The Greatest Center Fielders of All-Time

hitting
Best with The Lumber
  • 1. Willie Mays
  • 2. Ty Cobb
  • 3. Mickey Mantle
  • 4. Mike Trout
  • 5. Joe DiMaggio
fielding
Best with The Leather
  • 1. Willie Mays
  • 2. Tris Speaker
  • 3. Richie Ashburn
  • 4. Andruw Jones
  • 5. Paul Blair
Most Underrated Center Fielders
  • 1. Jim Wynn
  • 2. Jim Edmonds
  • 3. Vada Pinson
  • 4. Willie Davis
  • 5. Brett Butler

The Top 100 Center Fielders

Willie Mays

1951—1973
HALL OF FAME

1

You could make an argument that Willie is the greatest player of all-time. Better than the Babe, better than Ted Williams, better than his godson, Barry Bonds. We think is. He actually towers over the other great center fielders, and they were all very good.

Ty Cobb

1905—1928
HALL OF FAME

2

Cobb was the best player in an era when baseball was played by tough men in low-scoring games where every base gained and every run scored was crucial. He might have spiked more players than anyone, but that’s because he was on base more than anyone else, stealing more bases than anyone ever had. He was, as they said, “a genius in spikes.”

Mickey Mantle

1951—1968
HALL OF FAME

3

“There’s one thing [Mantle] can’t do very well. He can’t throw left-handed. When he goes in for that we’ll have the perfect ballplayer.”— Marty Marion

“I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.” — Mickey Mantle

Tris Speaker

1907—1928
HALL OF FAME

4

Tris Speaker has the best defensive statistics of any outfielder in history. He led the league in putouts seven times, in double plays ten times, and in assists by a center fielder eight times. He played extremely shallow, almost like a “rover” in short center field, shifting to either side of second base depending on the batter. Dozens of times in his career, Speaker served as the pivot man on double plays in the infield. He was sort of a one-man defensive shift.

Joe DiMaggio

1936—1951
HALL OF FAME

5

What would a perfect ballplayer accomplish? He might lead the league in home runs while hitting more home runs than he has strikeouts. He might lead the league in triples and home runs and runs scored and runs batted in, as well as hitting and slugging and total bases. A signature of a versatile player. He might glide to the warning track to take away triples, and throw out runners trying to stretch a gapper into a double. He might help his team win more championships than anyone ever had. He might get at least one hit every game for two months. DiMaggio did all those things.

Ken Griffey Jr.

1989—2010
HALL OF FAME

6

Junior Griffey will be remembered for three things: backwards hat, that swing, and his smile. His swing was the most famous in baseball since Ted Williams, and for the first twelve years of his career “The Kid” was nearly as great as the original. Griffey won four home run titles and an MVP award before he was 30 years old.

Mike Trout

2011—

7

In his second full season, Mike Trout had 190 hits, 39 doubles, 27 homers, walked 110 times and stole 33 bases. That’s a great season and it only ranks fifth among his best. If Trout were to have ten more of those seasons he still wouldn’t surpass Willie Mays as the greatest center fielder. That’s how great Mays was. Mays was a better defensive player and he had more power than Trout has shown (thus far). This isn’t an indictment of Trout, but a commentary on the greatness of Mays. Being compared to Mays is a compliment in itself.

Duke Snider

1947—1964
HALL OF FAME

8

Prematurely gray, with splashes of white hair at his temples and a strong jaw, Snider was the hero of Brooklyn, a matinee idol, the Duke of Flatbush. He was tall, almost statuesque, and wielded a light 34-ounce bat with his fireman’s arms. It was said that every man in Brooklyn wanted Duke to be his son-in-law and every female wanted to be his bride.

Kenny Lofton

1991—2007

9

A college basketball player, Lofton didn’t play baseball in college until his junior year, and then only briefly. But his speed was so impressive that MLB clubs hounded him. The Houston Astros lured him away from the hardwood and within two years the speedster was in their outfield. But the Astros already had Steve Finley, who was only 26, so they traded Lofton to the Indians. Big mistake.

Andre Dawson

1976—1996
HALL OF FAME

10

They invented the term “five-tool player” for athletes like Andre Dawson. if his knees hadn’t abandoned him in mid-career, The Hawk would probably have reached 500 homers and steals.

Carlos Beltran

1998—2017

11

Andruw Jones

1996—2012

12

Jones is the most recent of the three great center fielders who played for the Braves, the other two being Wally Berger and Dale Murphy. All three won home run titles, all three were excellent center fielders. All three experienced a sharp drop off in their early 30s, and as a consequence, none of the three are in the Hall of Fame, despite being three of the best candidates at their position.

