Top 100 Players in Baseball History
#1. Babe Ruth
RF 1914-1935 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#2. Ted Williams
LF 1939-1960 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#3. Willie Mays
CF 1951-1973 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
#4. Walter Johnson
SP 1907-1927 Primary Team: Washington Senators
#5. Hank Aaron
RF 1954-1976 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#6. Stan Musial
LF 1941-1963 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#7. Barry Bonds
LF 1986-2007 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
#8. Mickey Mantle
CF 1951-1968 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#9. Ty Cobb
CF 1905-1928 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#10. Rogers Hornsby
2B 1915-1937 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Bill James is the only baseball historian to rate anyone other than Hornsby #1 among second basemen. He has Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins, in that order, listed ahead of The Rajah. I'm inclined to agree with him, but I can't ignore that the statistical record, and our ratings system, still shows Hornsby with an edge over Collins and Little Joe.
The three (Hornsby, Collins, and Morgan) tower above the rest of the second base field. The gap between Morgan, who I have ranked third, and the fourth spot, is the same as the gap between #4 and #17. You could take the careers of any two players below #24 on this list and add them together and not equal the value of Hornsby, Collins, or Morgan.
Each of the top six second basemen were important to teams that won championships. Hornsby is the only one who was a player/manager for a team that won a World Series. Hornsby played for two pennant-winning teams and averaged 7.4 WAR. Collins averaged 7.5 in six pennant seasons, Morgan 8.3 in four, Jackie Robinson averaged 5.9 WAR in six pennant-winning seasons, Gehringer was very good too, with 6.7 WAR for three Detroit flag winners. But Chase Utley beats them all, with an 8.6 WAR average in the two seasons his Phils won the pennant.
File this under the "What do I have to do to get some respect?" file: a few years back the Oklahoma City Dodgers updated their ballpark by adding large photos of famous ballplayers with an Oklahoma connection. Hornsby played one season for a minor league team in Hugo, OK. But the photo was reversed and showed the Hall of Famer swinging the bat lefthanded.
#11. Lou Gehrig
1B 1923-1939 Primary Team: New York Yankees
He was good enough to be in the lineup when he was 20 years old, maybe even when he was 19, but Gehrig had to wait for Wally Pipp to "Wally Pipp" himself. Nearly 80 years after he played his last game, no first baseman has come close to Lou Gehrig's greatness. Year after year he piled up big numbers: Gehrig had nine seasons of 350+ total bases and nine straight years of at least 120 runs scored, 120 RBIs, and 70 extra-base hits. He drove in more than a run per game five times, the last time when he was 34 years old.
#12. Rickey Henderson
LF 1979-2003 Primary Team: Oakland A's
#13. Tris Speaker
CF 1907-1928 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
We hear about the great right fielders a lot, but among outfielders, the center fielders are the top dogs. Of the top eleven outfielders of all-time according to our ratings formula, five are center fielders: Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, and DiMaggio. This makes sense when you think about it.
The center fielder handles about 95 more chances than a left fielder and 65 more than a right fielder over the course of season. The actual figure has fluctuated over the course of history, but the ratio remains pretty much the same. There's more action in the middle of the field and a center fielder roams a larger territory. He has more responsibility.
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 at second base. He was sort of a one-man defensive shift. He also made far fewer errors than outfielders of his era, and he could go back on a ball as well as anyone.
Speaker played nearly 2,800 games but he only appeared in right or left for about 20 innings. When he was 40 years old he played 50 games for Connie Mack in center field and was still ranging better than most outfielders in the league. That year he made eight assists, several of them on short singles to center where he was so shallow he was able to throw out a runner going from first to second.
#14. Eddie Collins
2B 1906-1930 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
The position players who got the biggest ratings boost because of their post-season performance: Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Babe Ruth, Home Run Baker, Mickey Mantle, and Eddie Collins. In the 34 most important games of his career, Collins got on base 53 times, scored 20 runs, and stole 14 bases while leading his teams to four titles in six Fall Classics. Had there been a World Series MVP award back then, he would have won it three times. He was a superb leader: his teams won four of the five World Series that they were trying to win (crooked teammates cost him a fifth title with the White Sox in 1919).
#15. Mike Schmidt
3B 1972-1989 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#16. Joe Morgan
2B 1963-1984 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
Had Morgan played in the 1930s he would have been a player/manager like Hornsby, Collins, and Frisch. Someone once did a study which showed that second basemen made the best managers. Several of the greatest managers played the position: Sparky Anderson, Tony Larussa, Bucky Harris, and Gene Mauch all rank in the top 12 all-time in wins. Then there's Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Miller Huggins, and Davey Johnson. Among the great second basemen, there are a number of them who never managed, like Morgan, who would have probably made good managers: Jackie Robinson and Chase Utley for example. Several more may someday join the list of good managers to come from the position, like Ryne Sandberg and Ian Kinsler.
