One of the favorite pastimes (for fans of America’s Pastime) is to argue about the ranking of the sport’s top players. The older fans will skew toward the guys from their generation, while the younger ones will romanticize those they grew up with.
While there may be no consensus on the top player in Major League Baseball the same way there is in the NBA, the point isn’t to pick a winner but to enjoy the debate. Here are our picks for the 10 best players in baseball history.
10. Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson may not be a household name for many, since his career ended more than 90 years ago. Though it has been so long since The Big Train retired we’re still talking about his 21-season career–which included an astounding 417 wins, 110 shutouts, a sub-2.00 ERA, and a mind numbing 531 completed games in 666 starts.
9. Pete Rose
One of the greatest debates over the last 30 years is what to do with Pete Rose. The all-time hits leader by a cool 67 over Ty Cobb, and almost 500 over Hank Aaron, he didn’t even get to finish his playing career. Heck, he may have been the first member of the 5,000 club had he not been busted for gambling. Now Charlie Hustle is mostly known as the best player not in the Hall of Fame.
8. Jackie Robinson
Though he is often credited as the first black baseball player in the Major Leagues, Jackie Robinson was actually the first after 40 years since segregation began in the sport, with several players having been in the league before 1884. But that distinction, while huge, isn’t the only thing putting him on this list. No, his six World Series appearances, six All Star appearances, NL MVP and batting titles, two-time base stealing leader, and Rookie of the Year awards are the real impetus for it. That he did so under the microscope and while enduring scorn only makes it all the more impressive.
7. Mickey Mantle
Now here’s a name that should cause some controversy. Depending on whether you are a Yankees fan, you may have him alternatively much higher on this list, but nobody will ever have the Commerce Comet outside of their top ten. Seven World Series Championships and appearing in 12, 16 All Star appearances, the last Triple Crown player to have led all three categories league-wide, and widely regarded as the player who perfected switch-hitting. We could go on, but there are even better players to get to, believe it or not.
6. Ty Cobb
There are two players in MLB history in the 4,000 hit club: Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Cobb, however, managed to do a lot more than just put the wood to the ball, having set more than 90 records throughout his career, some of which still stand today, 90 years after his retirement. Some of these include most times stealing home, for stealing all of the bases in succession, and for being the youngest player to get to 4,000 hits and 2,000 runs, and he still holds the highest batting average of all time. Heck, even the records he doesn’t still hold he is still in second or third, or at the very least, in the top five. Oh, and he was the first player in the Hall of Fame, nbd.
5. Stan Musial
Now we’re starting to get to the really good players. Stan Musial appeared in 24 All Star games, including 22 in a row, and it would have been more had he not served in World War II. He has the second most bases of all time, and he set records in his career for hits, RBIs, at bats, runs scored, and doubles. Known for his perfect consistency, his swing is still studied to this day by players of all levels as a clinic on how to correctly get the job done at the plate. He led the Cardinals to three championships as a player, and he coached them to one after he decided to let other players have a chance by retiring.
4. Ted Williams
Another player whose gaudy stats would have been even more impressive had he not joined the military during World War II, Ted Williams posted some nasty stats right out of the gate. He was the last player to bat over .400 in a season, and dude appeared in 19 All Star Games. He won the Triple Crown twice, one of only two players to do so, and he was still taking AL batting championships while in his 40s. If it weren’t for his mediocre defensive play, Thumper would be higher on this list for his work at the plate.
3. Babe Ruth
A fan favorite to this day, Babe Ruth’s name is synonymous with the game. Known as much for his antics as for his play, the Babe not only lifted the Yankees to their reign as the winningest team in all of sports history, he did so with a charisma and confidence that is still mimicked by kids on sandlots everywhere, calling their shots before they take a swing. With seven World Series Championships credited to his bat, he was a 12 time AL home run leader, 6 time AL RBI, and he was even a darn good pitcher, finishing with a career ERA of 2.28 and leading the AL in that category while in Boston. Speaking of Boston, not only did Ruth lead New York to greatness, he is widely credited for the 86 year championship drought that plague Bean Town following his departure, with the Curse of the Bambino.
2. Hank Aaron
Hammerin’ Hank has been to 24 All Star Games, tied with Willie Mays and Stan Musial for the most ever. He passed Babe Ruth as the leader for most home runs of all time — a record that held until the steroid era, and many would argue still does. His records for most RBIs, extra base hits, and total bases still stand to this day, and he played more games than all but two other players. One of only two players to hit more than 30 home runs in 15 seasons, he jacked more than 20 in all but his first season and his last two.
1. Willie Mays
The other player to play in 24 All Star Games, Willie Mays was the best player of all time. With versatility on both sides of the ball, the Say Hey Kid won 12 Gold Gloves, was a 4-time home-run leader and stolen base leader, NL Rookie of the Year, two time NL MVP, and he once jacked four homers in one game. Combing Ruth’s big bat ability and charisma with Musial’s consistency, Mays is also known for his defensive play, with “The Catch” still regarded as one of the most amazing plays in New York history. He jacked more than 50 homers a couple of times, and he had eight consecutive 100 RBI seasons. The Say Hey Kid truly was the greatest player of all time.