Ruth had a number of superstitions. When he came to the batting cage for his practice swings before a game, Ruth always tapped the plate with his bat, and he liked to hit a home run over every wall, in left, center, and right, before ending batting practice. He believed each of his bats only had so many hits in them, and he refused to loan his bats to teammates. When the Babe went out to his position in right field he always stepped on second base, and at the Polo Grounds and later Yankee Stadium, he would tip his cap to familiar fans who sat in seats in right field or behind the plate. If he didn’t see a regular fan in the stands, Babe would send a batboy to find out why they were missing. Like many ballplayers, Ruth despised trash on the field, and he would obsessively retrieve scraps of paper that fell from the stands.
HALL OF FAME
Aaron had a signature routine as he prepared to face a pitcher: he carefully selected his bat from the rack and moved to the on-deck circle, where he always knelt on one knee. Aaron liked to gently massage his bats, usually with a pine tar rag. When it was his turn, Aaron tucked his bat under one arm and slowly walked to the plate, rubbing dirt between his hands. One sportswriter wrote that Aaron held his bat under his arm “so casually you could have mistaken it for a walking stick.”
HALL OF FAME
“Baseball isn’t a popularity contest. Some players are afraid of losing friends. Not me. I’m not out there to win friends, just ballgames, and I’ll do that anyway that I can.” — Frank Robinson
HALL OF FAME
Ott hit 63 percent of his home runs at the Polo Grounds. The right field foul pole was 257 feet from home plate, which was very convenient for a pull-hitter. His odd batting stance was designed to allow him to pull inside pitches. He stood with his lead (right) leg pointing to first base so his stance was open. When a pitch was delivered Ott lifted the lead leg as a weight shift device, like Darryl Strawberry did, or more apt, like Sadaharu Oh, who was built a lot like Master Melvin.
HALL OF FAME
“Clemente gave us more than hits, runs, and errors: he gave us a presence.” — The Sporting News
“He didn’t say much, but when he said it he meant it, and what he said always meant something.” — Al Oliver
HALL OF FAME
Al Kaline is the last of a breed of men who have dedicated their entire adult lives to one team. He was 18 years old when he signed his first contract with the Detroit Tigers at the kitchen table in his parent’s home. He was wearing his prom suit. Ever since that evening in 1953, with the exception of about eight months, Kaline was in constant employment of the Detroit Professional Baseball Club until his death. He spent 22 seasons as their All-Star outfielder, followed by 27 years as a broadcaster, before he was hired as a special assistant to the general manager in 2003, a position he still held when he passed away.
HALL OF FAME
“There’s nothing I like better than hitting a ball hard, clean and hard. The feel and the sound of it . . . it’s just beautiful. I love putting on that tapered uniform and going out there in front of people.” — Reggie Jackson
HALL OF FAME
The modern Chuck Klein, a strong pull-hitter who spent the majority of his career in a highly favorable hitting environment. Both were right fielders, both won the National League Most Valuable Player Award (Walker won it exactly 65 years after Klein). Both men were batting champions, Walker won three times. Klein rocketed baseballs into and over the wall in short right field at the Baker Bowl. Walker pounded pitching in the high altitude of Denver at Coors Field.
When we measure Ichiro against the other right fielders who spent their entire careers in Major League Baseball, it’s necessary to make an adjustment. Ichiro was clearly a major league caliber player before his debut in 2001. He was 27 that season, but he won his first batting title in Japan when he was 20. He won three MVP awards in Japan and seven Gold Gloves. He was the Ichiro we know well before he arrived in America. Like Jackie Robinson (who also debuted in a new league he wasn’t allowed to play in at the age of 27), Ichiro’s record needs to be adjusted to place him where he belongs.
HALL OF FAME
Heilmann nudged Sam Crawford out of right field and won four batting titles in the 1920s. He remains one of the greatest right-handed batters in baseball history. He had an innate ability to hit a ball with a bat. It also helped that his teammate (and later manager) Cobb, was a skilled hitting coach.
HALL OF FAME
Gwynn hit .429 against Greg Maddux, the best pitcher of his generation. But here’s the most amazing thing: Maddux never struck Gwynn out. Not ever, not even once. In 103 plate appearances in 35 games, Gwynn put the ball in play 93 times and walked 10 times. He was intentionally walked by Maddux six times, the most intentional walks that he received from any enemy pitcher. “No hitter can tell the difference in the speed of different pitches,” Maddux told Thomas Boswell, “except that sonofabitch Tony Gwynn.”