#17. Joe DiMaggio
CF 1936-1951 Primary Team: New York Yankees
In 2011 some smart folks used lasers to measure an electron 25 million times. Through their careful and precise analysis, they found that the electron was the most perfectly spherical object ever observed. The electron is a perfect sphere to within one billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter. Pretty darn round.
There probably weren't 25 million sets of eyes that watched Joe DiMaggio on the ballfield, but there were millions who witnessed him live. An analysis of those witnesses and the statistical record that remains suggests that DiMaggio was the most perfect ballplayer we've ever had. Maybe to within a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of baseball perfection.
DiMaggio had the instincts of a great hitter and the mechanics to go with it. He made contact and also hit for power. His defensive play in center field was as good as anyone in the league, he had range, a strong arm. He could run very well. Ted Williams always said that if he'd had the speed of DiMaggio, he could have hit .400 a few more times. DiMaggio's swing was considered the most beautiful and perfect from a right-handed batter. He had no weakness on the diamond.
Another way to look at the question of near-perfection is to work backward and ask "What would a perfect ballplayer accomplish?" He might lead the league in home runs while hitting more homers than he has strikeouts. He might lead the league in triples and homers and runs scored and runs batted in, as well as hitting and slugging and total bases. A signature of a versatile player. He might hit safely in 56 straight games, getting at least one hit per day every day for two months.
The greatness of DiMaggio is amplified when we consider that he played his entire career in a ballpark that was not conducive to his power. The deep dimensions in left and left-center field at Yankee Stadium took a lot of home runs away from Joe. If we could somehow magically give those three years he missed in WWII back and also place him in a more favorable ballpark, DiMaggio would have easily topped 500 home runs.
#18. Frank Robinson
RF 1956-1976 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
#19. Albert Pujols
1B 2001-2017 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols was even more consistent than Gehrig, but a notch below overall because of his descent back to the pack in his mid-30s. From age 22 to age 29, Pujols had a WAR between 8.4 and 9.7 every season. That's the foundation for his amazing run of success over his first ten years, when he won three MVPs and finished as runner-up four other times. Pujols actually outperformed Gehrig before the age of 30, leading in WAR, 74-66. But in their 30s, Gehrig stepped on the gas, producing 46 WAR, while as of age 37, Albert only has 26. A few of the first basemen who had a better career than Pujols after the age of 30: Bill Terry, Jeff Bagwell, Dolph Camilli, Norm Cash, and Mark Grace.
#20. Lefty Grove
SP 1925-1941 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
#21. Tom Seaver
SP 1967-1986 Primary Team: New York Mets
#22. Pete Alexander
SP 1911-1930 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#23. Roger Clemens
SP 1984-2007 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#24. Greg Maddux
SP 1986-2008 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#25. Randy Johnson
SP 1988-2009 Primary Team: Seattle Mariners
#26. Alex Rodriguez
SS 1994-2016 Primary Team: Seattle Mariners
After adjustments for era, competitive balance, and contributions to pennant-winning teams, ARod, Ripken, and Wagner are very close. One could argue that my adjustment for era penalizes Wagner too much. But then again, it's difficult to believe that the greatest shortstop in baseball history ended his career before World War I concluded. ARod's hitting exploits (natural and unnatural) were so great that they obscure his ability as a defender. He was quick and had excellent feet for a bigger man. The Yankees insisted on moving him to third base, which was silly, but necessary to mollify Derek Jeter's ego. You could rank Ripken ahead of ARod and it wouldn't look ridiculous. But Wagner, having not faced all the best players, having spent half his career playing the outfield and elsewhere, and having played in an era when the difference between the best players and the average players was so large, his stats are inflated. After our adjustments, ARod comes out slightly ahead among this trio.
#27. Cal Ripken Jr.
