Here’s a list for the baseball history fans: we pick the greatest ballplayers born each year since 1861.
Pete Browning, 1861
There are two lasting legacies from the 19th century career of outfielder Pete Browning. Born in Kentucky, Browning was dubbed “The Louisville Slugger.” When two friends in that state decided to start their own baseball bat company, they used “Louisville Slugger” as the name, and Browning was their first company.
In 1891, Browning broke his contract and signed a deal with Pittsburgh. It was the team’s decision to “steal” Browning that led to the name “Pirates” for that franchise.
Dummy Hoy, 1862
Yeah so, we would never let anyone get away with calling a deaf mute “Dummy” today, but it was common in the 19th century. Hoy lost his hearing after a bout of meningitis when he was three years old. He was always the fastest kid around, and his athleticism brought him to professional baseball, where he briefly held the record for most stolen bases. He is sometimes credited with promoting the use of hand signals by umpires, but that’s probably not completely accurate.
Jimmy Ryan, 1863
In the 1800s, train accidents were a n unfortunate fact of transportation. While rails and cars were seen as a new-fangled method for getting people and products around the country, it was also dangerous. In 1893, when he was with the Chicago Colts (later renamed Cubs), Ryan was on a train with his teammates when a sleeper car derailed in Ohio and collided with an oncoming freight car. Ryan was severely injured, with almost all of the bones in both of his legs broken. He missed nearly a year but made a miraculous recovery and batted .357 in 1892. He retired in 1903 having played more games than any outfielder in professional baseball history.
Bob Caruthers, 1864
For most of the 1880s, there was only one real major league: the National League. If you had Bob Caruthers on your pitching staff, you were probably going to win. “Parisian Bob” was the ace of five pennant-winning teams, logging 298 complete games among his 310 career starts, including 24 shutouts.
Bobby Lowe, 1865
Lowe was the first player in Major League history to hit four home runs in a game, which he accomplished in May of 1894 thanks to a very favorable ballpark. The Boston Beaneaters, as they were known then, played home games in a few different parks, one of which was Congress Street Grounds, a tiny little spot in Boston. The left field fence was apparently only 265 feet away, which helped Bobby pull four balls into the stands on May 30, 1894. That spot, where Congress Street’s left field wall had been, served as a shooting location in the 2006 film “The Departed,” in the scene where Martin Sheen’s character is pushed to his death from a window.
Sliding Billy Hamilton, 1866
The original Billy Hamilton was a daring ballplayer with a tremendous ego. He stole 100 bases in a season four times, and still holds the major league record for runs scored in a season with 198.
Ed Delahanty, 1867
Early in the morning hours of July 2, 1903, Ed Delahanty was asked to get off a train that was on tracks near the Niagara River. He was drunk, and he’d been acting erratic on the train, which is why the conductor ordered him to exit. It was dark and Delahanty was last seen walking on the rail bridge that went across the rapids of the Niagara. He had reportedly gotten into a physical altercation with the watchman.
Delahanty’s mangled, naked body was found at the bottom of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side seven days after he was last seen on the tracks. He was 35 years old and left behind a wife and a daughter. His death was ruled an accident, though some speculated that he had jumped into the water. His death was front page news in two countries because he was one of baseball’s most famous players.
At the time of his tragic demise, Delahanty was the defending American League batting champion. He was batting .333 for the 1903 season, and his career mark was a lofty .346, which at the time was the highest in baseball history. He wasn’t just a great player, he was a superstar. His death shook the sport.
Others of note born in 1867: Cy Young
Jesse Burkett, 1868
Played his first major league game in 1890, but Burkett still holds the record for the most inside-the-park home runs in MLB history, with 55. Back then, some parks didn’t even have outfield fences, so every home run was “inside the park.”
Like Delahanty and Hamilton, Burkett is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Kid Nichols, 1869
Baseball fans know Cy Young because of the award, but you could argue that Nichols was the best pitcher who debuted before 1900. In an era when most teams used a two-man rotation, Nichols was a rugged workhorse, despite being a little on the small side. He recorded a major league record seven 30-win seasons, and won 362 games in all.
Bad Bill Dahlen, 1870
How great a nickname is “Bad Bill”? He got it for the wrong reasons: Dahlen had a ferocious temper. You know all those fights and controversies that Billy Martin got into? Bad Bill Dahlen did all of that first. One year he punched a loudmouth heckler in the middle of a game. Another time, on an afternoon when an umpire was making a lot of calls that went against his team, Dahlen hit a single. On the ensuing play, instead of sliding into second base, Dahlen slid into the umpire several feet away. That incident earned him a fine.
Iron Joe McGinnity, 1871
Another one of the great baseball nicknames. McGinnity was a wonder: he frequently started both ends of a doubleheader on the mound. He holds two records that were never be broken: complete games (48) and innings pitched (434) in a single season.
His nickname actually came from his off-season job: Joe was a foundry worker in an iron works in Illinois. He was an underhand or sidearm pitcher, and his fastball was terrifying because it rose as it approached the batter.
“It was difficult for a batter to get [McGinnity’s] measure,” said longtime manager Connie Mack. “Sometimes his fingers would almost scrape the ground as he hurled the ball. He knew all the tricks for putting a batter on the spot.”
Wee Willie Keeler, 1872
Simplicity can pay off, and Keeler believed in keeping his job simple. He famously explained his hitting philosophy as “Hit ’em where they ain’t.” Keeler was probably the best bunter in baseball in the late 1800s.
Harry Davis, 1873
Largely forgotten today, but Davis was a premier power hitter in the first decade of the 20th century. The Philadelphia native is one of only five players to lead their league in home runs in four consecutive seasons.
Honus Wagner, 1874
Wagner was a freak, one of those athletes who seemed genetically a generation ahead of his time. Like Wilt Chamberlain and Jim Brown, Joe Louis and Gordie Howe, and of course Babe Ruth a decade or so later, Wagner was just better than everyone else. He could throw harder, run faster, hit the ball farther than anyone else. The game came easy to him, and he could outthink the other players on the diamond too. John McGraw said that no shortstop he ever saw could go as deep in the hole to get the ball like Honus. His fielding statistics are strange because we look at them through the lens of modern times, but remember he was playing with basically an oven mitt on his left hand on fields littered with rocks. In comparison to his league, Wagner’s statistics are more impressive than anyone other than the Bambino.
Eddie Plank, 1875
Plank was a professional fidgeter. He was famous for his tedious mannerisms on the mound. A thin southpaw from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with a long, pointy nose, Plank liked to examine the baseball between pitches, tug at the bill of his cap, and hitch at his pants. In an era when games frequently took only 90 minutes to play, “Gettysburg Eddie” would add 10-15 minutes to the contest with his mound habits. But the stalling wasn’t for lack of courage: Plank was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the first decade of the twentieth century. He won 20 games eight times and led the league in shutouts twice, once throwing eight in one season.
Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1876
Named for the U.S. President at the time of his birth, Alexander went by a slew of names in his incredible life. His close family called Grovey, but his boyhood friends called him Dode. When he entered professional baseball he was handed the name “Pete” because he reminded people of a character in an silent western movie by that name. As he aged, he became “Ol’ Pete” with teammates or “Alexander The Great” in the newspapers.
Alexander suffered from epilepsy and he compounded that health issue with alcoholism. He was portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the film about his life, which was called “The Winning Team.”
Tommy Leach, 1877
Leach hit four triples for Pittsburgh in the first modern World Series in 1903. How long ago was that? At that time it was called the “World’s Series,” and the city was actually spelled “Pittburg” without the H.
Jimmy Sheckard, 1878
After all these years, more than 140 years after his birth, Sheckard is one of the greatest outfielders to ever wear the Cubs uniform. Jimmy was the leadoff man for the great Chicago teams that won pennants in 1906, 1907, 1908, and again in 1910. He walked 147 times in 1911–the major league record until broken by Babe Ruth in 1920.
Roger Bresnahan, 1879
John McGraw loved versatile players, and Bresnahan was one of his favorite toys: swift enough to play the outfield and strong-armed and smart enough to play behind the plate. By 1905 he was catching the stellar pitching staff of the Giants, and in the World Series that fall he caught every pitch of the 44 innings tossed by aces Christy Mathewson and Iron Joe McGinnity.
Bresnahan was a fierce competitor, and he was the first backstop to appear in as many as 130 games. For those reasons, and his famous versatility for a popular team, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Christy Mathewson, 1880
Bresnahan’s batterymate in the 1905 World Series, Matthewson was the most famous pitcher of the pre-1920 era. He was handsome, intelligent, and a majestic athlete. His life was shortened after he inhaled poison gas in the First World War in Europe.
Others born that year: Wahoo Sam Crawford
Johnny Evers, 1881
Despite his size, Evers was a good athlete and an even smarter ballplayer. Evers had a baseball lineage: his father and several uncles were ballplayers in the 19th century. He was quick and had an accurate throwing arm, which was strong enough for shortstop, which is where he played his first big league game. Three days later, 20-year old Evers played second and 21-year old Joe Tinker played short together for the first time. They learned to play as rookies for the Cubs. They eventually came to anticipate where the other man would be, how hard he would toss a relay throw, what his footwork was like. They played 11 seasons together, though they were unfriendly with each other off the field. They were catalysts on four pennant-winning Chicago teams, including the 1906 squad that won 116 games.
Others born in 1881: Ed Walsh
Wildfire Schulte, 1882
Yet another great Cubs player from the early 20th century, Schulte was a fast outfielder who also had good power. In 1911 when he won the first modern MVP Award, Schulte become the first of only four players in history to join the 20–20–20–20 club (30 doubles, 21 triples, and 21 home runs, and stealing 23 bases).
Others born in 1882: Babe Adams
Hal Chase, 1883
“Prince Hal” was reportedly the best defensive first baseman of his time, known for charging bunts (sometimes even on the third base side of the mound) and having a strong arm. But he was banned from organized baseball when it was ruled he has accepted bribes to fix games. Otherwise, Chase would probably have a plaque in Cooperstown.
Others born in 1883: Jack Quinn
Sherry Magee, 1884
Few people remember Magee (pronounced Mu-Gee), but he was a superstar. Magee could hit, hit for power, run, and throw. He was a quality player when he debuted at the age of 19, and Magee was still playing well in his 30s after leaving the Phillies for other National league teams.
Other notables born in 1884: Jake Daubert, Eddie Cicotte, Chief Bender
Ed Konetchy, 1885
Art Fletcher may have been a more valuable player, so you could pick him here if you wanted. The well-respected Konetchy was one of the best defensive first basemen in the National League during the deadball era. His career was basically split between seven years with the Cardinals and three years each with the Braves and Dodgers. Because those teams were terrible at that time, Konetchy was often the subject of trade rumors. He briefly jumped to the rival Federal League to cash in, but came back to play out his career that ended in 1921 with more than 2,100 hits and 182 triples, the latter of which still rates in the top 15 in baseball history.
Others born in 1885: Art Fletcher
Ty Cobb, 1886
His career batting mark of .367 (not .366 as is erroneously reported by many sources) is still a record almost a century after Cobb played his final game.
Some folks make the mistake of thinking Cobb was a speedy singles hitter, because of his nearly 900 stolen bases and less than 150 home runs. But in his era, Ty was one of the best sluggers, finishing in the top ten in slugging, total bases, extra-base hits, and home runs, many, many times.
In 1925, fed up with hearing about the home run exploits of Babe Ruth, Cobb told reporters he would “try for home runs for the first time in my career” during a series in St. Louis. In two consecutive games, Cobb hit five home runs and a double and drove in 11 runs. He then went back to hitting for average.
Other notable baseball player born in 1886: Home Run Baker, Rube Marquard
Walter Johnson, 1887
“From the first time I held a ball, it settled in the palm of my right hand as though it belonged there and, when I threw it, ball, hand and wrist, and arm and shoulder and back seemed to all work together.” — Walter Johnson
Johnson’s statistical record is so overwhelming, that even more than 100 years after his debut, he can legit be considered in the conversation as the best pitcher ever. Others came along who threw as hard or harder. But Johnson was the first to throw as hard as he did frequently. Others had great control and mastery of all their pitches, but until Johnson, no pitcher who made batters afraid with his speed also had such great off-speed pitches.
Also born in 1887: Eddie Collins
Tris Speaker, 1888
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. Which is to say he caught more balls and made more great plays than any outfielder ever did.
“Spoke” 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. He also made far fewer errors than outfielders of his era, and he could go back to catch a flyball as well as anyone.
Others born in 1888: Zack Wheat, Red Faber
Stan Coveleskie, 1889
Coveleskie was the best pitcher in the Tri-State League with Lancaster immediately. Having practiced as a youngster by throwing rocks at tin cans, the task of putting a baseball inside a strike zone 17 inches wide seemed much easier. Throwing with a dead ball, Coveleskie kept the ball low and didn’t mind if the batter made contact. He had last-second movement on his fastball, but his best pitch was the spitball, which he applied with an alum that he kept in his cheek.