Richie Ashburn

1948—1962
HALL OF FAME

13

Ashburn won two batting titles in Philadelphia, played a shallow center field, and served as a leadoff man on the 1950 Phillies’ pennant-winning team. He brought back the headfirst slide, which hadn’t been seen much in the league after Pete Reiser went down with injuries. As a young prospect, he was compared to great players, not just Combs, but also the dynamic Frankie Frisch, for his baserunning. Once in his rookie season during spring training, Ashburn bounced a routine grounder to shortstop where John Sullivan fielded the ball and tossed it to first. Sullivan was astonished to see Ashburn had beat his throw by two steps.

Jim Edmonds

1993—2010

14

Jim Wynn

1963—1977

15

He replaced Willie Davis in the Dodgers’ outfield in the mid-1970s, and he was even more popular. It helped that Jimmy led the team to the pennant in his first season in southern California. That year, “The Toy Cannon” hit 32 home runs, drove in 108, walked 108 times, and stole 18 bases. He had many similar seasons.

Cesar Cedeno

1970—1986

16

“When a player like Cedeno is on the other side, he’s a hot dog. When he’s on your side, he plays hard and is colorful.” — Maury Wills

Vada Pinson

1958—1975

17

A shy, handsome, graceful athlete with high cheekbones, long arms, and a short batting stroke. He appeared to be on a Hall of Fame track through the first half of his career, and he had five seasons of 20 homers and 20 steals by the age of 26. But his production declined steeply in his thirties.

Willie Davis

1960—1979

18

Davis was extremely fast and a superb base stealer. He was an instinctual defender who trained himself to outrun the baseball. He was a high average hitter stuck in the best pitcher’s park in baseball during the second Deadball Era. As a result, as others have pointed out, Davis was underrated. Some people were disappointed when Willie didn’t win the batting title every year. In reality, he played half his games in the worst possible environment for a hitter. He was like a swimmer in a pool wearing a weighted backpack.

Larry Doby

1947—1959

19

For the first few years of the 1950s, Doby was the best player in the American League, before Ted Williams got rolling again and Mickey Mantle emerged. He had tremendous power, was solid in center field, and he did everything you wanted offensively: he hit for average, hit some doubles, homers, and drew bases on balls.

Chet Lemon

1975—1990

20

Still holds the American League record for most putouts by an outfielder, with 509 in 1977. Lemon had thick, strong legs and a short upper body, he looked like a wind-em-up, fly-catching toy in center field. He seemed to know precisely where to run when a baseball was hit off the bat, and he caught it on his left shoulder, one-handed with a weather-beaten glove he used his entire career. He rarely had to dive because his instincts were spot-on and he took the shortest path to the ball.

Kirby Puckett

1984—1995
HALL OF FAME

21

Puckett was built like a barrel of root beer. He had small feet, short arms, and chubby cheeks. But he was a ball of muscle and he could run faster than you thought he could. His bat was quick, and once he got used to the big leagues he became a power threat. He was four inches under six feet, but he could dunk a basketball and often went over the fence to rob home runs.

Dale Murphy

1976—1993

22

Murphy worked to add a new dimension to his game every season. Mike Trout does that. A few months into the 1983 season, with Murphy piling up big numbers again, one of his teammates said “He might become the first man to win the Most Valuable Player Award one season and the Most Improved Player the next.”

Fred Lynn

1974—1990

23

“I prided myself on playing defense. When I played basketball and football I always wanted to guard the toughest guy. When I played center field, I felt like I was guarding somebody and I didn’t want any ball to fall in my area. I took it personally when balls would fall in and I didn’t catch them.” — Fred Lynn

Bernie Williams

1991—2006

24

The only player in our rankings who was nominated for a Grammy Award. Williams played against future major league stars Pudge Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez in San Juan, Puerto Rico when he was growing up on the island, which is where he first picked up a guitar.

Andrew McCutchen

2009—

25

Earl Averill

1929—1941
HALL OF FAME

26

Willie Wilson

1976—1994

27

Brett Butler

1981—1997

28

Johnny Damon

1995—2012

29

An example of a steadfast player who accentuated his strengths and de-emphasized his weaknesses. Damon was not a brilliant center fielder and he had a very weak throwing arm, but he got a good jump on the ball and utilized footwork to help him get rid of a throw quickly. He was not lightning fast, but he was quick enough and read the moves of pitchers well, and as a result he was successful about 80 percent of the time on steal attempts. Damon had an ugly, unnatural-looking swing, but he shortened it by putting his hands in front of his chest so he could make contact and improve his effectiveness. He was not a power hitter as a young player, so he lifted weights and sculpted his body to become a threat. He was not confident when he came into the league, but he listened to older players and he opened up, allowing his personality to shine through, giving him a swagger that made him a superstar.

Devon White

1985—2001

30

An outstanding center fielder with speed and a strong arm. He made contact and learned to hit for power. He was a key part of the 1992-93 champion Blue Jays.