SS 1981-2001 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
#28. Mel Ott
RF 1926-1947 Primary Team: New York Giants
#29. Eddie Mathews
3B 1952-1968 Primary Team: Milwaukee Braves
#30. Carl Yastrzemski
LF 1961-1983 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#31. Wade Boggs
3B 1982-1999 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#32. Jimmie Foxx
1B 1925-1945 Primary Team: Philadelphia Athletics
Among the famous position switches in history, Foxx's is the most important because of the magnitude of the two players involved. Years later the Brewers would convert Paul Molitor into a second baseman because they already had Robin Yount at short. The Yankees moved Alex Rodriguez to third to keep Derek Jeter in position. But when Connie Mack made teenage catcher Foxx into a first baseman because he already had Mickey Cochrane behind the plate, he launched a dynasty. The two future Hall of Famers helped the A's win three straight pennants and formed the heart of one of baseball's greatest teams. Foxx won two MVPs with Philadelphia and added one later with Boston. He retired having hit more home runs than any other right-handed batter, a record he held for 21 years until Willie Mays surpassed it.
#33. George Brett
3B 1973-1993 Primary Team: Kansas City Royals
#34. Roberto Clemente
RF 1955-1972 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
#35. Bob Gibson
SP 1959-1975 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#36. Adrian Beltre
3B 1998-2017 Primary Team: Texas Rangers
#37. Honus Wagner
SS 1897-1917 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
#38. Christy Mathewson
SP 1900-1916 Primary Team: New York Giants
#39. Al Kaline
RF 1953-1974 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#40. Warren Spahn
SP 1942-1965 Primary Team: Milwaukee Braves
#41. Bob Feller
SP 1936-1956 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
#42. Phil Niekro
SP 1964-1987 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#43. Steve Carlton
SP 1965-1988 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#44. Ken Griffey Jr.
CF 1989-2010 Primary Team: Seattle Mariners
#45. Bert Blyleven
SP 1970-1992 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
#46. Jackie Robinson
2B 1947-1956 Primary Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
There are similarities between Jackie Robinson and Ichiro Suzuki. Both played professional baseball for seven years before getting chance to appear in the major leagues. Robinson was 28 when he broke the color barrier, Ichiro was 27 when he became the first Japanese position player. Both led their league in stolen bases in their first season, Robinson scored 125 runs, Ichiro scored 127. Both were impact players immediately, leading their teams to the postseason. Ichiro won the Rookie of the Year Award (named after Robinson), and Jackie was fifth in MVP voting in his rookie year. Ichiro was named MVP as a rookie. Both Robinson and Ichiro played the game with a smooth quality that had never been seen before. Both had their last great season when they were 35. Had Ichiro gotten to the majors sooner, he probably would have set the record for hits, had Robinson gotten to the big leagues sooner, he would have won another MVP or two and challenged Hornsby as the best to ever play the position. Both Robinson and Ichiro deserve to be moved up on our rankings based on what they would have done, and it lifts Robinson to #4 here.
#47. Johnny Mize
1B 1936-1953 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Mize was ahead of his time in the science of bat speed. He kept a trunk filled with bats in his locker, each of them of varying weights. He used the lighter bats against hard throwers and the heavier ones against softer tossers. It worked: Big Jawn had the second-most homers in NL history when he played his last game in that league in 1949. Mize was 29 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942. He missed three full seasons and part of another, but when he returned he was just as lethal with a bat. He won two home run titles in his mid-30s and probably missed 100 homers because of WWII. He and Greenberg both get a boost in our rankings for having missed prime years while in the military.
#48. Pedro Martinez
SP 1992-2009 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
#49. Hank Greenberg
1B 1930-1947 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Both Greenberg and Mize had a career OPS+ of 158, and both could hit for high average, draw walks, and hit for tremendous power. They were born almost exactly two years apart. The older Hank was righthanded and Mize was a lefty. Neither was a very good defensive player and both were huge specimens. But that's where the similarities stopped: Mize was a baptist country boy and Greenberg was a Jew born in New York City. Hank played with teammates who did not command headlines, so he became the star. Mize got somewhat lost among the personalities of Joe Medwick, the greatness of young Stan Musial, and later Mel Ott on the Giants. Both have lesser career numbers than they would if they hadn't missed their early 30s due to the war, but both rightly earned Hall of Fame induction.
#50. Reggie Jackson
RF 1967-1987 Primary Team: Oakland Athletics
#51. Rod Carew
2B 1967-1985 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
Carew played 1,184 games at first base and 1,130 at second base, so it takes some deliberation before ranking him among the greats at any one position. We decided to rate him at second base. Carew was never a very good defender at second: his range was not that great despite being quick; he had a weak throwing arm; and he was not comfortable turning the double play. Carew was one of those athletes who was naturally talented at scoring. If it was baseball he was a great hitter, if it was soccer, he was the goal scorer, if it was basketball he was the star point guard. But sometimes that guy didn't take care of business as well on the defensive side of the ball. That was Carew. He was the best bunter of his generation.