Others born in 1889: Wally Schang, Heinie Groh
Sam Rice, 1890
Rice was at the center of one of the most controversial plays in history. In Game Three of the 1925 World Series, at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C., the Senators were leading the Pirates by one run. Rice was in right field when Earl Smith hit a deep fly over his head. Rice sped back and leapt for the ball, but tumbled into the stands and out of view. When he emerged the baseball was in his glove and Smith was ruled out. The Pirates cried over the call, but the umpires held firm and Washington won the game. For years, Rice was cryptic about the play. Frequently when asked if he caught the ball, he would say “The umpire said I did.” He wrote a letter and sealed it, with instructions to his family to release it only after his death. In 1974, after he died at the age of 84, Rice’s letter was opened. It read:
It was a cold and windy day; the right field bleachers were crowded with people in overcoats and wrapped in blankets, the ball was a line drive headed for the bleachers towards right center, I turned slightly to my right and had the ball in view all the way. Going at top speed and about 15 feet from [the] bleachers jumped as high as I could and back handed and the ball hit the center of pocket in glove (I had a death grip on it). I hit the ground above five feet from a barrier about four feet high in front of the bleachers with all my breaks on but couldn’t stop so I tried to jump it to land in the crowd but my feet hit the barrier about a foot from top and I toppled over on my stomach into first row of bleachers, I hit my Adams apple on something which sort of knocked me out for a few seconds but McNeely arrived about that time and grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me out. I remember trotting back toward the infield still carrying the ball for about halfway and then tossed it towards the pitcher’s mound. (How I have wished many times I had kept it).
At no time did I lose possession of the ball.Sam Rice.
Others born this year: Max Carey, Ken Williams, Urban Shocker
Dazzy Vance, 1891
Vance pitched with pain for more than a decade, bounced around professional baseball, never stuck anywhere very long. One night he was playing poker when he banged his right elbow on the top of the table. The pain felt different and he went to a doctor. The physician performed an operation on Vance’s elbow, most likely to remove bone chips. The random incident turned his career around.
That was 1920, Dazzy was 29 years old. The following year he pitched without pain for the first time and had a good season for New Orleans. The Dodgers bought his contract and in 1922 the 31-year old won 18 games and led the National League in strikeouts. He led the league in strikeouts the next year too, and the year after that. He led the NL in K’s for seven straight seasons, and in 1924 when he was 34, Dazzy won the MVP Award when he won 28 games and captured the pitching triple crown. He used an over-the-top fastball that appeared, some batters said, as if it came “from out of the sky.” He used a similar motion for his breaking pitch. Several years he nearly single-handedly kept the Dodgers in the pennant race. Vance pitched until he was 44 years old and won all of his 197 games after his 30th birthday. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955. His is one of the most peculiar careers in baseball history.
Other players born in 1891: Rabbit Maranville, Eppa Rixey
Ray Schalk, 1892
One of the clean players for the White Sox in the 1919 World Series. That is: Ray was playing to win. He was never a very tough out, but Schalk was a fantastic catcher, and worthy of his status as a Hall of Famer.
Cristóbal Torriente, 1893
There are still some people in Havana, and even in Tampa, who insist that Cristóbal Torriente was the best ballplayer there ever was. Those folks never saw him play, but the legend of Torriente, whom fans called “Carlos,” and opposing pitchers cursed for his power and handy use of a bat, has been passed down from generation to generation. On the island of Cuba, Torriente, who died more than eight decades ago, is remembered by that baseball-mad nation as “The Babe Ruth of Cuba.”
How great was “Carlos” Torriente? A few years into his tenure in the negro leagues in America, an opposing manager reportedly said of him: “If I see Torriente walking up the other side of the street, I would say, ‘There walks a ballclub.’ ”
In parts of ten seasons in the negro leagues, Torriente was a superstar. He batted .340, a mark that ranks eighth all-time in negro league history. His on-base percentage of .427 is fifth all-time in the history of those leagues. Among all players in major league history, now that the negro leagues are included in that status, Torriente rates 16th in on-base percentage.
Others born this year: Bullet Joe Rogan, George Sisler, Edd Roush, Burleigh Grimes
Harry Heilmann, 1894
Deserves to be remembered more. Heilmann won four batting titles in the 1920s, flirting with .400 each time, and topping that magic figure once. He remains one of the best right-handed batters the game has ever known.
Late in the evening on July 25, 1916, Heilmann was driving when he witnessed an automobile back off a dock and fall into the Detroit River. Heilmann jumped from his car and into the river, saving the lives of three of the five passengers. Sadly, a young woman and her daughter drowned. We can’t be sure if Harry was thinking of his brother Walter when he went into the Detroit River to save those strangers, but it’s likely that the tragic loss of his sibling was on his mind. The next afternoon at Navin Field, Heilmann received a standing ovation as he took his position in the outfield.
Babe Ruth, 1895
The Babe was not only larger than life, he seemed to be larger than death. At his funeral on a searing August day in 1948, former teammates Joe Dugan and Hoyt suffered in the humidity, clawing at their neckties. “I sure could go for a cold beer,” Hoyt said. “So could the Babe,” Dugan replied.
Rogers Hornsby, 1896
Hornsby batted .382 in the 1920s, and from 1921 to 1925, “The Rajah” batted an amazing .402, averaging 41 doubles, 13 triples, and 29 home runs per season. He was not a slap-hitting .300 hitter. All of that damage came in the National League, where Hornsby won two Most Valuable Player awards and seven batting titles in the Roaring Twenties. He led two different teams to the pennant as a player-manager, the only man to do that.
Others born in 1896: Oscar Charleston
Frank Frisch, 1897
Was traded straight-up for Hornsby once, which tells you how highly regarded Frisch was.
Bill Terry, 1898
He was the first player whose relationship with the media negatively impacted his Hall of Fame chances. Terry frequently banned reporters from his office or refused to give interviews. The baseball writers pondered his name on 14 ballots before they elected Terry, 18 years after his last game as a player. When the phone call came to inform him of his election, Terry coldly told a reporter, “I have nothing to say.”
Others of note: Joe Sewell
Earle Combs, 1899
When Combs first came to the Yankees, manager Miller Huggins called him into his office. “I hear you’re pretty fast,” Huggins said. “Yep,” Combs replied, “they called me The Mail Carrier in Louisville.” “Well, they are going to call you The Waiter here,” Huggins said, “because we’ve got a couple guys named Ruth and [Bob] Meusel who hit the ball out of the park, and if you get on base, you just wait for them to knock you in.”
Others born in 1899: Judy Johnson, Waite Hoyt
Lefty Grove, 1900
If we constructed a list of the worst tempers in baseball history, Grove would be among the leaders. The stories of his temper were legend. Once after a bad day on the mound he destroyed every bat in the bat rack, leaving only a few that were lying in front of the dugout. Another time he popped every button on his jersey when he was pulled from a game by Connie Mack. There were countless arguments with teammates who had the misfortune of making an error behind Lefty.
