The Top 100 Left Fielders of All-Time
#1. Ted Williams
Years: 1939-1960 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#2. Stan Musial
Years: 1941-1963 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#3. Barry Bonds
Years: 1986-2007 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
#4. Rickey Henderson
Years: 1979-2003 Primary Team: Oakland A's
#5. Carl Yastrzemski
Years: 1961-1983 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#6. Pete Rose
Years: 1963-1986 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
#7. Minnie Minoso
Years: 1949-1980 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
#8. Al Simmons
Years: 1924-1944 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
#9. Tim Raines
Years: 1979-2002 Primary Team: Montreal Expos
#10. Charlie Keller
Years: 1939-1952 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Had it not been for World War II, Charlie Keller would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His career arc suffered nearly as much as any player who was in his prime when the war interrupted normal life. Adjustments have been made to his playing record to account for this, which is why you see Keller in the top ten among left fielders. It's where he belongs after the unfortunate way his career was derailed.
Keller jumped directly to Newark in the International League in his first professional season. He was the best hitter on the team that season, and that included Joe Gordon, the highly regarded second base prospect. The following season, 1938, Keller was back in Newark and he once again dominated the league with his bat. While the Yankees had promoted Gordon to the majors, Keller stayed on the farm. He was only 21 years old but he couldn't stay down for long.
In 1939 the Yanks did all they could to keep Keller's bat in the lineup, splitting him between left and right field. The rookie hit a sizzling .334 and smacked 11 homers in 111 games. Impressively for a young player, Keller showed patience, walking 81 times. His keen eye would be a benefit throughout his career. As a rookie, Keller hit three home runs in the World Series triumph over the Reds.
Over his first four full seasons as a left fielder for the Yankees, Keller was one of the best hitters in the league. He averaged 102 runs scored, 102 RBIs, 107 walks, and 28 home runs. His on-base percentage was over .400 and his slugging was well over .500. He was an All-Star and finished among the top vote getters for MVP several times.
After the '43 season, Keller was drafted into the Maritime Service. He served 18 months on ships zig-zagging the Atlantic Ocean. He never once picked up a glove or a bat. With five weeks left in the '45 season he returned to the Yanks after the war was over. He hit a home run in his third game back but he was very rusty. The following year he performed back at his pre-war levels, hitting 30 home runs. In '47 he was leading the league in home runs in early June when he started to notice back pain that ran down his spine and also made his legs numb. His season was over before the end of the month. He was 30 years old and had been an All-Star five times in eight seasons. But he'd missed nearly two full seasons to time served in the military during the war.
"I didn't stay in baseball shape on ship," Keller said years later, "and when I came back I threw myself into it. My body wasn't ready for a long baseball season."
Keller's back problem was severe. He'd wore down from the years away and the sudden rigors of playing ball again. Some of it was age too, of course. But, like so many players, Keller's career hit the brakes hard. But unlike most players, Keller had been in his prime and building a career record that was impressive. After the back woes, Keller could do very little other than rest. The medical treatments for severe back pain in that era were not sophisticated. He played five more seasons, but rarely played more than two games in a row or more than three games in a week. He was a pinch-hitter and part-time outfielder. He hit 14 home runs in essentially a seasons-worth of at-bats over his last five years.
Our ranking method gives Keller credit for two more excellent seasons in the middle of his career, as well as 2-3 more good to average seasons at the tail end. Given that sort of conservative career trajectory, and acknowledging his many skills as an offensive player who possessed power and patience, he fits here in the rankings.
#11. Goose Goslin
Years: 1921-1938 Primary Team: Washington Senators
#12. Joe Jackson
Years: 1908-1920 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
#13. Billy Williams
Years: 1959-1976 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#14. Manny Ramirez
Years: 1993-2011 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#15. Ralph Kiner
Years: 1946-1955 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
#16. Willie Stargell
Years: 1962-1982 Primary Team: The Lumber Company
#17. Joe Medwick
Years: 1932-1948 Primary Team: Gashouse Gang
Once, Chicago Cubs manager Charley Grimm was going over the St. Louis lineup with his starting pitcher prior to the game. When they came to Medwick, the pitcher asked Grimm how he should pitch him. Grimm replied, "Just throw the ball and back up third base."