Wally Berger

1930—1940

31

Shot out of the gates quickly, with one of the best rookie seasons ever for the Boston Braves. Berger kept muscling balls out of the ballpark until he declined rapidly as World War II approached.

Curtis Granderson

2004—2019

32

Possibly the most admirable star thus far in the 21st century, Granderson is one of only seven players to hit 20 doubles, triples, and home runs in the same season. Of those seven, only four (Granderson, Willie Mays, Jimmy Rollins, and Wildfire Schulte) also stole 20 bases in that same season.

Earle Combs

1924—1935
HALL OF FAME

33

Combs was the leadoff man for the great Murderers’ Row Yankees, serving in that role for six full seasons, from 1927 to 1932. The Yankees won three World Series during that stretch, and a big part of it was the man at the top, the pesky leadoff man.

Pete Reiser

1940—1952

34

A singularly unique player, Pete Reiser roamed the outfield like a demon, flashing into the gaps to cut off line drives, bounding in to scoop up short fly balls, and crashing into walls to make catches. Unfortunately he crashed too often and too violently, and suffered countless concussions, ultimately suffering so many injuries that his career essentially petered out by the time he was 28.

Curt Flood

1956—1971

35

Flood, Vada Pinson, and Frank Robinson were high school teammates at McClymonds High School in Oakland. All three were signed by the same scout, and all three signed to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Ellis Burks

1987—2004

36

Torii Hunter

1997—2015

37

On his best days, Ken Griffey Jr. was a charming baseball ambassador. Cap backwards, smile pasted on his face, it was like he was hosting a television show from center field. Torii Hunter was like that every day of his career. He never came to work in a grumpy mood.

Max Carey

1910—1929
HALL OF FAME

38

It’s practically impossible to play five years and have more stolen bases than runs batted in, but Carey played two decades and nearly accomplished it. He led the league in steals ten times and batted leadoff or second in nearly every game he played. He frequently came to the plate right after the pitcher made an out. He put himself in scoring position a lot, and even though players were thrown out stealing a lot in his era, he once swiped 31 straight bags.

Paul Blair

1964—1980

39

One of the five greatest defensive center fielders in history, Blair went back on the ball better than anyone since Tris Speaker. He had good power early in his career until he suffered a terrible eye injury when he was hit by a pitch.

Hack Wilson

1923—1934
HALL OF FAME

40

One of the most peculiar physical specimens to star in the major leagues, Wilson had an 18-inch neck and size five shoes. He was only a shade over five-foot-six inches tall but weighed nearly 200 pounds. He had large meaty hands, a bell-shaped butt, and short legs. He was pigeon-toed and it took him several strides to get his motor going. But Hack could hit a baseball. Imagine a slow, fat Jose Altuve and you might have an idea what this odd man looked like.

Lorenzo Cain

2010—

41

Andy Van Slyke

1983—1995

42

Ray Lankford

1990—2004

43

Amos Otis

1967—1984

44

Steve Finley

1989—2007

45

Dom DiMaggio

1940—1953

46

Edd Roush

1913—1931
HALL OF FAME

47

Gary Maddox

1972—1986

48

Eric Davis

1984—2001

49

Dwayne Murphy

1978—1989

50

Bobby Murcer

1965—1983

51

Lenny Dykstra

1985—1996

52

THE REST OF THE 100

  • 53. Mike Cameron
  • 54. Ben Chapman
  • 55. Al Oliver
  • 56. Andy Pafko
  • 57. Tommy Leach
  • 58. Marquis Grissom
  • 59. Darin Erstad
  • 60. Grady Sizemore
  • 61. Mickey Rivers
  • 62. Willie McGee
  • 63. Clyde Milan
  • 64. Shane Victorino
  • 65. Lance Johnson
  • 66. Jacoby Ellsbury
  • 67. Bobby Thomson
  • 68. Josh Hamilton
  • 69. Chili Davis
  • 70. Roy Thomas
  • 71. Benny Kauff
  • 72. Adam Jones
  • 73. Cy Seymour
  • 74. Brady Anderson
  • 75. Dave Henderson
  • 76. Kevin Kiermaier
  • 77. Lloyd Moseby
  • 78. George Springer
  • 79. Baby Doll Jacobson
  • 80. Fielder Jones
  • 81. Johnny Mostil
  • 82. Cy Williams
  • 83. Tommie Agee
  • 84. Vernon Wells
  • 85. Bill North
  • 86. Cesar Tovar
  • 87. Terry Moore
  • 88. Wally Judnich
  • 89. Jimmy Piersall
  • 90. Stan Spence
  • 91. Rick Monday
  • 92. Tony Gonzalez
  • 93. Chick Stahl
  • 94. Michael Bourn
  • 95. Barney McCosky
  • 96. Sam West
  • 97. Ginger Beaumont
  • 98. Amos Strunk
  • 99. Sam Chapman
  • 100. Coco Crisp