#52. Pee Wee Reese
SS 1940-1958 Primary Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
#53. Brooks Robinson
3B 1955-1977 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
#54. Chipper Jones
3B 1993-2012 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#55. Robin Roberts
SP 1948-1966 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#56. Pete Rose
LF 1963-1986 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
#57. Johnny Bench
C 1967-1983 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
No one was as great as Bench at his peak and no one was as great for as long as he was. He has the best three-year peak, the best five-year peak, and the second best seven-year peak. Bench kept going and going: he's the only catcher to have as many as ten 4-WAR seasons (and he had 12 of them). If you want a winner, he was behind the plate for four pennant-winning teams and two World Champions. His performance in the 1976 World Series, when he terrorized Yankee pitching and silenced their running game, was his signature moment.
#58. Curt Schilling
SP 1988-2007 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#59. Arky Vaughan
SS 1932-1948 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
#60. Jeff Bagwell
1B 1991-2005 Primary Team: Houston Astros
The big difference between Jeff Bagwell and his "twin" Frank Thomas, is Bagwell's baserunning. He was successful seven out of ten times at stealing bases and over his career Bagwell gained 250 more bases than Thomas through his baserunning, which includes advancing on hits. The Big Hurt also takes a small hit in career value for playing so many years as a DH, though we think Thomas was the better offensive player out of the batters' box than Bagwell. Only two pairs of teammates appeared in more than 2,000 games together: Ron Santo and Billy Williams, and Bagwell and Craig Biggio. All four are in the Hall of Fame. The next duo, coming in at just under 2,000 games, is Hall of Famer Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
#61. Duke Snider
CF 1947-1964 Primary Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
#62. Ron Santo
3B 1960-1974 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Santo did not live to see his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A year after his death, the veterans committee elected him for the honor. It's one of the most egregious examples of stupidity by the electorate of that institution. Santo was not only worthy, he was the best third baseman in baseball for close to a decade, bridging the gap between fellow National Leaguers Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt. Was Santo better than Brooks Robinson? He was at his peak, whether measured by three-year, five-year, or seven-year increments. Robinson rates slightly ahead on this all-time list because of his career length. Whereas Robinson was judged 90% by his defense, Santo was closer to a 50/50 player. His defense was excellent, but he could hit the hall out of the ball too. Players like Robinson, who are clearly greater at one thing, are usually overrated a bit. While players with more diverse skills tend to be underrated.
#63. Charlie Gehringer
2B 1924-1942 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Among the second basemen, Rogers Hornsby was the best pure hitter, Joe Morgan was the most complete offensive package, and Gehringer was probably the best all-around player. He hit for high average, ran the bases well, was a very good fielder (better than Hornsby and Morgan), and had a strong arm. The only flaw in Charlie's game was that he didn't hit the long ball. Gehringer was one of the few players who was "discovered" by Ty Cobb. When Cobb was player/manager of the Tigers in the 1920s, he was given a tip about Gehringer, who grew up just west of Detroit. After seeing young Charlie play, Cobb insisted that the Tigers sign him to a minor league deal. Two years later he was in the Detroit lineup with Cobb. Gehringer once told the story of how Cobb urged him to buy stock in General Motors and Coca-Cola. "But none of us had any money," Gehringer said, "so we couldn't follow his advice."
#64. Robin Yount
SS 1974-1993 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
#65. Fergie Jenkins
SP 1965-1983 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#66. Derek Jeter
SS 1995-2014 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#67. Mike Mussina
SP 1991-2008 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
#68. Ozzie Smith
SS 1978-1996 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#69. Ichiro Suzuki
RF 2001-2017 Primary Team: Seattle Mariners
#70. Ernie Banks
SS 1953-1971 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#71. Tom Glavine
SP 1987-2008 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#72. Chase Utley
2B 2003-2017 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Why is Chase Utley underrated? Or is it better to ask why he's so underappreciated? Because even people who acknowledge he's been a fine second baseman, aren't aware that he rates among the best second basemen of all-time. That he deserves to rate higher than several Hall of Famers. Utley has had a better career than Frankie Frisch and Ryne Sandberg. Better than Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio and Billy Herman, all great players. He ranks ahead of the two non-Hall of Fame second basemen who get the most support for induction: Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker. But how is that possible when he's likely to conclude his career with fewer than 2,000 hits, less than 1,200 runs scored or RBIs? When Utley has a career batting average below .280? The answer lies in the fact that Utley is a near perfect baseball player. He's not the offensive machine that Rogers Hornsby was. He's not the defensive wizard that Alomar was. He's not a stolen base merchant like Eddie Collins. He's not a pure home run hitter like Jeff Kent. He wasn't as durable as Charlie Gehringer or play or draw as many walks as Joe Morgan. But he was excellent at everything --- and we mean everything. Combine that with his two greatest strengths and you have one of the ten greatest second baseman in the history of baseball.