Others born in 1900: Goose Goslin, Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Ted Lyons
Turkey Stearnes, 1901
The official record of baseball in the negro leagues is not as complete as that of the segregated white major leagues, unfortunately. But in the nearly 1,000 league games Norman “Turkey” Stearnes appeared in for which we have boxscores, he batted .349 with a slugging percentage over .600, both of which rate in the top ten all-time for major league baseball.
There are probably three men who have a serious claim to being the best hitter in the history of the negro leagues: Stearnes, Oscar Charleston, and Josh Gibson. Of those, Stearnes is the least-remembered, though all three are in the Hall of Fame.
Others born in 1901: Mule Suttles, Heinie Manush
Al Simmons, 1902
When he played with the Athletics, Simmons rented a room in a home that sat across the street from Shibe Park. According to journalist William Nack, Simmons was a late sleeper, and frequently a kid from the neighborhood would be dispatched to wake Al for batting practice. Groggy or not, Simmons was so good, he usually hit the hell out of the ball. He batted .356 in 12 seasons with Philadelphia, and .334 for his Hall of Fame career. He’s on the short list of greatest right-handed hitters in history, but rarely gets mentioned.
Also born in 1902: Earl Averill
Lou Gehrig, 1903
One of many great ballplayers born in 1903, Gehrig is clearly the greatest. He retired with more home runs and RBI than anyone other than his gregarious teammate, Babe Ruth, whom he called “George.”
Others born in 1903: Charlie Gehringer, Cool Papa Bell, Paul Waner, and Mickey Cochrane
Willie Wells, 1904
Probably the greatest shortstop in the history of the organized black professional leagues. He was a fantastic gloveman who could also hit for power.
Others born in 1904: Chuck Klein, Willie Foster
Martín Dihigo, 1905
A long-legged right-handed batter somewhat like Frank Robinson (but even larger), Dihigo won batting titles in Cuba, the U.S., and in Mexico. He won the home run title in all three countries too, and in 1938 he tossed the first no-hitter in the history of the Mexican League. That season, Dihigo went 18-2 for Aguila, batted .387, and was also their manager as they won the pennant.
“He was,” said Buck Leonard, “the best ballplayer of all time, black or white.”
Satchel Paige, 1906
While it’s difficult to separate reality from myth when it comes to Satchel Paige, it’s generally understood that the rail-thin right-hander was the best pitcher in the history of the negro leagues. At least the most prolific great pitcher. When he was 58 years old(!), Satch pitched brilliantly in a relief appearance for the A’s. He was still able to baffle batters with his knee-high fastball, gangly-limbed delivery, and hesitation offspeed pitches.
Jimmie Foxx, 1907
The man they called “Double-X” was very strong, probably the strongest man in baseball prior to the Second World War (outside of maybe Josh Gibson). Foxx once hit a home run over the roof and out of the original Comiskey Park. He hit a ball out of Shibe Park straight down the left line. He reportedly hit a ball deep into the upper deck(!) in left field at old Yankee Stadium.
Wes Ferrell, 1908
Maybe the worst sore loser in baseball history. Ferrell was known to destroy dugouts, clubhouses, and uniforms when things didn’t go his way. Several times in his career, Ferrell refused to leave the mound when his manager tried to remove him from the game. You’d need a word beyond intense to describe his attitude. One time, when he allowed six runs in less than two innings, Ferrell punched himself in the face repeatedly on the bench and banged his head into the water cooler before teammates halted his self-abuse.
Mel Ott, 1909
Vastly underrated power hitter for the New York Giants. Ott had a short stroke and used a high leg kick and an unusual batting stance to pull pitches down the line at mammoth Polo Grounds in New York. He retired as the most prolific home run hitter in National League history, a record he held for more than two decades until Willie Mays surpassed him.
Dizzy Dean, 1910
Probably the most fun ballplayer on this list.
“I was born with a weak mind, a strong back and a strong arm. I only went as far as the third grade and then I quit, because if I had went to the fourth I would have passed my father,” Dizzy said.
He’s the last NL pitcher to win 30 games, and at his peak he was possibly as good as Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver ever were.
Josh Gibson, 1911
It’s clear from the statistical record that Gibson is the greatest hitter in negro leagues history. He played 12 full seasons and led the league in homers 11 times. He won three batting titles. In nearly 600 games we have statistics for, Gibson had a slugging percentage over .700 and a .374 batting average. He wasn’t just a right-handed power hitter, he was the best right-handed hitter in the history of the black leagues.
Monte Irvin, who played with Willie Mays and against Henry Aaron, spent nine years in the negro leagues where he witnessed Gibson in his prime. Irvin said of Mays and Aaron, “They were tremendous players, but they were no Josh Gibson.”
Arky Vaughan, 1912
An underrated Hall of Fame shortstop, Vaughan was a left-handed batter somewhat like Tony Gwynn, hitting the ball the opposite way a lot. He was very patient, he led the league in walks three times, and his career walk-to-strikeout ratio was an impressive 3-to-1. Among players with at least 2,000 hits, that ranks third behind only Joe Sewell and Tris Speaker.
Johnny Mize, 1913
As a young first baseman with the Cardinals, Mize was an incredible hitter. He won a batting title, two home run titles, and led the NL in slugging three straight years. He was traded to the Giants for three players and $50,000 four days after Pearl Harbor was attacked. He missed a few years in the war, but came back to the States and hit more than 50 homers one year for the Giants. He was a tremendously powerful, but patient and skilled batter.
Joe DiMaggio, 1914
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 in the same season. 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.
Joe Gordon, 1915
Somehow, Gordon wasn’t elected to the Hall of Fame until 2009, 58 years after his last game and 31 years after his death. The second baseman received MVP votes in eight of his 11 seasons, was an All-Star nine times, retired as the all-time home run leader at his position(!), and during his career he was generally acclaimed as the best defender at second. He missed two prime seasons due to service in World War II or his numbers would have been better. Through his first five seasons, Gordon was a better player than Rogers Hornsby at the same juncture of his career, that’s how good he was.
Enos Slaughter, 1916
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 with a 302/388/447 slashline. Then he spent five years serving as a spare outfielder for the Yankees. When he was 42 he posted an OPS+ of 133 and had a .396 on-base percentage for the Yankees in 160 plate appearances. His home run won Game Three of the 1956 World Series against his nemesis, the Dodgers. He won two titles as a Yankee, to go along with the two he got in St. Louis.
Lou Boudreau, 1917
Boudreau may have had the most valuable season in history. In 1948 he was the best player in the American League: he hit .355 and got on base more than 45 percent of the time. He batted in the middle of the order and he hit for more power than ever, hitting a career-high 18 home runs. He walked 98 times and he struck out only nine times all season. Nine times? Nine times. He was also the best defensive shortstop in the league.
Did I mention he was also the manager of the team, at just 30 years of age?