Many people have a nostalgia for "the good old days". They want to flip the calendar back to when you left your house unlocked, to when people respected each other, back to when their country was great and the milkman delivered to the front door, to when athletes played baseball for the love of the game. It's nonsense, of course, balderdash. Poppycock, to use a "good old days" phrase. Crime is lower now than it ever has been. People live longer than they ever have and are more comfortable than ever. And baseball players love the game as much today as they ever have.
Old-timers like to speak about the days when ballplayers put on the uniform because they loved to play baseball. About a time when ballplayers were loyal. Usually it's a lament over the current size of the contracts players are getting for "playing a game that most people would play for free". Well, ballplayers have always wanted big contracts. Ballplayers have always wanted more money for playing the game. Ballplayers are no less loyal today than they've ever been. To quote a popular "The Talking Heads song" "Same as it ever was."
In spring training in 1939, Joe Medwick held out for more money. He wanted the Cardinals to pay him $20,000. The Cards offered him $15,000. Medwick insisted on $20,000. The team countered with $18,000. Medwick had won the MVP in 1937 and in '38 he had another fine year, leading the National League in doubles and RBIs. He was 27 years old and the Cardinals acknowledged he was one of the best players in the league. Eventually after much grumbling and vitriol in the newspapers, Medwick relented and accepted the contract. But even in the middle of a "Great" Depression, that $2,000 he didn't get gnawed at him.
Throughout 1939, Medwick feuded with the front office and his manager, a rookie skipper named Ray Blades. It didn't matter what Blades, did Joe thought it was a bade decision. Medwick kept mentioning that $2,000, which riled team president Sam Breadon. Finally in the heat of the summer, the rift between Blades and his star player boiled over. In a game in August with the Cards leading by a run, Blades replaced Medwick in left field in the middle of the inning, preferring a defensive switch. Medwick threw a fit, firing his glove into the air, kicking it across the diamond, and gesticulating in many angry ways as he made his way off the field. He didn't even go back to the Cardinal dugout, exiting via a side door down the left field line. The reaction was predictable: Blades was hot and the fans turned on their "crybaby" star.
Less than a year later, after Breadon made sure the newspapers wrote thousands of words making Medwick look like a selfish brat, the Cardinals traded the former MVP to the Dodgers for four players and $125,000. They were rid of their headache. A few days after the Medwick trade, Blades was fired. The reset button had been hit.
The Medwick affair dominated the headlines for several months. But it was only the latest evidence that ballplayers wanted to get as much money as they could. And ballplayers would be very happy to get it from another team if they had to. Joe DiMaggio held out for more money AS A ROOKIE. Lefty Grove was known for refusing to report to spring training unless he was given the raise he felt he deserved. Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush held out practically every year for a decade, and usually missed all of spring training, often failing to report until the season was a few weeks old. You can go back to when Ulysses Grant was smoking cigars in the White House and find baseball players who were holding out, jumping teams for bigger contracts, or going to rival leagues to make more money.
The Good Old Days weren't all that good, or at the least they were a lot like they've always been. People want to get paid, and if they don't feel they're getting what they deserve, they'll refuse to work or bitch about it. Joe Medwick wasn't doing something remarkable when he chased the almighty dollar. He was doing what ballplayers have always done.
#18. Fred Clarke
Years: 1901-1915 Primary Team: Pittsburg Pirates
#19. Jose Cruz
Years: 1970-1988 Primary Team: Houston Astros
#20. Luis Gonzalez
Years: 1990-2008 Primary Team: The Snakes
#21. Lance Berkman
Years: 1999-2013 Primary Team: Houston Astros
#22. Bob Johnson
Years: 1933-1945 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
#23. Roy White
Years: 1965-1979 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#24. Sherry Magee
Years: 1904-1919 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#25. Zack Wheat
Years: 1909-1927 Primary Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
#26. George Foster
Years: 1969-1986 Primary Team: Big Red Machine
"You can turn your back and still know when Foster is hitting in batting practice," manager Sparky Anderson said. "There's a different ring when he hits the ball."