Let's start with his excellence. Utley is one of the best baserunners in baseball history. At his peak he was taking the extra base as much as anyone ever has, close to 70 percent of the time (going from-first-to-third on a single, first-to-home on a double, or second-to-home on a single). His stolen base percentage is the highest in history, and once over a four year stretch he was successful on 61 of 64 attempts. Utley rarely made a mental mistake in the field, he made two throwing errors in one four-year stretch and led the NL in chances per game by second basemen six times. Utley only once topped 200 hits, but he got on base a helluva lot. He averaged 265 times on base per season for his career entering 2018. But he did some of that under the normal radar: walking or getting hit by a pitch 100 times per season. There are still many folks who think a man gets on base via the hit. Utley has been hit by a pitch more than 200 times. Utley is also an excellent bunter and was one of the most aggressive baserunners of his era. Again, you name it, Utley is really, really good at it.
Now for his greatest strengths: first, Utley is one of the best second basemen at converting groundballs into outs and he's excellent at turning the double play. His defensive skill in the middle of the infield was a great assistance to the pitchers on his teams. Second, Utley was one of the five best power hitters to ever play second. In four consecutive seasons he had at least 70 extra-base hits, and his career slugging percentage, the rate stat that is perhaps the most indicative of a great hitter, is topped by only Hornsby, Kent, Robinson Cano, Gehringer, and Jackie Robinson.
Utley's 5-year peak, according to WAR, ranks sixth all-time for second basemen, and his top three seasons also rank sixth. His top seven seasons rank ninth. But he also played more than 1,800 games and topped more than 65 WAR for his career (and was still adding to that total at the age of 39 in 2018). The peak separates him from Whitaker, Frisch, Sandberg, and Grich, players who all racked up more value for their careers. Utley's career total pushes him past Joe Gordon, who had a shorter career, and even when we adjust Gordon's numbers for the time he missed during WWII, Utley remains slightly ahead of Flash.
The top twenty second basemen are packed into four groups: there are the elite (Hornsby, Collins, and Morgan); then comes a small second group of Robinson, Carew, and Gehringer; followed by a large group of nine players that includes Gordon, Cano, Grich, Frisch, Sandberg, Lajoie, Alomar, and Whitaker. Utley is atop that list, which are tightly grouped together by value. Then there's a group of five (Biggio, Randolph, Herman, Kinsler, and Pedroia) that fills out the top twenty. Everyone in that final group has something, a flaw or possibly two, in their game.
#73. Eddie Plank
SP 1901-1917 Primary Team: Philadelphia Athletics
#74. Joe Gordon
2B 1938-1950 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Joe Gordon was the greatest defensive second baseman in the history of the game, according to the most sophisticated statistical tools we have at our disposal. In addition, witnesses who saw him play were equally impressed.
It's amazing that Gordon wasn't inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2009, 58 years after his last game and 31 years after his death. He received MVP votes in eight of his 11 seasons, was an All-Star nine times, retired as the all-time homer leader at his position, and during his career he was universally acclaimed as the best defender at second. He missed two prime seasons due to service in World War II. When he was finally honored in Cooperstown in 2009, his daughter said, "He insisted against having a funeral, and as such, we consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as his final resting place to be honored forever."
#75. Gary Carter
C 1974-1992 Primary Team: Montreal Expos
Carter was drafted as a shortstop by the Expos, and of the great catchers, only he and Piazza learned how to play the position in the minor leagues. He was a fantastic athlete (he was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at USC) and worked hard to become a Gold Glove catcher. From 1981 to 1984, Montreal had three Hall of Famers in their prime (Carter, Andre Dawson, and Tim Raines), yet they had a .516 winning percentage and never finished in first place for a full season. They performed 10 games under their pythagorean projection over that four-year span. There was something lacking, and then Carter split for New York and won a title.