Midway through his career, Evans overhauled his batting stance and approach at the plate. The Red Sox hired a new hitting coach, Walt Hriniak, a disciple of Charley Lau, who taught Evans the same techniques that transformed George Brett and others. Evans won the home run title the first season after working with Hriniak. In his 30s he hit .277 with 235 home runs, as opposed to .265 and 150 in his 20s. Dewey started to draw so many walks that the Red Sox used him as a leadoff man for a few seasons.
HALL OF FAME
Paul Waner is probably the most notorious drunk in baseball history. The stories of his drinking binges and exploits are legendary. It’s not clear if Waner ever desired to curb his drinking, but on one occasion he was asked to and it had unintended consequences. When Pie Traynor was named manager of the Pirates he asked Paul to lay off the liquor and stick to beer. Waner agreed, but after a week watching Waner only hit .280 at the plate, Traynor begged him to return to whiskey.
HALL OF FAME
Enos Slaughter was a very good player. He was one of the best outfielders in baseball when he was called for duty in WWII. He missed his age 27-28-29 seasons, the best seasons of most careers. He came back and played very well: for the ten years after he returned from the war, Enos posted an OPS+ of 122. Then he spent five years serving as a spare outfielder for the Yankees. When he was 42 he posted an OPS+ of 133 for the Yankees in 160 plate appearances. He won two titles as a Yankee, to go along with the two he got in St. Louis.
HALL OF FAME
The next two players, Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu, were contemporaries, and while Vlad has a Hall of Fame plaque, Abreu probably never will. An argument can be made that Abreu was a superior player by the numbers, although by a slim margin.
Only eleven players have had as many as eight seasons in which they reached base 275 times or more. That list is composed of: Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Wade Boggs, Barry Bonds, and Bobby Abreu. Lofty company for “El Comedulce” (“The Candy Eater”).
HALL OF FAME
In his eight full seasons in a Yankee uniform, Dave Winfield was an All-Star every year, won five Gold Gloves, and became the first Yankee with five straight 100-RBI seasons since Joe DiMaggio.
Bobby had that world-class speed. With his quick acceleration, he was going full speed in a heartbeat. He was as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen. He had great power, and he was a terrific outfielder with better arm strength than Barry.” — Sonny Jackson
HALL OF FAME
Crawford resented TY Cobb’s success and his ascension to stardom, that’s natural. But Wahoo Sam also resented everything about the Georgian. He couldn’t even admire Cobb for any of the traits that Crawford himself exhibited. Crawford took the game seriously, but Cobb took it too seriously. Crawford was an aggressive player, but Cobb’s daring baserunning was to “show off.” Crawford yearned to achieve financial success, but when Cobb held out for money he was being selfish. No matter what Cobb did, Crawford didn’t like it. Cobb quickly realized Crawford disliked him, and (let’s face it) Ty was often an ass, so he did his share to rupture the relationship too. The two men maintained a frosty partnership in Detroit, useful to one another, but disdainful. In their last five years as teammates, Crawford probably never said more than a dozen words to Cobb.
Another MVP caliber season or two, and Betts has a chance to sneak into the top ten among right fielders. It’s very hard to get into the top six, where Al Kaline is the gatekeeper. You need to have a long, productive career as well as a few MVP seasons. There’s a clear line between the inner circle of right fielders that includes Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Roberto Clemente, and Kaline, and the next group, which has Reggie Jackson, Ichiro, Larry Walker, Harry Heilmann, Tony Gwynn, Paul Waner, Evans, and Enos Slaughter. If he stays healthy, Mookie will probably find his way into that latter group.
“All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy. Well, the best player on this team for the last two years, and we all know it, is Reggie Smith. Reggie doesn’t go out and publicize himself. He doesn’t smile at the right people or say the right things… Reggie’s not a facade or a Madison Avenue image. He’s a real person.” — Don Sutton
In my mind, Sosa is the worst example of what steroids did to the game of baseball. Prior to drinking the McGwire Milk Shakes, Sosa was another corner outfielder with power: maybe 25-30 homer power in a good year, with lots of strikeouts and a .250 average. After he started his con game, Sammy morphed into a Ruthian proportions. From 1998 to 2002, Sosa had a .649 slugging percentage. Prior to that, in baseball history, only legendary players had ever averaged a .600 slugging percentage. Sosa and McGwire made a mockery of that, and Barry Bonds joined them at the trough.