In a special playoff for the pennant, Boudreau hit two home runs and had four hits to help Cleveland defeat the Red Sox for the flag. It was the Indians first pennant in 28 years. In the World Series victory over the Braves, Lou had four doubles. He remains the last player-manager to win a pennant or a World Series.
Ted Williams, 1918
There may have never been a smarter hitter than Ted Williams. Cobb was calculating, Ruth was a masher, and Hornsby was a machine. But Williams trained his intellect on the craft of hitting like no one ever had. When his epic book “The Science of Hitting” was published, it included a chart showing what Williams thought he would hit based on pitch location. He espoused a savvy theory on hitting and he never budged. He revolutionized the art of hitting by using a small, light bat, introducing the notion of bat speed to the broad masses. He steadfastly refused to swing at a bad pitch, he would not embarrass himself by flailing. He hit .327 and led the league in runs batted in when he was a 20-year old rookie. He batted .388 when he was 38 years old. He won his sixth batting title when he was 39. Williams was one of the five best hitters in the league in his last season when he was 41 years old.
Jackie Robinson, 1919
Robinson ran pigeon-toed with his chest out and his arms pumping away from his body. It was an unusual gait, but eyewitnesses insist that watching Robinson go from first to third was one of the joys of being a baseball fan. In Brooklyn, black fans would congregate in one section and when Robinson got on base, they would chant “Go Jackie Go!”, and if he successfully stole a base, they would taunt the opposing team with “Yes Jackie did!”
Stan Musial, 1920
Two amazing facts about Stan Musial: (1) as of 2022, more than 55 years after he played his final game, Musial still ranks second all-time in total bases, behind only Henry Aaron, and (2) Musial played 3,026 games, but he was never thrown out of a game in the big leagues
Warren Spahn, 1921
Spahn nearly missed his chance to win his first big league game. As a soldier in the Army’s 9th Armored Division in World War II, Spahn fought across Europe and at the Battle of the Bulge he took two bullets, one grazing his head. He lived through hell, missing three-plus years. The war understably had a lasting impact on him. A teammate would say of a still 20-something Spahn: “He was born old.”
Old was when Spahn was at his best: he didn’t win his first game until he was 25, won an incredible 255 games after his 30th birthday, and 75 games in his 40s. He won a total of 404 games in professional baseball and threw his last pitch for money when he was 46 years old.
Hoyt Wilhelm, 1922
Teams have no idea how to handle a knuckleball pitcher. The Indians released Hoyt Wilhelm in August of 1958 after the right-hander posted a 2.49 ERA in 24 relief appearances and six starts. He’s the only Hall of Famer ever released twice in the middle of his career. Orioles manager Paul Richards couldn’t believe his luck and quickly plucked Wilhelm off the waiver wire. After the embarrassment of being released twice, Wilhelm pitched in 670 games and had a 2.25 ERA on his way to more than 1,000 games and 228 saves. Wilhelm threw his last knuckleball in the major leagues when he was 49 years old.
Also born in 1922: Ralph Kiner
Larry Doby, 1923
He was a lot like Dale Murphy as a player, but an even better hitter. Doby was a good base stealer too, but the Indians under Al Lopez didn’t like to steal, in fact no one really liked to steal bases in the 1950s. 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. He deserved to win the MVP in 1952, but they always gave it to a Yankee as long as they were winning pennants.
Other great player born in 1923: Minnie Minoso
Gil Hodges, 1924
Now in the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he deserves to be.
Yogi Berra, 1925
“He seldom misses a trick. He knows exactly what his pitchers can throw, and when they’re not throwing what he expects, he reacts quickly. It’s sort of a sixth sense.” — Casey Stengel
Still probably the greatest catcher in Yankees history, and a unique player who always seemed to have things go his way.
Robin Roberts, 1926
The National League’s best pitcher between World War II and the 1960s, Roberts was tough, durable, and had impeccable control. He won 286 games, and 20 or more in six straight seasons. He’s the greatest pitcher in Phillies history.
Also born in 1926: Duke Snider
Richie Ashburn, 1927
Another great Phillies, and member of the 1950 Whiz Kids, like Robin Roberts. Ashburn was a pesky leadoff batter (no other position in the lineup can be called pesky), and he was probably the best defensive center fielder since Tris Speaker.
Others: Billy Pierce
Whitey Ford, 1928
“He was ‘The Chairman of the Board.’ He could do it all. He was a tremendous pitcher. He could hit and he could bunt. He was an excellent fielder and he had a great pickoff move.” — teammate Bobby Richardson
Elston Howard, 1929
Howard was a great athlete who starred in every sport in high school and was a standout in the Negro Leagues playing for Buck O’Neil. He was considered the perfect black player to break the Yankees color line because he was a “Yankee type,” meaning he was quiet, respectful, and not too flashy.
Dick Groat, 1930
Groat is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame, he was a guard for Duke, and he remains the only player in NCAA history to lead the nation in scoring and assists in the same season. Despite his talent on the hardcourt, he chose to pursue baseball because well, the NBA was not such a big thing in the early 1950s. Branch Rickey was president of the Pirates at that time and he made Groat a lucrative offer to join the team directly off the college campus. Groat played shortstop for Pittsburgh just three days after completing his course work in college, getting two hits in his first start. Minus two years when he was serving in the Korean War, Groat was at short for the Bucs for the next decade.
Willie Mays, 1931
The greatest living player (as of 2022), and arguably
Maury Wills, 1932
It took eight and a half seasons in the minor leagues before Maury Wills got a chance to show what he could do in the majors. His path was blocked by Pee Wee Reese, but Maury was ready for prime time in 1956 when he was 23 years old and in his sixth professional season. Give him those extra three seasons and maybe 450 hits and 120 stolen bases, and Wills is over 2,500 hits and 700 stolen bases. He won an MVP Award (deserved or not), single-handedly brought the speed game back to the game, and he played on three World Championship teams. Do those three extra years push Wills over the tipping point and into Cooperstown? Probably.
Rocky Colavito, 1933
Born in the Bronx, the muscular Colavito was Cleveland’s right fielder when he was 21 years old, hitting 21 homers as a rookie. It was the first of 11 straight years he hit at least 20 homers.
Also born in 1933: Norm Cash
Hank Aaron, 1934
This has to be the best year fir baseball babies: 1934 when three of the ten greatest right fielders in history entered the world.
As much as Aaron is still remembered, it’s possible The Hammer is underrated. He was far more than a simple home run hitter: Aaron won a batting title, he routinely had 200 hits, and early in his career he was a superb baserunner. He still ranks among the top five players to ever appear on a diamond. He was the last negro leaguer to still be active in the major leagues.
Others born in 1934: Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente
Frank Robinson, 1935
Another top ten right fielder. Robinson was the first black manager, and he was basically Hank Aaron Lite: he could do essentially everything Henry could do, but maybe 5% less. A truly fantastic baseball player and leader.
Also born this year: Bob Gibson
Harmon Killebrew, 1936
In high school in Idaho, Killebrew was a good basketball player, and he probably could have become an NFL linebacker if not for a knee injury. He reportedly hit .890 his senior season. The Senators made him a bonus baby, and within a few years “Killer” was scaring the hell out of pitchers in the American League.
Also born in 1936: Don Drysdale
Brooks Robinson, 1937
Came on to the big stage after his brilliant performance in the 1970 World Series, but Brooks Robinson was the best defensive third baseman in baseball the moment he took over at the hot corner for the Orioles in the late 1950s. Thing is: he’s the best third baseman to ever play the position.
Others born in 1937: Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda
Willie McCovey, 1938
“If you pitch to him,” Sparky Anderson said, “he’ll ruin baseball. He’d hit 80 home runs. There’s no comparison between McCovey and anybody else in the league.”
The years and the commonplace nature of home run hitters has obscured the greatness of McCovey, who was a fearsome slugger. He’s probably one of the five best left-handed sluggers in baseball history.
Also born in 1938: Billy Williams, Gaylord Perry, Tony Oliva
Carl Yastrzemski, 1939
Some guys rise to the occasion. In his 17 postseason games, the final 12 games of the 1967 pennant race, and the 1978 AL East playoff (the 30 most important games of his career), Yaz hit .430 (49-for-114) with 10 homers, 29 RBIs, and 31 runs scored.
Players also born to their mothers in 1939: Phil Niekro, Lou Brock
Ron Santo, 1940
Was Santo better than Brooks Robinson? He was at his peak, whether measured by three-year, five-year, or seven-year increments. Whereas Robinson derived 75% of his value from his defense, Santo was closer to a 50/50 player. His defense was excellent, but he could hit the ball out of the park too. Players like Robinson, who are clearly greater at one thing, are usually overrated a bit. While players blessed with many diverse skills tend to be underrated. Another example of this phenomenon would be the comparison between Ozzie Smith and Alan Trammell.
Also born in 1940: Willie Stargell, Luis Tiant
Pete Rose, 1941
Pete Rose had this thing he did during the game that irritated his teammates. Pete would face a right-handed pitcher, let’s say, batting left-handed, and after getting a hit he’d say, “This guy’s got nothing.” His teammates who were right-handed batters would tell Pete to switch to the right side next time to see what kind of stuff the pitcher had.
Dick Allen, 1942
From his rookie year through 1974, a span of 11 seasons, Allen ranked second in baseball in slugging to Henry Aaron. He ranked fifth in on-base percentage and second in OPS. Only six players scored more runs or drove in more runs than Allen, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame. He out-slugged ten future Hall of Famers who were his contemporaries, including Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, and Roberto Clemente.
Others born in 1942: Tony Perez, Fergie Jenkins, Bert Campaneris, Jim Wynn
Joe Morgan, 1943
Morgan was small, only about 5’7 and 160 pounds. Remember that runt, David Eckstein, how he looked so out of place at shortstop for the Angels in the early 2000s? Eckstein was ten pounds heavier than Little Joe. But small as he was, Morgan could do it all: run, hit, hit for power, catch the ball, all the things you want. We rate Little Joe as the greatest second baseman of all-time.
Also born in 1943: Tommy John
Tom Seaver, 1944
In 1969, Seaver was remarkable, he started 35 games and in 24 of them he allowed zero, one, or two runs. He won 25 games, threw five shutouts, and got better as the season drew to a close. Seaver went 7-0 after August 31st with seven complete games, three shutouts, a 0.71 ERA, and he did not allow a home run. He pitched ten innings in his Game Four victory in the World Series, helping the “miracle” become reality for the Mets.
That was an amazing season, and Seaver had like four of those years and three or four more not far off it.
Others born in 1944: Steve Carlton
Rod Carew, 1945
Won seven batting titles, including six in a seven-year span. Twice he was hitting .400 in July. He was the best bunter of his generation, but also one of the best baserunners. And there may have been no one born after World War II who could hit a baseball as perfectly as Carew.
Others born this year: Jim Palmer, Don Sutton
Reggie Jackson, 1946
Did anyone ever have more knack for drama than Reggie? In Game Six of the 1977 World Series in The Bronx, Jackson hit home runs in each of his last three at-bats, on three pitches. In that famous game, Reggie only saw three strikes and hit each of them over an outfield fence. Talk about drama.
A lot of people know that story, but there’s a postscript. Let’s fast forward six months to the next game the Yankees played at Yankee Stadium: Opening Day at The House That Ruth Built in April of 1978. Every fan who entered the stadium was given a REGGIE! bar, an oval confection of peanuts dipped in caramel and smothered with chocolate. In his first at-bat, Reggie came to the plate with runners on first and second. Facing knuckleballer Wilbur Wood, Jackson smacked a three-run homer, picking up where he left off the previous October. When he returned to his position in right field, fans threw hundreds of REGGIE! bars onto the field.
Others: Bobby Bonds
Johnny Bench, 1947
Apparently, people were making baby catchers in 1947, a year that possibly rivals 1934 for the best ballplayers born in one calendar term.
Others born in 1947: Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson
Steve Garvey, 1948
Do you love or hate Steve Garvey? If you were a Dodgers fan, you liked all those runs he drove in during the playoffs. But he also had some weird stuff happen to him off the field.
Others born in 1948: Ron Cey, George Foster, Dave Concepcion
Mike Schmidt, 1949
Clearly the greatest third baseman ever. Somewhat lost among his 500+ home runs is the fact that Schmidt was an excellent defender at the hot corner. He perfected the “come in on a slow roller and fire the ball across your body” play that every third baseman has to make now.
Ron Guidry, 1950
Guidry might have been as valuable to his team in 1978 as any pitcher has ever been. That year he won 14 times after a Yankee loss. When the Yanks fell 14 games behind the Red Sox in July, their record was 48-42. Guidry’s mark was 14-1, meaning the Yanks were an embarrassing 34-41 when their star lefty wasn’t getting the decision. The team crawled back, caught the Red Sox, and triumphed in a famous one-game playoff in Fenway Park (Guidry won that game too).
Also born in 1950: Ken Griffey Sr.
Dave Winfield, 1951
At 6’6 and 220 pounds with long legs and a giant wingspan, Winfield was unlike anyone else in the big leagues. He looked like a power forward wearing tight pants. In his fourth full season he was an All-Star. The next year he hit .300 for the first time, and the next year he led the league in runs batted in. He was 28 years old when he hit the free agent market. That’s when George Steinbrenner entered his life, and nothing was ever the same again, though Winfield kept being a great ballplayer.
Other future ballplayers who were in diapers in 1951: Bert Blyleven, Dwight Evans, Goose Gossage
Fred Lynn, 1952
Folks forget how great a player Lynn was. And he was a superstar for a long, long time. He won the MVP as a rookie in 1975, and four years later he had an even better year.
George Brett, 1953
People loved George Brett because he was a superstar who acted like the last guy off the bench. He was lavished with attention, but he preferred the company of Regular Joes. He was unaffected by wealth and fame. He won batting titles in three different decades, had more than 3,000 hits, and he was one of the greatest postseason performers in history.
Andre Dawson, 1954
A five-tool player who could change games by the sheer force of his talent.
Other humans who arrived on Planet Earth in 1954: Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith
Robin Yount, 1955
“He’s probably the most unselfish player I can imagine, going about his job year in and year out.” — Paul Molitor
Paul Molitor, 1956
Random fact about Molitor: he and Robin Yount and Jim Gantner played more games together than ant three teammates in baseball history.
Others born in 1956: Eddie Murray, Dale Murphy
Lou Whitaker, 1957
Whitaker 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 by that time he was essentially a platoon player. Nevertheless, when he retired he was doing everything he was good at: the powerful arm, covering ground at second, drawing walks, hitting for power, and driving in runs. Sweet Lou might be the only second baseman in baseball history who had a full career and never had a bad season.
Other players born in 1957: Dave Stieb, Lee Smith
Rickey Henderson, 1958
After Rickey Henderson broke the career record for runs scored, he asked the Padres if he could have home plate as a keepsake. Home plate is set deep into the ground, held in place by a pole a few feet long. To unearth home plate, the Padres had to schedule it for the offseason because Rickey had scored the record-setting run in the final homestand of the year. A few days after the season, the Padres had a small number of staff on hand to dig up the trophy. Rickey waited patiently with officials from the San Diego front office as a member of the grounds procured his prize. When the plate was retrieved, Henderson took it in his hands and held it above his head. He circled the field, making mock crowd noises and yelling “RICKEY HENDERSON! THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME!”
Others who arrived in 1958: Wade Boggs, Alan Trammell
Tim Raines, 1959
What are the chances that the two greatest leadoff hitters in history would debut in the same season, 11 weeks apart? Probably the same as two of the greatest center fielders to ever play the game making their debut six weeks apart in 1951 (Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays), or two of the five greatest third basemen being drafted with successive picks in the same draft (Mike Schmidt, George Brett). These clusters happen sometimes.
Others born in 1959: Ryne Sandberg
Cal Ripken Jr., 1960
The first great player born in the 1960s, Cal Ripken Jr. is simultaneously a legend and also one of the most overrated players ever. Yes, he is the best shortstop to ever play the game. But he didn’t save baseball with his streak. That’s hogwash. Sure, he was a gamer and tough. But demanding that he play every day (every inning for a long time) was selfish. But, even if he was the second best Junior in baseball for most of his career, he was noteworthy.
Other great players born in 1960: Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett
Don Mattingly, 1961
In 1995 when he finally got to the playoffs for the first time, “Donnie Baseball” mustered the old magic and banged out ten hits and a homer in five games against Seattle. The final play of his career was when he watched Ken Griffey Jr. slide home with the winning run to eliminate the Yankees. Mattingly was free to sign with any team in 1996, but he sat out, refusing an offer from the Orioles in the middle of the season. He watched from his easy chair as the Yankees won the World Series that fall. The following January he officially retired.
Roger Clemens, 1962
You know him, and you know what he did.
Others born in 1962: Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry
Randy Johnson, 1963
A great case can be made for Johnson being the best pitcher ever. Once he tamed his fastball, he was as unhittable as any hurler since Sandy Koufax.
Others born in 1963: David Cone, Edgar Martinez
Barry Bonds, 1964
You know him, you know what he did.
Others born in 1964: Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Larkin, Bret Saberhagen
Craig Biggio, 1965
Bill James once rated Biggio the greatest second baseman of all-time. He wasn’t, but he was good for a while, and accomplished quite a bit in the regular season for the Astros, whether he was playing second, catching, or in the outfield.
Also born in 1965: Matt Williams
Greg Maddux, 1966
From 1993 to 1995, Maddux might have been as dialed-in as any pitcher ever. Encompassing his last 13 starts in 1993 and the entirety of the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Maddux made 66 starts in the regular season. This was his entré to Atlanta, in the heart of what became known as The Steroid Era, when run scoring was on the rise, and batters were smacking homers at a record pace. In those 66 starts, Maddux allowed two earned runs or less in 58 of them. He had 62 quality starts (at least six innings and three earned runs or less) out of the 66 total starts. The league ERA over those three years was 4.14, or about 2 ½ runs higher than Maddux (1.58).
Also born in 1966: Larry Walker, Albert Belle, Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine
John Smoltz, 1967
Smoltz had difficulty throwing a baseball slow, always did. Early in his career he was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and curve. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine showed him how they threw the change, but every time Smoltz threw it, the pitch went too fast. Finally, Smoltz taught himself the split-finger fastball, which he was able to throw six to seven miles per hour slower than his fastball but with the same arm action. He credited the splitter with helping him win his Cy Young Award.
Also born in 1967: Kenny Lofton
Frank Thomas, 1968
A banner year for future ballplayers, legit and not.
Big Hurt is among the ten greatest right-handed hitters in history. He probably should have won 4-5 Most Valuable Player Awards. He had 3-4 seasons just as good or better than the years he won it (1993 and 1994).
Also born in 1968: Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Roberto Alomar, Gary Sheffield, Mike Mussina
Ken Griffey Jr., 1969
Junior Griffey will be remembered for three things: the swing, backwards hat, and his smile. His swing was the most famous in baseball since Ted Williams, and for the first 12 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.
Also born this year: Mariano Rivera
Jim Thome, 1970
Another Baby named James born in 1970: Jim Edmonds
Pedro Martinez, 1971
For a while, Pedro was as great a pitcher as anyone ever has been. What’s amazing is how small he was, only 165-170 pounds during his most dominant years. Martinez didn’t just beat teams, he terrified them. “Other teams don’t like that he has no fear out there,” teammate Carl Everett said, “He’s not going to kiss anyone’s butt and pitch a certain way that will get approval.”
Also born this year: Ivan Rodriguez, Billy Wagner
Chipper Jones, 1972
“I always said Chipper was the kind of guy who could fall out of bed and go 3-for-4. He had that kind of talent.” — Tom Glavine
“He fought through every at-bat, he had a plan for every pitch he was going to see. I never played with a guy who prepared better than Chipper.” — Mark Teixeira
Others born in 1972: Manny Ramirez, Andy Pettitte
Ichiro Suzuki, 1973
In 1996, when Ichiro was 22 years old he played in an exhibition series against a team of MLB stars. He hit .333 with six stolen bases, throwing out two baserunners who had probably never imagined the skinny Japanese outfielder could throw like that. Two years later, when he was 24 years old, Ichiro played another exhibition series against stars from the United States and hit .380 with seven stolen bases. After that series, Sammy Sosa called him the best outfielder he’d ever seen. Three years after that Ichiro was dominating baseball in the U.S., clearly an elite player from day one.
Also born in 1973: Todd Helton, Nomar Garciaparra
Derek Jeter, 1974
It’s not possible that Jeter could really be as insufferable as he comes across in that documentary titled “The Captain.” During his career, Jeter was criticized for being boring and not saying enough to the media. Maybe that wasn’t really him?
Alex Rodriguez, 1975
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” — from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Others born in 1975: Vlad Guerrero Sr., David Ortiz
Lance Berkman, 1976
Either the second-best first baseman in Houston Astros history, or the best left fielder in Astros history. Either way, the guy could rake.
Carlos Beltran, 1977
Beltran was a great teammate, a strong leader, and immensely talented. He was hired to manage the Mets one year after his retirement as a player, though he never managed a game because of his central role in The Great Houston Sign-Stealing Scandal. Prior to that mess, Beltran had been highly respected in the game, almost regal. He was sort of like the Mariano Rivera of the outfield. But the sign-stealing fiasco has washed away his patina.
Others born in 1977: Andruw Jones, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt
Chase Utley, 1978
Also born in 1978, because of course he was: Jimmy Rollins
Adrian Beltre, 1979
Beltre was an entertainer who happened to play baseball. He had a playful sense of humor, and in the three primary cities in which he played, Beltre became a fan favorite. One of the singular unique players of his generation, Beltre never forgot that he was playing a game.
Also born in 1979: Johan Santana
Albert Pujols, 1980
Not many people are talking about it, but Pujols has most likely now supplanted Lou Gehrig as the greatest first baseman in history.
Others born in 1980: CC Sabathia
Adam Wainwright, 1981
We recently mused over the idea that Wainwright might be the most popular pitcher in Cardinals franchise history.
Other noteworthy players born in 1981: Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson
David Wright, 1982
When the Mets finally got a great third baseman, he was really, really great, and as beloved as any Met since Keith Hernandez.
Others born in 1982: Robinson Canó
Miguel Cabrera, 1983
A lot of great ballplayers, future Hall of Famers, were born in 1983. Verlander will most likely end up with the most WAR of any baby born that year.
Others born in 1983: Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Joe Mauer, Joey Votto
Max Scherzer, 1984
Now seems likely to end up among the twenty best pitchers in history, based on the numbers. Mad Max also has the narrative too.
Josh Donaldson, 1985
In his first five full seasons, Donaldson was an offensive machine, averaging 67 extra-base hits and 87 walks. He also rated above average as a defender. He suffered injuries and missed most of the 2018 season, but he bounced back and smacked 37 homers in his one season with Atlanta.
Others born in 1985: Evan Longoria, David Price
Andrew McCutchen, 1986
May be the best center fielder in Pirates history. What do you think?
Also born in 1986: Felix Hernandez
Buster Posey, 1987
Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer? No, it’s Buster who will be the catcher of his generation and the first two decades of the 21st century.
Others born in the same year: Paul Goldschmidt
Clayton Kershaw, 1988
Doesn’t seem like Kershaw and deGrom are the same age, does it? deGrom didn’t make his debut until he was 26 years old. By that time, Kershaw had 79 wins and more than 1,200 strikeouts.
Others born in 1988: Jacob deGrom
Freddie Freeman, 1989
When he isn’t crying, Freeman is a helluva hitter. You miss Atlanta, Freddie? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Others born in 1989: Anthony Rizzo, Madison Bumgarner
Jose Altuve, 1990
One of the most unique ballplayers we’ve ever seen, for his size and offensive punch, Altuve has a chance to become the greatest “little ballplayer” in history. He’s a full inch shorter than Joe Morgan, the current holder of that title. Morgan won two MVP awards, and Altuve has one. The “Pocket Cannon” has an outside chance to reach 3,000 hits and he could eclipse Morgan’s total of home runs plus stolen bases. Morgan was a better defender and he was still a really good player late into his 30s, so it’ll be a challenge for Altuve to eclipse “Little Joe,” but not impossible.
Others born in 1990: Gerrit Cole
Mike Trout, 1991
The best ballplayers born in each decade:
- 1860s: Ed Delahanty
- 1870s: Honus Wagner
- 1880s: Ty Cobb
- 1890s: Babe Ruth
- 1900s: Martín Dihigo
- 1910s: Ted Williams
- 1920s: Stan Musial
- 1930s: Willie Mays
- 1940s: Tom Seaver
- 1950s: Rickey Henderson
- 1960s: Barry Bonds
- 1970s: Chipper Jones or Pedro Martinez
- 1980s: Albert Pujols
- 1990s: Mike Trout
- 2000s: Julio Rodriguez (maybe)
Bryce Harper, 1992
Here’s a hot take: with Trout’s back problems, Harper could end up with a more valuable career.
Others born in 1992: Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez, Aaron Judge, Xander Bogaerts
Francisco Lindor, 1993
Here’s an odd possibility: as a rookie Lindor led the league in sacrifice hits, and after a few years he’s become a power threat. If he were to lead the league in homers, he would be the first player in history to lead the league in sacrifice hits and home runs.
Shohei Ohtani, 1994
Certainly among the greatest Japanese players, and possibly the best either here or in his native country.
Others born in 1994: Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Corey Seager
Sandy Alcantara, 1995
It’s still possible someone else could emerge as the best ballplayer to be born in ’95.
Others born in the same year: Shane Bieber, Cody Bellinger
Rafael Devers, 1996
Ronald Acuna Jr., 1997
Also born in 1997: Yordan Alvarez
Juan Soto, 1998
I suppose he could possibly become the greatest player born in the 1990s, but Mike Trout has a big headstart.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1999
Fernando Tatis Jr. was also born in 1999, but he seems to have an allergy to playing baseball games.
Julio Rodriguez, 2000
Wander Franco, 2001
Could also be Michael Harris, we just don’t know yet.
Jordan Lawlar, 2002
At 19 in 2022, this kid should probably be playing shortstop for the Diamondbacks already. Has a very high ceiling.
Jasson Domínguez, 2003
Dominican-born outfielder prospect in the Yankees farm system.
Jackson Chourio, 2004
Another center fielder, this one from Venezuela, and expected to fill that position for the Brewers for many years when this teenager is ready.