#76. Luke Appling
SS 1930-1950 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
#77. Frank Thomas
1B 1990-2008 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
Among the great first baseman, Thomas was not the worst in the field: Willie McCovey and Dick Allen were pretty bad, but Frank was a liability. His bat obviously offset that problem, we have him ranked offensively as the second most valuable career behind Lou Gehrig. The trouble? Big Hurt played 1,300 games as a designated hitter and only the equivalent of 800 or so games in the field. Regardless, Thomas was a monster with a bat in his hand, especially in his prime. In his first eight seasons he went 330/452/600 and won his two MVPs. Probably could have won the award when he was 23 in 1991, and in 1997 when he had his best season. Thomas won the MVP in his fourth and fifth best seasons, but not in any of his three greatest seasons. It's unlikely that has happened to any other player.
#78. Paul Molitor
3B 1978-1998 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Molitor injured nearly every part of his body early in his career: his ribs, both ankles, his right wrist, his right elbow, his groin, both hamstrings, a few fingers, and his right shoulder. He missed nearly an entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. By the time he was 33, Molitor couldn't throw the ball far enough to play in the field, but his bat was always a threat so he settled in as a designated hitter, becoming one of the best ever. After the age of 33, Molitor hit .316 with three 200-hit seasons and nearly 1,500 hits. He hit .341 at the age of 39 when he returned to his hometown Twins and set a career-best with 225 hits. His swing was compared to Joe DiMaggio's and in 1987 "Molly" set aim at Joltin' Joe when he hit in 39 straight games, coming closer to DiMaggio's record than anyone other than Pete Rose.
#79. Robinson Cano
2B 2005-2017 Primary Team: New York Yankees
In 2018, Cano was caught cheating, having failed a drug test prior to the season and then failing another in May for a substance that is used to mask PEDs. This (unsurprising) revelation will almost certainly keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as one more superstar who tried to beat the drug policy. It's worse when a player is caught after so many high-profile players were caught and damaged the reputation of the game before them. Cano already had a smudge on his character for being lazy throughout his career. Cano never seemed like he cared so much for the game as he did getting paid. Strangely, Cano was finally caught after having signed a ten-year $200 million-plus contract with Seattle. He already had the money, so why did he continue to feel the need to take banned substances? Maybe that was the only way he could compete at the professional level anymore.
Cano's 80-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy forced us to treat him like every other player who has been caught cheating. We marked him down about 15 percent, which dropped Cano from #9 to #19 as of the 2017 stats. Pedroia and Zobrist will quickly pass him, relegating Cano to the afterthought section of second basemen who rate outside the greats at the position.
Twice as a prospect in the minor leagues, the Yankees offered Robinson Cano as trade bait to acquire veteran players. Each time the other team rejected Cano and picked another player from the Yankee organization. Cano, who was named for Jackie Robinson, emerged as one of the best second basemen in baseball after being called to the majors in the middle of the 2005 season. He impressed immediately, finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He has a sweet left-handed swing that some have compared to the swing of Hall of Famer Rod Carew.
#80. Scott Rolen
3B 1996-2012 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#81. Bobby Grich
2B 1970-1986 Primary Team: California Angels
Bobby Doerr wasn't elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame until he was an old man. Joe Gordon was long dead when he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. Lou Whitaker will probably never get his honor in Cooperstown even though his double play partner, who was almost exactly as valuable as he was during their careers, was elected. The Veterans Committee should do their homework and award Bobby Grich for a great career by putting his name where it belongs: among the greatest second basemen in history as a Hall of Famer. Do it while he's alive, it'll make for a better speech.
#82. Alan Trammell
SS 1977-1996 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#83. Graig Nettles
3B 1967-1988 Primary Team: New York Yankees
#84. Nolan Ryan
SP 1966-1993 Primary Team: California Angels
#85. Gaylord Perry
SP 1962-1983 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
#86. Frankie Frisch
2B 1919-1937 Primary Team: New York Giants
Frisch is one of the most important people in the history of baseball who is virtually unknown to most modern fans. In college he was one of the most famous athletes in the country, starring in four sports at Fordham University: basketball, track, football, and baseball. When he signed with John McGraw's New York Giants at the age of 20 it was a huge story, sort of like a blue chip quarterback getting drafted today. He immediately made an impact, finishing third in stolen bases as a rookie and sparking the offense for the G-Men. Within a year, McGraw made Frisch team captain, and he essentially served as a manager on the field the remainder of his career. Just about everything he did on the field was flashy and made headlines. When he was traded to the Cardinals it was for Rogers Hornsby, the greatest second baseman of all-time. Frisch received MVP votes in nine of 12 seasons from 1924-1935. He won the award in 1931 for St. Louis.
In 1933 he became player/manager of the Cardinals, whom he guided to a World Championship the following season. He was the second baseman for the National League in the first three All-Star games and he was among the highest paid players in the league for much of his career.
Like Eddie Collins, Frisch was at his best in the postseason. He was a key player in eight World Series. In the 1922 Series against the Yankees he batted .471 with eight hits in five games. The next fall he punished Yankee pitching again to the tune of .400 (10-for-25) in six games.
Following his retirement as a player at the age of 38, Frisch managed for over a decade. He never had the same success as strictly a manager, but he still had a .514 winning percentage for his career. In 1947 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. As a Hall of Famer he was hugely influential in the voting process of the veterans committee for years. Frisch outlived most of his enemies, and as the years passed he slipped several of his former teammates into the Hall of Fame. The list of Frisch inductees includes Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, George Kelly, Rube Marquard, Ross Youngs, and Jim Bottomley. These inductees are among the very worst in Cooperstown, and Frisch should be blamed for them, but he still deserves to be remembered as a brilliant second baseman, a World Champion player/manager, and an historic figure in the game.
#87. Carlos Beltran
CF 1998-2017 Primary Team: New York Mets
If we psychoanalyze the outfielders, the left fielders are the troublemakers, or the children lashing out to get attention, often socially dysfunctional and/or boastful. The right fielders are the big brothers, the caretakers, the guys you depend on. The center fielders are the immensely talented but complicated ones, perhaps too sensitive and prideful.
The archetypes of these admittedly simplified descriptions are Manny Ramirez, Mike Trout, and Vlad Guerrero. To list three modern ballplayers. Or Joe Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, and Al Kaline. Or Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, and Frank Robinson.
These are generalizations, of course. Cobb was a troublemaker too. Goose Goslin and Billy Williams were more like right fielders in this scenario. Reggie Jackson was a right fielder with the left fielder's cockiness and the center fielder's sensitivity. The Babe Ruth personality fits in at both corner spots. Left fielder Stan Musial was a right fielder type, Kenny Lofton was like a left fielder. But if you look at the 5-10 greatest players at each outfield position, the stereotype outlined here is fairly accurate.
Let's look at the top dozen center fielders: Willie Mays was prickly; Mickey Mantle was unable to communicate and buried himself in the bottle; Cobb was extremely anti-social and sensitive, which led to an eruptive temper; Speaker was a lot like Mays; DiMaggio was complicated and prideful, he worried very much about what others thought; Junior Griffey is hard to pin down in the three outfield personas; Duke Snider was petty; as a young player Trout is very intense and driven, a bit like Cobb but without the baggage; Andruw Jones bucks the CF type and was more like a right fielder; Loften I mentioned, was like a left fielder, in the mold of Rickey Henderson; Richie Ashburn doesn't fit the center field type.
Like Ashburn, Beltran doesn't fit the simple definition of a center fielder type. He was a great teammate, a strong leader, and immensely talented. He'll probably be a manager or a long-time coach. He wasn't overly prideful and he wasn't sensitive. He was more like Stan Musial, who was closest to a right fielder personality type.
#88. Miguel Cabrera
1B 2003-2017 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
There's a big gap between Cabrera and those in front of him on the all-time list, but if Miggy can add three decent seasons (after his injury-marred '17 campaign) he can close that divide and inch his way up the rankings... Will likely end up spending his last few seasons as a DH because his lower back, hips, and legs are starting to betray him... Cabrera's OPS against RHP (.937) is the sixth-highest in baseball history by a righthanded batter. He trails Mike Trout, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, and Albert Pujols. His career batting average against RHP (.317), is the second-highest by a RH hitter in history, trailing only Roberto Clemente.
#89. Larry Walker
RF 1989-2005 Primary Team: Montreal Expos
#90. Jim Thome
1B 1991-2012 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
Four first basemen in this portion of the rankings match up well as "time twins." Sisler is a good match for Hernandez: both were excellent defensive players who made contact and won batting titles. Thome pairs well with Killebrew: both were tremendously powerful sluggers known for hitting high, towering home runs. Both Killer and Thome were also immensely likable lunch pail "Everyday Joe" type of guys. Thome will end up in the Hall of Fame once he's eligible, joining Sisler and Killebrew. But Hernandez has never received much support because his strengths were mismatched with his era when first basemen were mostly big home run hitters.
