-Star, 1 Major League Batting Triple Crown, 2164 games, .340 batting average, .447 OBP, .632 Slugging %, 493 HRs, 1995 RBIs, 2721 Hits, 1508 BBs and 790 Ks.

–          It was a tough decision deciding if Lou should be second or third. Who knows how much time he missed due to ALS?       Would he have ended up with the most RBIs in history (he was far ahead of the pace Aaron was on when he set the record)?  Would he have finished with 600 or 700 HRs?   How many more games would The Streak have lasted? I firmly believe if Gehrig had remained healthy, the only discussion we would have would be who was better, Ruth or Gehrig; no one else would even be in the discussion. However, when comparing Lou’s career to that of Ted Williams (you’ll see below their stats are almost identical), the final decision came down to when did each of them miss their games?  Lou’s missed time would have been years at the end of his career (possible decline years) while Ted’s missed years were in the middle of his prime so in a what-if type scenario, prime years trump decline years, though it was very close.

Ted-Williams2. Ted Williams (LF #1):

HOF, 2 MVPs (and 6 other top-5 finishes), 1 AL Batting Triple Crown, 1 MLB Batting Triple Crown, 17 time All-Star, 2292 Games, .344 batting average, .482 OBP, .634 Slugging %, 521 HRs, 1839 RBIs, 2654 Hits, 2021 BBs and 709 Ks.

–          As with most players on this list, Teddy Ballgame missed several seasons to military service and that has to be taken into account. In my opinion, he was the best pure hitter in baseball history. Also, I believe he was robbed of at least two MVPs (lost one to Joe Gordon when Williams hit for the Triple Crown and one to DiMaggio even though he hit .406 for the season; that was DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak season). Some people will point to the drastic difference in Williams’ home and road splits, but that doesn’t bother me. Ted Williams was the ultimate hitter; he could hit for average and power and got on base regularly. Teddy has the highest career batting average for anyone with over 500 HRs and was the last man to bat for over .400 for the season.

babe ruth1. Babe Ruth (RF #1):

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.

–          Is there anything I can say here about the Babe that you haven’t already heard a million times? When Ruth retired, he owned over 60 batting records that alone says it all. I won’t go into detail about Ruth the hitter; I will however, talk about the other aspect of the Babe’s career that in my opinion makes him the greatest baseball player ever. Ruth could have been good enough to be a Hall of Fame pitcher had he remained a pitcher instead of becoming an everyday right fielder. In 10 seasons of being a pitcher (5 of which he appeared in 4 games or less as a pitcher), Ruth amassed a record of 94-46, a 2.28 ERA, 107 complete games out of 148 games started, an ERA+ of 122, a WHIP of 1.159 and set several pitching records (consecutive scoreless innings for example). Those pitching numbers compare favorably with some of the great pitchers in history. So, while most players in history were great hitters, great defenders, great base runners or great pitchers; Ruth was above average or elite in all those categories and in my opinion earns him the title of Greatest Baseball Player ever.

So, what do you think? Do you have a problem with the order? Let me know if you think someone is too low or too high and please give an explanation of why.

You’ve seen who I thought were the best players at each position and now you’ve seen where I thought each of those 74 players fit into baseball’s history. Thanks to all my loyal readers who have stuck with me over these 13 weeks and 12 articles. A special thanks to those readers who have either sent me emails with comments or left comments in the articles themselves.

Submitted 8/7/09

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