What sort of player was George Foster? He was the type of player that could steal home standing up (which he did against the Braves once) and also hit a home run into the upper deck at Three Rivers Stadium, a spot where witnesses said they'd never seen a ball hit, not even in batting practice.
It would make a great story if the Reds had used some clever scouting to trick the young Foster away from the Giants. But facts are that Cincinnati made the trade to acquire Foster two months into the 1971 season because outfielder Bobby Tolan had ruptured his Achilles.
#27. Matt Holliday
Years: 2004-2018 Primary Team: Colorado Rockies
#28. Lou Brock
Years: 1961-1979 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#29. Jim Rice
Years: 1974-1989 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#30. Brian Downing
Years: 1973-1992 Primary Team: Halos
#31. Albert Belle
Years: 1989-2000 Primary Team: The Tribe
How disliked was Albert Belle? In 1995 when he was at the height of his career for the Cleveland Indians, his home was egged on Halloween in Ohio.
Belle easily makes the All-Jerk Team, and probably deserves a place in the top five asshats in baseball history. Worse, unlike other terrible people who happened to be baseball superstars (say Ty Cobb or Ted Williams), Belle didn't have a good side. Cobb helped build a hospital for children and poor black people and he assisted young players in finding success in baseball. Williams poured out advice to help any player who wanted to hit a baseball better, and he mellowed in his old age. Belle was a miserable SOB in the clubhouse, a miserable SOB in the dugout, a miserable SOB on the field, a miserable SOB in the press room, and a miserable SOB in his private life. He never cared about anyone but himself.
In 1995, Belle became the first player to hit 50 home runs and doubles and he led the league in nearly every power category. Yet he finished a close second in MVP voting to Mo Vaughn, who had a good season but one not even in the same neighborhood as Belle's. One Cleveland writer ranked Belle tenth on his ballot.
#32. Sid Gordon
Years: 1941-1955 Primary Team: G-Men
#33. Augie Galan
Years: 1934-1949 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#34. Jimmy Sheckard
Years: 1901-1913 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#35. Bobby Veach
Years: 1912-1925 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#36. Heinie Manush
Years: 1923-1939 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#37. Don Buford
Years: 1963-1972 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
#38. George Burns
Years: 1911-1925 Primary Team: New York Giants
#39. Ken Williams
Years: 1915-1929 Primary Team: St. Louis Browns
#40. Lonnie Smith
Years: 1978-1994 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#41. Carl Crawford
Years: 2002-2016 Primary Team: The Rays
Which player got paid the most money for not playing baseball games? The answer is probably Carl Crawford, who averaged 68 games, 33 runs, four homers, and 10 stolen bases over the life of a seven-year, $142 million contract. Crawford was paid every penny of the $142 million that was originally bestowed upon him by the Red Sox in a moment of hubris.
Others such as Joe Posnanski have written of how Boston's remarkable success in the first decade of the 21st century led to a front office that felt indomitable. That Midas Touch feeling led directly to the unwarranted gift the team bestowed on Crawford, a 29-year old who had proved he could do three things well: chase down flyballs in left field, hit triples, and steal bases. This just in: none of those skills is paramount in Fenway Park.
Despite the cliff-fall the second half of his career took, Crawford was exciting in his nine years with Tampa Bay. But the warning signs should have been there: speed doesn't age well, he never matured to hit for more power, and Crawford wasn't savvy enough to understand that he should draw more walks to take advantage of his speed.
#42. Alex Gordon
Years: 2007-2018 Primary Team: Kansas City Royals
#43. Frank Howard
Years: 1958-1973 Primary Team: Washington Senators
#44. Moises Alou
Years: 1990-2008 Primary Team: Expos
#45. Brett Gardner
Years: 2008-2018 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#46. Dusty Baker
Years: 1968-1986 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
#47. Jeff Heath
Years: 1936-1949 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
#48. Hank Sauer
Years: 1941-1959 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#49. Hideki Matsui
Years: 2003-2012 Primary Team: The Bombers
#50. Ron Gant
Years: 1987-2003 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#51. Greg Vaughn
Years: 1989-2003 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
#52. Del Ennis
Years: 1946-1959 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#53. Rico Carty
Years: 1963-1979 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#54. Gene Woodling
Years: 1943-1962 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#55. Kevin Mitchell
Years: 1984-1998 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
#56. Kevin McReynolds
Years: 1983-1994 Primary Team: San Diego Padres
McReynolds was a center fielder when he came up with the Padres, and a pretty good one. When he was traded to the Mets, Davey Johnson thought Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson were better so he switched McReynolds to left field. That wasn't a mistake, because the Mets won a division title the following year, but it was a misguided use of his talent. McReynolds was a solid center fielder even though he looked like a corner outfielder. He kept having good seasons in left but never won a Gold Glove. He hit 20 or more homers six times, which meant a lot more back in his era. McReynolds was drafted by the Padres in the same draft where they selected Tony Gwynn, so the team got 2/3 of their outfield in that amateur draft. It's pretty unusual for a team to draft two future position players in the same draft, and the Gwynn/McReynolds duo netted the Padres 453 career Win Shares, one of the highest totals ever by two or more players from one draft.
#57. Alfonso Soriano
Years: 1999-2014 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#58. Chick Hafey
Years: 1924-1937 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#59. B.J. Surhoff
Years: 1987-2005 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
#60. Riggs Stephenson
Years: 1921-1934 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
#61. Joe Rudi
Years: 1967-1982 Primary Team: Oakland A's
#62. Cliff Floyd
Years: 1993-2009 Primary Team: Expos
#63. Lefty O'Doul
Years: 1919-1934 Primary Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
O'Doul knew a hitter when he saw one. He was a manager for the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League in 1937 when a skinny 18-year old kid playing for San Diego approached Lefty before a game and asked how he could become a good hitter. O'Doul, having only seen Ted Williams take batting practice and play one game, said "Kid, don't ever let anyone change your swing."
#64. Mike Greenwell
Years: 1985-1996 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#65. Gary Matthews
Years: 1972-1987 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#66. Wally Moon
Years: 1954-1965 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
#67. Carlos Lee
Years: 1999-2012 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
#68. Ben Oglivie
Years: 1971-1986 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
#69. Topsy Hartsel
Years: 1901-1911 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
His nickname was ironic. Hartsel had a thick head of light blonde (reportedly white blonde) hair, the same color that grew on his eyebrows. A sportswriter and literary fan noticed and told the young outfielder, "Say, boy, you're as light as Topsy of Uncle Tom's Cabin is black." And from then on, Tully Hartsel was known as Topsy Hartsel.
He was arguably the most effective leadoff man in the American League in the first decade of the twentieth century, and he proved a catalyst: the Athletics won four pennants with Topsy at the top.
#70. Mike Donlin
Years: 1901-1914 Primary Team: New York Giants
#71. Larry Hisle
Years: 1968-1982 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
#72. Rondell White
Years: 1993-2007 Primary Team: Montreal Expos
#73. Ryan Klesko
Years: 1992-2007 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#74. Tommy Harper
Years: 1962-1976 Primary Team: Reds
#75. Jason Bay
Years: 2003-2013 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
#76. Garret Anderson
Years: 1994-2010 Primary Team: The Angels
As of this writing in late August of 2018, Anderson is the author of the most important hit in Angels' history. In Game Seven of the 2002 World Series with the bases loaded and the game tied, Anderson hit a double that cleared the bases. The hit cleared the way for the Halos first (and as of now), only title.
I figure there's a third tier of greatness. At the top are the Hall of Famers, followed in Tier II by the near greats. Then in Tier III are players like Anderson, the near-near-greats. If we made an outfield of Tier III's from recent decades, Anderson would be in left, Steve Finley could play center, and Paul O'Neill could be in right. If you'd like, put Harold Baines at DH.