#91. Ryne Sandberg
2B 1981-1997 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Who had the more valuable career, Ryne Sandberg or Lou Whitaker? Each was an All-Star many times while winning Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, but they never faced each other because they were in opposite leagues. Sandberg did more eye-popping things: he won an MVP Award, he hit 40 homers, he stole as many as 54 bases. He also won nine straight Gold Gloves. Whitaker never had a monster season like Ryno, but he had several seasons (nine to be exact) where he posted an OPS+ of at least 120 and he had an amazing ten seasons of 4 or more WAR (Sandberg had seven). Whitaker led his league in games played, and that's it. He did win the Rookie of the Year Award and he collected 206 hits and batted .320 one season. But mostly, Whitaker plugged along hitting .275 or so with 165 hits, 80 walks, and 15-20 homers per season. Sandberg produced eight more extra-base hits and swiped 16 more bases per season. Whitaker walked 24 more times per year, hence the advantage each shared in slugging percentage and on-base percentage, respectively. When we adjust for ballpark effect, Whitaker comes out ahead: 116 OPS+ to 114 for Sandberg. That's an indication of how much Wrigley Field helped Sandberg's numbers, which they certainly did. In their road games, Whitaker was the better hitter: .762 OPS to Sandberg's .738. There are those stolen bases, though, about 200 more for Ryno than Sweet Lou. But Whitaker accumulated his stats over 700 more plate appearances, so he has that. In the end, the formula rates Sandberg ahead of Whitaker just barely, because of his greater peak value.
#92. Barry Larkin
SS 1986-2004 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
#93. Nap Lajoie
2B 1896-1916 Primary Team: Cleveland Naps
Lajoie had a way of gliding toward the ball, like Cal Ripken Jr. did. He was a tall man but graceful, with a strong arm. He had some peculiar habits in the field: he liked to take his glove with him to the dugout between innings, shunning the practice at the time of tossing the glove into short right field between innings; and he liked to use a new glove each summer, breaking it in by coating it with oil and twisting and bending the leather until it was soft and pliable; he also removed the wrist strap so he could keep the glove low on his wrist, giving him more reach. It worked for him: he led his league in fielding several times.
Lajoie's career nearly ended when he was 30 years old in 1905 after a terrible spiking incident. An opposing runner slashed his leg at second base and the resulting wound became severely infected. Doctors discussed the possibility of amputating Lajoie's leg, but the infection cleared up although Nap missed the remainder of the season after June. He led the league in hits and doubles the following season and had 1,700 more hits after the injury.
As far as I can tell, only three players have had teams named after them: Cleveland became the Indians because of Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian; Brooklyn adopted "Robins" because of manager Wilbert Robinson; and Cleveland was dubbed the "Naps" for their second base star.
#94. Minnie Minoso
LF 1949-1980 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
#95. Mike Trout
CF 2011-2017 Primary Team: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
#96. Andruw Jones
CF 1996-2012 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
#97. Roberto Alomar
2B 1988-2004 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Through 2015, only 58 times in baseball history has a second baseman played at least 130 games in a season where he was older than 34. Nearly all of those seasons were mediocre or terrible. Only Tom Daly, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby (one season), Charlie Gehringer, Joe Morgan, Lou Whitaker, Jeff Kent, and Chase Utley (two seasons) defied father time by having good seasons after their 34th birthday. Alomar had a .698 OPS after the age of 34, which is pretty typical for a middle infielder, if they are still in the game at all.
#98. Lou Whitaker
2B 1977-1995 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Of those who only played second base, who never switched to another position to extend their career, Lou Whitaker played the longest. He was 38 when he retired and he was still a fine ballplayer. He had the best final three seasons of any second baseman in history, though of course by that time he was essentially a platoon player. Nevertheless, when he retired he was doing everything he was good at: covering ground at second, drawing walks, hitting for power, and driving in runs.
Whitaker was never that much interested in being a designated hitter, and his personality didn't fit that role (he became distracted quite easily), which is too bad, because he could have been a valuable platoon player for a couple more seasons and padded his career stats a bit. But, he'd made his money and he went home rather than play for someone other than Detroit.
Early in his career, Whitaker was one of the fastest players in the league, but he ran funny. As a kid he'd been pigeon-toed, and he still carried that with him onto the diamond: he had a tip-toe gate to his stride that made it seem like he wasn't running as fast as he was. A longtime teammate of Whitaker's told me that he never saw Sweet Lou work much on base stealing, and that he refused to get signs or send signs to teammates on the bases. Whitaker was talented but didn't care much about working on the details of the game. That's the biggest difference between he and his double play partner, Alan Trammell. But in spite of not having much use for honing his skills, Whitaker was a great player. His raw talent was that good.
#99. Jim Palmer
SP 1965-1984 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
#100. Lou Boudreau
SS 1938-1952 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians