Who is the greatest baseball player of all time? The answer to this question depends largely on your definition of greatest as it pertains to baseball players. Based on my definition, I would say that Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all time because of his home run and strikeout records and the fact that he saved baseball from the dead ball era, which was thought to be unfathomable at the time. Without Babe Ruth’s incredible hitting abilities and dominance, who knows what type of game we would be watching today.
Micky Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr. just barely missed out on our list. Both were feared in their day and beloved by fans as well, but both were too injury-prone to hang with baseball’s elite. Neither was able to eclipse one thousand career hits—making it impossible for us to consider them in our top ten (and yes, we realize most will disagree). A few others who came up short: Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt, Roy Campanella, Nolan Ryan and Willie Mays. None was an all-time great at his position; they might be great players overall if they’d played another position or two but simply weren’t versatile enough to be considered at their best when it counted.
1. Babe Ruth
Ruth has been called one of baseball’s greatest sluggers, and he holds many records in American League history. In 1974, he was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame as one of its first five players to be inducted. His home run record stood for almost half a century until it was broken by Barry Bonds in 2007. Many fans and observers also consider Ruth to be baseball’s greatest player ever. He has a career batting average over .300 with 2,062 runs batted in (RBI), 1,913 runs scored, 714 doubles, 534 home runs and a .690 slugging percentage—he is second on the all-time list for both categories behind only Babe Zaharias.
2. Willie Mays
A 10-time MLB All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner, Mays is considered by many to be one of baseball’s all-time greats. Mays was nicknamed The Say Hey Kid for his jovial attitude and bright smile. During a 21-year career with four teams—the New York/San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants—Mays hit .302 with 660 home runs, 3,283 hits and 1,903 RBIs. The six-time World Series champion also won 12 Gold Gloves at center field during his Hall of Fame career.
3. Barry Bonds
Given his stats, there really isn’t much room for argument here. The controversial and polarizing Bonds hit 762 home runs, won two MVP awards and two World Series titles (and made a third) during his 22-year career. And those stats don’t even include his time playing for Canada in international competitions, where he racked up additional dingers and wins to pad out an already impressive resume. In addition to all that hardware, he was also named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1990 and 1992 as well as Baseball America’s Player of the Decade in 1999. Bonds will be eligible for Hall of Fame induction next year; it remains to be seen if he’ll ever get in.
4. Ted Williams
Ted Williams, or Teddy Ballgame was one of baseball’s greatest hitters. One of his most impressive feats was getting a hit in an amazing 521 consecutive games, which is second only to Lou Gehrig on the all-time list. In 1941 he batted .406 and became one year later, after serving in World War II, he won both the American League MVP and Triple Crown awards by batting .356 with 36 home runs and 137 RBIs. He ended his career with a lifetime average of .344, making him one of just four players in history with a career average above .340 (Miguel Cabrera is another). After retiring from baseball he had an even more impressive record as a fisherman than as a player.
5. Hank Aaron
Perhaps most famous for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974, Aaron is widely considered one of baseball’s all-time greatest players. In his 21 years with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, Aaron accumulated a .305 average, was an 18-time All-Star and won two World Series championships. His career stats include 755 home runs (third most), 2,297 RBIs (sixth) and 3,771 hits (14th). After becoming a Hall of Famer in 1982—the same year he was named National League MVP—Aaron announced his retirement at age 44. To date, he is one of four men to have played in more than 500 games as a catcher and second baseman.
6. Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson was one of baseball’s first true aces, pitching 3,509 innings over 17 seasons and leading his league in strikeouts an incredible 12 times. Nicknamed The Big Train for his size (6’1, 205 pounds) and speed (he reportedly once ran 100 yards in 10 seconds), Johnson won 417 games from 1907 to 1927. His 2.17 ERA is among baseball’s best all-time and he holds records for strikeouts (4,913), shutouts (112) and ERA+ (206). He helped lead Washington to four World Series wins between 1924-1927, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.
7. Ty Cobb
By any measure, Ty Cobb was one of baseball’s greatest players. As one of just two American League players to top 4,000 hits, he holds many important offensive records. He is second in all-time walks (behind Babe Ruth), fourth in runs scored and RBIs, seventh in home runs (tied with Henry Aaron), fifth in total bases (behind Stan Musial and Willie Mays) and first in games played. Offensively speaking, Cobb is arguably baseball’s greatest player ever.
8. Stan Musial
Stan Musial was an American professional baseball player. He played as a left fielder for 22 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the St. Louis Cardinals, from 1941 to 1963. He held many MLB batting records when he retired, including career hits, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging (OPS), all of which have since been broken. Musial is considered one of baseball’s greatest hitters; he had a career .331 batting average, 3,630 hits and 475 home runs with 1,951 RBIs in his 22 years on MLB rosters; he hit higher than .300 16 times and led his league in various offensive categories over multiple seasons throughout his career.
9. Lou Gehrig
Gehrig is regarded as one of baseball’s all-time greatest players. Over his 17 year career, he set a plethora of records including: most consecutive games played (2,130), most career grand slams (23), and most RBIs in a single season (185). Gehrig was famous for his luckiest man on the face of the earth speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4th 1939. The Baseball Hall of Fame later renamed its Annual Award in Gehrig’s honor to The Lou Gehrig Award. He passed away in 1941 after succumbing to ALS at just 37 years old.
10. Rogers Hornsby
There is no doubt about Hornsby being one of baseball’s greatest players. He hit a total 1,735 hits and had an impressive .358 batting average in his 20-year career that spanned from 1915-1937. It was also during that time when he won seven batting titles, four home run titles, two triple crowns and two MVP awards. His lifetime achievements earned him a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1942 where he has remained since.
11. Christy Mathewson
The New York Giants’ Christy Mathewson was arguably baseball’s best pitcher in 1904. That year, he recorded an astonishing 40-8 record while striking out 166 batters and posting a 1.28 ERA over 442 innings. Mathewson also led his team to another championship that year, winning five games and posting a 1.23 ERA in his seven World Series appearances. Mathewson would win 373 games over his career, second only to Cy Young, and even won 20+ games on three separate occasions (1901-1903). He struck out nearly 2,500 batters as well; it is not an exaggeration to say that there were very few hitters who could face him without trying to knock down every pitch he threw at them.
Although many experts consider Babe Ruth to be baseball’s greatest player, Willie Mays is widely considered by many to be one of the game’s greatest player. However, it is a subject of contention whether Mays was even better than Hank Aaron and some also rate Barry Bonds as more talented than Mays. It seems likely that such debate will never end as there are great players coming out of baseball all time. Regardless, no one can deny that each has had a tremendous impact on America’s pastime. Whether they are considered among baseball’s best or not, their incredible accomplishments in an exciting sport make them true American heroes.
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