HALL OF FAME
“He is built for baseball, trim, not heavy in the legs, fiery in his way but yet not what you would call a colorful ballplayer.” — Daniel M. Daniel for The Sporting News, 1933
HALL OF FAME
In his prime, when the first Roosevelt was shouting from the bully pulpit of the White House, Flick was an exceptional hitter. Once, early in Ty Cobb’s career in Detroit when the young outfielder was proving to be a headache, manager Hughie Jennings offered Cobb straight-up for Flick, but Cleveland declined. Oops. Flick hit for power, won a batting title, and led the league in steals a couple times. He could really do it all as an offensive player. He was also very popular, a handsome star for his hometown Cleveland team after spending his early career in Philadelphia. But when he was 31 years old, Elmer was hit with a stomach ailment (most likely acute gastritis) and never had a good season after that.
Gary Sheffield was one of the most gifted hitters of his generation, a very smart ballplayer who had success personally and in a team setting. But his foul character practically wiped that all away. Let’s put it like this: Sheff’s best friend in the game had once been Barry Bonds, a relationship that was destroyed by steroid allegations. And we’re all eventually judged by the company we keep.
Parker believed that if a clubhouse was loose and the team was close-knit, they would perform better on the field. He was a serious-minded competitor and a fierce presence in the batters’ box. But he was also light-hearted and fun, and had a little Muhammad Ali personality in him. Parker liked to make up limericks and poems to motivate himself. He once said, “Sure as the sun comes up and the wind is gonna blow, Ol’ Dave is gonna go four-for-four.”
In the history of baseball, since they began tossing a ball to a plate and someone with a stick was swinging at it, maybe no more than two dozen men could hit better than Tony Oliva. He was special with a bat in his hands, but physical weaknesses kept him from reaching legendary status. As a rookie, Oliva won the batting title in 1964, leading the league in hits, runs, doubles, and total bases. He was named Rookie of the Year, was an All-Star, and finished fourth in MVP voting. He won the batting crown the next season too, and in his third season he finished second. He added a third batting title in 1971, and in all he finished in the top three in batting seven times in eleven years of qualifying. Just like Samson had his hair, Tony Oliva’s weakness were his knees. Only a few seasons into his major league career, the Cuban started to have problems with both knees. It got so bad that he underwent nine surgeries on his knees in a four-year period.
“If Jack Clark played in Fenway, he’d make them forget about Jim Rice.” — Whitey Herzog
HALL OF FAME
Rice was always lightning fast and he was good at every sport he ever tried. He was an excellent bowler and a scratch golfer. He was pretty old (25) by the time he started his major league career, and he only had 247 hits through the age of 28. But Rice kept himself in excellent condition, and he averaged 202 hits from age 30 to 40. He’s the only position player in history who had his best season when he was 40 years old. “Man O’ War” finished his career 14 hits shy of 3,000.
No player has ever been more popular in Cleveland than Rocco Domenico Colavito, who was born in The Bronx, attended Theodore Roosevelt High School, and groomed to be a Yankee slugger. As a kid, Rocky idolized Joe DiMaggio. But a scout for the Indians got to Colavito first, and he signed his first pro contract at the age of 17. He was Cleveland’s right fielder when he was 21, hitting 21 homers as a rookie. It was the first of eleven straight years he hit at least 20 homers.
HALL OF FAME
“A brave, untrammeled spirit of the diamond, who brought glory to himself and his team by his strong, aggressive, courageous play. He won the admiration of the nation’s fans, the love and esteem of his friends and teammates, and the respect of his opponents. He played the game.” — plaque dedicated at the Polo Grounds after Youngs’ death
“If Darryl works hard, if Darryl has a professional attitude in his work habits, he can be one of the all-time greats in this game. And if he doesn’t, if he just goes through the motions and does enough work to get by, he’ll be just another great player.” — teammate John Stearns on Rookie of the Year Darryl Strawberry
How prescient Stearns was.
A slight-built man, even for his era, Callison was a valuable player in his early twenties but didn’t have a good season after the age of 29. He shared a lot of traits with Bobby Higginson: the arm, the small build, the short left-handed swing. But Callison was far superior to Higginson.
“Ted Williams was terrific and gave me many headaches, but Tommy Henrich usually gave me more trouble than Williams.” — Bob Feller
In his first season as a Yankee, Stanton struck out 211 times. Joe DiMaggio struck out 194 times in his first seven years with the Bombers. It’s a different game.
When Felipe was fighting his way into the big leagues, earning a starting position where he played alongside Willie Mays, he was one of the first Dominican players under contract in the United States. The culture, the language, the customs, all of it was new to Felipe. The racism was too. But Alou never lashed out, and more importantly he never quit. Ultimately, six members of the Alou family played in the major leagues, including his brothers and Felipe’s son Moises, who was the best of them all. To tell the story of baseball after 1960, you need to mention the Alou family, and Felipe started that.
In his first minor league season with Dunedin in 1978, Barfield played center and Dave Stieb played right. That was before Stieb had decided whether he wanted to pitch or play every day. Barfield continued to play center until he stuck with the Blue Jays in 1982 and shifted to right because of Lloyd Moseby, a faster and superior fly-getter. But Barfield could have handled center field in the big leagues handily, if he needed to.
Bautista was slim-waisted and lean as a young player, he was not particularly fast, he had very little defensive skills other than an above-average arm. But he wasn’t an instinctive outfielder and he played third base like he was on a hot tin roof. When Toronto got him, Bautista was so lowly regarded that he was dealt for a player to be named later. They batted him leadoff as a last resort to start the 2010 season. That’s when something clicked and Bautista became “Joey Bats”, popping home runs like, well…pills. At any rate, Bautista was basically a one-dimensional player, swinging for the fences like a madman as he belted twice as many homers in his 30s as he had in his 20s.
Drew hit a few big home runs for the Red Sox in 2007, helping the team to their second World Series title in four years. But I wouldn’t say that David Jonathan Drew was ever really accepted in Boston. He wasn’t a Boston type of guy, he was never really loved by the fans, he seemed pretty…well bland. He played out his contract in Boston, made the All-Star team for the only time in his career, and retired with all that money.
“When we got Kenny, we knew he was a good hitter, but I wasn’t sure where we’d put him in the lineup. As it turned out, we needed a leadoff hitter, so we used him there and he was excellent. Now, we need him in the middle of the batting order, and we’ve had to look to him to give us a little more power, and he’s done that, too. He’s very patient at the plate, a very disciplined hitter, and it looks like he just keeps getting better.” — Earl Weaver
“He must have been born with a 3-2 count.” — Mike Flanagan
Only three players have led the Cubs in home runs in as many as eight straight years: Sammy Sosa and Ernie Banks, and the first to do it: Big Bill Nicholson, a tobacco-chewing slugger from Maryland built like a brick courthouse. Nicholson owed his success to Kiki Cuyler, who managed him at Chattanooga. Cuyler shortened Nicholson’s stride at the plate and worked with him to pull the ball more. Cuyler also recommended Nicholson to the Cubs, who purchased his contract for $35,000 in the middle of the 1939 season. For the next decade Big Bill manned right field for the Cubbies, staying home during World War II because he was color blind. He led the National League in home runs and RBIs in 1943 and 1944, when he finished third and second in MVP voting.
Built like a Greek statue, Kirk Gibson was one of the most talented athletes to emerge in the 1970s. In 1984 he earned a spot as Detroit’s #3 hitter and batted .282 with 27 homers. His wheels were in motion too, as he stole 29 bases. That kicked off a five-year stretch where he averaged 27 homers and 30 stolen bases. In Game Five of the 1984 World Series, Gibson exacted revenge, hitting a soaring home run off Gossage in the eighth inning to seal the title for his hometown team at Tiger Stadium.
His swing was crafted by Zeus for the right field dimensions of Yankee Stadium, and in his first season in The Bronx, Maris hit 39 home runs and led the league in runs batted in. That was mostly because he batted behind Mickey Mantle, but Maris was named MVP in 1960. The next season the American League added two teams and expanded the schedule to 162 games. Maris hit 58 homers in the first 154 games (the length of the schedule when Babe Ruth set the single-season record), and finished with 61. Which was very considerate, since years later Billy Crystal made a movie titled 61* about that season.
Maris was a two-time MVP saddled with the reputation of a slugger, and those 61 home runs hung around his neck like a bowling ball. He was a good right fielder, very strong, and yet he could run some too. He probably could have stole 20 bases a year, but his managers wanted their runners to hug the bag. He won a Gold Glove and in 1967 playing for the Cardinals, he drove in seven runs in the World Series. He was not a (sixty) one-hit wonder: Roger Maris was a very good ballplayer.
HALL OF FAME
Cuyler is often criticized as one of the weaker Hall of Famers, but he was better than most people give him credit for. He was the fastest runner in the National League during his career, and led the league in steals four times. Until he suffered a shoulder injury in 1927, Cuyler had one of the strongest arms in baseball. He was a hard-throwing pitcher when he was an amateur player. Cuyler could hit line drives in his sleep, and that’s because he never embraced the Babe Ruth “grip it and rip it” philosophy. Cuyler took a measured slap at the ball, preferring to make contact, he hit a lot of balls into the gaps. He was also a pretty decent outfielder, and so he was really a four-tool player. His career Win Shares are higher than Kirby Puckett and Jim Rice. His best five seasons rate better than the best five seasons by Dave Winfield. Clearly Cuyler isn’t a top-shelf Hall of Famer, but he’s safely in that group of Hall of Famers who earned their way in through peak performance. The only way you can tear down Cuyler’s Hall of Fame status is if you think Andre Dawson isn’t a Hall of Famer.
“I felt like, from the standpoint of an athlete, it was important for me to be a role model. “The big leaguers I modeled myself after—the Cal Ripkens, the Robin Younts, the Dave Winfields—were guys that played the game with integrity and class and treated people the way they wanted to be treated.” — Tim Salmon
Holmes was the object of affection for the fans who plopped their butts in the 1,200-seat section just beyond the right field line at Braves Field. It was dubbed “The Jury Box” because a sportswriter once noticed there were only twelve fans out there during a day game. But when Holmes starred for Boston, the bleachers were usually packed. Like Paul O’Neill, who interacted with the Bleacher Creatures for “Roll Call,” Holmes was accessible to his groupies. The Boston fans developed a tradition where someone would holler at Tommy early in the game and ask how many hits he thought he’d get. Holmes would flash his fingers with an answer.
HALL OF FAME
Four players have hit leadoff on four pennant-winning teams. The first was Hooper, the other three are Frankie Crosetti (1936-39 Yankees), Pete Rose (1970, 1972, 1975-76 Reds), and Chuck Knoblauch (1998-2001 Yankees).
From 1991 to 2002, the last twelve years of his career, Justice appeared in the playoffs every season except 1994 (when baseball canceled the postseason) and 1996 (when he was injured). He played in six World Series: three for the Braves, once for the Indians, and twice for the Yankees. He did not perform well overall in the postseason, but he was a World Champion twice. In Game Six of the 1995 World Series he hit a solo home run that proved to be the championship-winning run in a 1-0 clincher over the Indians. The homer came in Atlanta one day after Justice criticized Braves’ fans for booing the team.
THE REST OF THE 100
53. Jason Heyward
54. Babe Herman
55. Dixie Walker
56. Paul O'Neill
57. Gavy Cravath
58. Bob Allison
59. Reggie Sanders
60. Brian Jordan
61. Bryce Harper
62. Juan González
63. Shin-Soo Choo
64. Jose Canseco
65. Roy Cullenbine
66. Justin Upton
67. Nelson Cruz
68. Al Smith
69. Nick Markakis
70. Raúl Mondesí
71. Ken Griffey Sr.
72. Hunter Pence
73. Carl Furillo
74. Alex Ríos
75. Von Hayes
76. Harold Baines
77. Jayson Werth
78. Hank Bauer
79. George Hendrick
80. J.D. Martinez
81. Wally Moses
82. Sixto Lezcano
83. Terry Puhl
84. Jackie Jensen
85. Elmer Valo
86. Carlos González
87. Richie Zisk
88. Taffy Wright
89. John Titus
90. Ival Goodman
91. Josh Reddick
92. Vic Wertz
93. Floyd Robinson
94. Socks Seybold
95. Jim Northrup
96. George Selkirk
97. Yasiel Puig
98. Aaron Judge
99. Bake McBride
100. Bing Miller
Subscribe to Newsletter
The Baseball Egg weekly email newsletter contains news, factoids, trivia, photos, and links to articles you can’t find anywhere else.