#77. Ryan Braun
Years: 2007-2017 Primary Team: Steroid Users
#78. George Stone
Years: 1903-1910 Primary Team: St. Louis Browns
#79. Willie Horton
Years: 1963-1980 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#80. Don Baylor
Years: 1970-1988 Primary Team: The Halos
#81. Shannon Stewart
Years: 1995-2008 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
#82. Tom Tresh
Years: 1961-1969 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#83. Bernard Gilkey
Years: 1990-2001 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#84. Shane Mack
Years: 1987-1998 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
#85. Rusty Greer
Years: 1994-2002 Primary Team: Texas Rangers
#86. John Stone
Years: 1928-1938 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#87. Tillie Walker
Years: 1911-1923 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
#88. Bobby Higginson
Years: 1995-2005 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Bobby Higginson was a big loser. Well, that's harsh, but sadly for Higgy, it's accurate. In his four-year college career at Temple University, the Owls never had a winning season. In the minor leagues after being drafted by Detroit, Higginson failed to play on a single winning team. He debuted with the Tigers in 1995, the final season of the Sparky Anderson Era. The team was entering the dark years, a stretch where they saw veteran stars like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Kirk Gibson retire. And when the front office went into a phase of ignorance. The Tigers had losing records every year for 11 consecutive seasons. Higginson was one of the few bright spots, he hit 25 or more homers four times, topped the century mark in runs batted in a few times, and had the best outfield arm the franchise had seen since Al Kaline. He made over $50 million playing baseball and when his skills started to erode, he retired at the age of 34 following the 2005 season. Higginson had played 17 straight seasons on a losing team. To add insult to injury, the first year after Higginson retired the Tigers won the pennant.
#89. Joe Carter
Years: 1983-1998 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
#90. Geoff Jenkins
Years: 1998-2008 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
#91. Yoenis Cespedes
Years: 2012-2017 Primary Team: Oakland A's
#92. Tommy Davis
Years: 1959-1976 Primary Team: LA Dodgers
#93. John Briggs
Years: 1964-1975 Primary Team: Phils
#94. Cleon Jones
Years: 1963-1976 Primary Team: New York Mets
#95. Greg Luzinski
Years: 1970-1984 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#96. George Bell
Years: 1981-1993 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
#97. Bibb Falk
Years: 1920-1931 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
One of the lost arts of baseball is bench jockeying. In the modern game players don't feel the need to berate opposing players in the way it used to happen at the ballpark. There was a time when each team had a bench jockey ring leader, a guy who was expert at verbal barbs and the art of messing with the other team. That player was admired by his teammates and seen as an integral part of the team dynamic. A good bench jockey could upset an opposing pitcher or a fielder, get into the head of the opponent. He could also incite violence. Bibb Falk was superb at this part of the game, so much that his nickname was "Jockey".
In the 1920s when Falk was with the White Sox, the Chicago club had a heated rivalry with two of their fellow American League clubs: Cleveland and Detroit. Falk picked out various players on those teams to harass. One was Cleveland's third baseman Rube Lutzke, a wiry German from Milwaukee with big hands. Falk shouted at the "Kraut" and rode him mercilessly whenever the ball was hit in Lutzke's direction. The two frequently hard words for each other. Tiger outfielder Bob "Fats" Fothergill was another favorite target, and Falk badgered the Detroit player so much that even the mild Charlie Gehringer took offense.
Falk replaced Shoeless Joe Jackson on Chicago after the star was banished from baseball. He was considered a poor defensive outfielder, but he hit well enough, spraying singles around and fashioning a .314 career average. Falk was one of the greatest college baseball coaches in history, winning a pair of national titles and 20 Southwest Conference titles with the Texas Longhorns.
#98. Raul Ibanez
Years: 1996-2014 Primary Team: The M's
#99. Charlie Maxwell
Years: 1950-1964 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#100. Charlie Jamieson
Years: 1915-1932 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians