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42 Greatest Players in Major League Baseball History

Kelley has been a fan of Major League Baseball since the 1960s, and his favorite team is the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A look at the best players that competed in the Majors.

A look at the best players that competed in the Majors.

This list is written mostly in chronological order—according to the dates of players’ careers—since it’s not the intent of the author to crown MLB’s greatest player. Only retired players will be included here, and post-season statistics will not be included in the total stats. Most of the players here have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, though not all of them.

Please keep reading!

Cy Young

Cy Young

1. Cy Young (1890-1911)

  • Won and Loss Record: 511-315
  • ERA: 2.63
  • No-hitters: 3
  • Complete Games: 749
  • Nickname: Cy, short for cyclone

Most baseball fans know that MLB’s Cy Young Award is named after Cy Young, the pitcher with the most lifetime victories (511) in MLB history. Of course, Young pitched during a time when starting pitchers often pitched complete games, even during both games of a doubleheader. Some pitched more than 300 or 400 innings per season as well. Famously, Young threw so hard that the ball put holes in fences, making them look as if they’d been hit by a cyclone.

Notably, Young, pitching for the Boston Red Sox, threw the first pitch in the first World Series in 1903. He also threw the first perfect game in American League history in 1904. During that same year, he pitched 25.1 innings without allowing a hit; this is still an MLB record.

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

2. Honus Wagner (1897-1917)

  • Batting average: .329
  • Hits: 3,420
  • Stolen bases: 722
  • RBIs: 1,732
  • Nickname: The Flying Dutchman

One of the greatest hitting infielders ever, Honus Wagner, playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was an eight-time National League batting champion. This career record has only been matched by Tony Gwynn in 1997. Wagner played all infield positions and right field too. In 1900, arguably Wagner’s greatest season, he hit .381 (his highest seasonal average) with an OPS of 1.007. He hit 45 doubles, 22 triples, and knocked in 100 runs (he knocked in 100 or more runs eight times). Famously, Wagner said, “I don’t make speeches; I just let my bat speak for me in the summertime.”

Christy Mathewson

Christy Mathewson

3. Christy Mathewson (1900-1916)

  • Won and Loss Record: 373-188
  • ERA: 2.13
  • Complete Games: 435
  • Shutouts: 79
  • Nickname: Big Six and the Gentleman’s Hurler

Christy Mathewson may have been the first MLB pitcher to throw a so-called fadeaway or screwball, which breaks in the opposite direction of a conventional curve ball. Mathewson played most of his 17 seasons with the New York Giants of the NL, and he helped the Giants win the World Series in 1905 when he threw three shutouts against the Philadelphia Athletics.

In his career, he hurled two no-hitters and struck out 2,507 batters. In 1908, his greatest year, his record was 37 and 11 with an ERA of 1.42. He pitched 390.2 innings, highlighted by a WHIP of 0.827, which is sensational! In 1936, Mathewson was one of the first players inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

4. Walter Johnson (1907-1927)

  • Won and Loss Record: 417-279
  • Strikeouts: 3,508
  • Shutouts: 110
  • Complete games: 531
  • Nickname: The Big Train

Walter Johnson is another starting pitcher with many incredible records that almost certainly will never be broken—unless robots start playing in MLB! He’s the only pitcher in MLB history to win over 400 games and strike out over 3,500 batters. His lifetime ERA is 2.17, even though he pitched over 5,900 innings and won over 20 games 12 times.

His greatest season was in 1913, when he won 36 games with 7 loses, pitched 346 innings, had an ERA of 1.14, and threw 11 shutouts. Notably, he won two MVP awards—and don’t forget his 34 saves! Astonishingly, Johnson pitched for seven years while throwing only a side-armed fastball until he finally developed a curveball. On the down side, he lost 65 games because his team failed to score a run. He was a good hitter as he batted .433 in 1925.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

5. Ty Cobb (1905-1928)

  • Hits: 4,191 hits
  • Batting average: .366 or .367
  • Runs scored: 2,246
  • Stolen bases: 892
  • Nickname: The Georgia Peach

Ty Cobb may not have had the best behavior of any MLB player. Pugnacious and profane, he once climbed into the stands and attacked a heckler—who was handicapped! But Cobb sure knew how to hit the ball. He compiled a list of hitting records that few MLB players can approach. He wasn’t just a contact hitter, either; he could hit home runs and knocked in 1,944 runs during a 24-year career.

Cobb established 90 MLB records during his long career, one of which will probably never be broken—a lifetime batting average of .366! Notably, Cobb played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers, the last six of them as a player-manager. While Cobb has often been considered a racist, he favored the integration of MLB in 1947, and he said that Willie Mays was the only player he would pay to see.

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander

6. Grover Cleveland Alexander (1911-1930)

  • Won and Loss Record: 373-208
  • ERA: 2.56
  • Shutouts: 90
  • Complete Games: 430
  • Nickname: Old Pete

Grover Cleveland Alexander was great from the get-go. In his rookie year in MLB, he won 28 games (a rookie record), pitched 31 complete games, and racked up 367 innings pitched. A right-handed workhorse for sure, Old Pete pitched in over 40 games per season eight times. In 1929, his greatest season, his record was 33 and 12 with a 1.55 ERA. He pitched an incredible 389 innings!

Unfortunately, Alexander’s life was plagued by misfortune and bad choices. While fighting during WWI, he was hit by a mustard gas attack. This caused him to suffer from epilepsy for the rest of his life. Throughout his days, he struggled with alcoholism. Notably, Alexander won the most games by any MLB pitcher who never threw a ho-hitter.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

7. Babe Ruth (1914-1935)

  • Home runs: 714
  • RBIs: 2,213
  • Slugging percentage: .690
  • On-base plus slugging (OPS): 1.164
  • Nicknames: The Bambino and The Sultan of Swat

Babe Ruth is often considered the greatest baseball player of all time. While known as a great hitter, he was able to pitch too! But his greatest baseball achievements pertain to his prowess as a slugging outfielder. Although his record for career home runs (714) has been surpassed by two players, his records for lifetime OPS, OPS+ (OPS adjusted for average), and slugging percentage still stand. As for the Babe’s pitching, he won 94 games and won over 20 games in a season twice with a career ERA of 2.28.

Interestingly, since Babe Ruth began hitting an unusual number of home runs during the so-called dead-ball era, hitting 29 in 1919, the year 1920 initiated the present live-ball era. As one of baseball’s most memorable characters, the name of Babe Ruth is synonymous with MLB.

Rogers Hornsby

Rogers Hornsby

8. Rogers Hornsby (1915-1937)

  • Batting average: .358
  • Hits: 2,930
  • MVP Awards: 2
  • RBIs: 1,584
  • Nickname: The Rajah

As one of the greatest power-hitting infielders of all time, Rogers Hornsby's hitting records are legendary. His lifetime batting average of .358 is second only to Ty Cobb’s .366. Hornsby won two Triple Crowns and batted over .400 three times, and he won seven batting titles. In 1922, he hit over 40 home runs and batted over .400, which no other hitter has ever done.

1924 was arguably Hornsby’s greatest season. He batted .424—the highest live-ball era seasonal batting average ever. He also had an OPS of 1.203 and an OPS+ of 222. Hornsby was one of the fastest men in baseball; in 1927, he had 30 inside-the-park homers. He was a straight-laced guy who didn’t smoke, drink, or go to the movies, but he did like to bet on the horses.

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

9. Lou Gehrig (1923-1939)

  • Batting average: .340
  • Home runs: 493
  • MVP Awards: 2
  • RBIs: 1,995
  • Nickname: The Iron Horse

The end of Lou Gehrig’s career is one of the saddest stories in the history of MLB. At the age of 36, he contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable disease. This led to his retirement, ending his streak of 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood for 56 years until it was broken in 1995. Tragically, Gehrig died two years later.

Gehrig’s MLB career records are very impressive. He had an OPS of 1.080 and 23 grand slams. He was a one-time Triple Crown winner (1934) and knocked in over 100 runs per season on 13 occasions. In fact, in 1931, he knocked in 184. This is second on the all-time list behind Hack Wilson’s 191. Astonishingly, during Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played, he was hit in the head twice by pitched balls and sustained several fractures over the years. However, he kept playing through every injury!

Joe DiMaggio (left)

Joe DiMaggio (left)

10. Joe DiMaggio (1936-1942, 1946-1951)

  • Batting average: .325
  • OPS: .977
  • Home runs: 361
  • MVP Awards: 3
  • Nickname: Joltin’ Joe and the Yankee Clipper

Even though Joe DiMaggio missed three seasons because of military service during WWII, his career stats are worthy of note. For nine seasons, DiMaggio, playing all of his MLB games for the New York Yankees, knocked in over 100 runs per season 9 times. He compiled a career total of 1,537. In 1937, he knocked in 167 (a dream total for current players). He was selected for the All-Star Game in all 13 seasons he played.

DiMaggio’s greatest claim to fame happened in 1941, when he got a hit in 56 straight games, a record that still stands. Most baseball experts think this streak will never be broken. He was also married for nine months to actress Marilyn Monroe!

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

11. Jackie Robinson (1947-1956)

  • Batting average: .311
  • MVP Awards: 1
  • Home runs: 137
  • Stolen bases: 197

In April 1947, Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke the color barrier in MLB. African Americans hadn’t played in MLB since the late 1880s, having been phased out by a gentleman’s agreement of team owners. An infielder and outfielder, Robinson quickly proved he belonged in the Majors by winning the new Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, a year in which he batted .297, scored 125 runs, and stole 29 bases. He would win the Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, batting .342 with 124 RBIs, scoring 122 runs, stealing 37 bases, and achieving an OPS of .960. Robinson played in six World Series, all of which were against the New York Yankees. He finally helped the Dodgers win their first World Series in 1955.

Roy Campanella

Roy Campanella

12. Roy Campanella (1948-1957)

  • MVP Awards: 3
  • Home runs: 242
  • All-Star games: 8
  • Batting average: .276
  • Nickname: Campy

There aren’t many catchers who are also sluggers, but Roy Campanella was one of them. In 1953, one of his MVP-winning seasons, he hit 41 home runs, knocked in 142 runs (a franchise record for the Dodgers), batted .312, scored 103 runs, and had an OPS of 1.006. As a fine defensive catcher, Campanella threw out 57% of the runners who tried to steal a base on him, a record for MLB catchers.

Campanella was one of MLB’s first black players when he entered the league in 1948. Sadly, he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in January 1958, and he never played baseball again. Nevertheless, he stayed active in the Dodgers’ organization and appeared on TV a few times.

Ted Williams

Ted Williams

13. Ted Williams (1939-1960)

  • On-base percentage: .482
  • OPS: 1.116
  • Batting average: .344
  • Home runs: 521
  • Nicknames: The Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame and The Kid

Ted Williams is often considered to be the greatest left-handed hitter of all time even though he lost over three years for military service. Williams’ greatest hitting achievement was batting .406 in 1941. This was the last time any MLB hitter has batted over .400 in a season. Williams was selected to the All-Star team 19 times, and he was a two-time winner of the American League’s MVP Award. He also hit for the Triple Crown two times.

His lifetime on-base-percentage of .482 is a record that’s still unbroken. Williams’ goal was for people to point at him and say, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.” He nearly always took the first pitch.

Stan Musial

Stan Musial

14. Stan Musial (1941-1963)

  • Batting average: .331
  • Hits: 3,630
  • RBIs: 1,951
  • MVP Awards: 3
  • Nickname: Stan the Man

As one of MLB’s greatest all-around hitters, Stan Musial played 22 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals. He helped them win three World Series in the 1940s, and he was selected to the All-Star team 24 times, an MLB record at the time. Musial achieved numerous National League and MLB career records—runs (1,949), at bats (10,972), and total bases (6,134)—though all were subsequently eclipsed by great players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds.

In 1948, Musial’s best season, he batted .376 with an OPS of 1.152 and an OPS+ of 200. Musial was never ejected from a game, and he liked playing the harmonica.

Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra

15. Yogi Berra (1946-1963, 1965)

  • Home runs: 358
  • MVP Awards: 3
  • RBIs: 1,430
  • Shutouts caught: 173

Yogi Berra played on some of the best New York Yankees teams ever. He appeared in 18 World Series and won 13 of them as a player, coach, or manager. Short of stature, Berra was nevertheless a power hitter and great defensive catcher. Perhaps Berra’s greatest year was 1954, when he won the MVP Award while batting .307 with 22 homers and 125 RBIs. He batted .285 for a 19-year career, not bad for a catcher.

He was the catcher in Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Berra was also known for his malapropisms, like “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore” and “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Yogi was a pleasant guy, too; announcer Joe Garagiola Sr. said if everyone was like Yogi, there’d be no wars.

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

16. Sandy Koufax (1955-1966)

  • No-hitters: 4
  • Cy Young Awards: 3
  • Strikeouts: 2,396
  • Shutouts: 40

Often considered to be one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time, Sandy Koufax, despite a relatively short career of only 12 seasons, compiled some excellent achievements. He pitched 40 shutouts, 137 complete games, and won pitching’s Triple Crown three times in 1963, 1965, and 1966. Perhaps his greatest season was in 1963 when he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP Award. He led the league with 25 wins, 306 strikeouts, and an ERA of 1.88.

Keep in mind that one of his four no-hitters was a perfect game. He was also a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball and a curve ball; both were often unhittable. Sadly, Koufax’s career ended at the age of 30 because of an elbow injury that probably required Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, that medical procedure hadn’t been invented in 1966.

Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle

17. Mickey Mantle (1951-1968)

  • Home runs: 536
  • MVP Awards: 3
  • OPS: .977
  • RBIs: 1,509
  • Nicknames: The Mick

Often regarded as the greatest switch hitter of all time, Mickey Mantle had a superb combination of hitting for average, awesome power, defense, and base stealing prowess. In 1956, Mantle had one of the greatest seasons for any hitter in MLB history as he won the coveted Triple Crown. He had 52 home runs, 130 RBIs, and a batting average of .353. In addition to that, he had an OPS of 1.169 and an OPS+ of 210.

Mantle hit over .300 on 10 occasions, and he also played in 12 World Series, all of which were with the New York Yankees. He won seven championships and hit 18 homers, the last of which is an MLB record. Astonishingly, as a 19-year-old rookie, Mantle injured his knee by tearing the anterior cruciate ligament, which was never repaired properly. This did not prevent him from having a stellar career!

Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn

18. Warren Spahn (1942-1965)

  • Won and Loss Record: 363 and 245
  • Complete Games: 382
  • Shutouts: 63
  • ERA: 3.09
  • Nickname: Hooks (because of his hook-shaped nose)

Warren Spahn had a 21-year MLB career, although he lost three years because of military service in WWII. Spahn spent most of his career as a starting pitcher for the Boston Braves, which became the Milwaukee Braves. He never suffered a major injury and almost always pitched well. Because of these factors, he won over 20 games in 13 seasons.

In 1957, Spahn won the Cy Young Award, compiling a game record of 21-11 with 18 complete games and an ERA of 2.69. He also appeared in 14 All-Star games and pitched two no-hitters. Spahn helped the Milwaukee Braves win the World Series in 1957. As a left-handed pitcher, he was known for his long windup and high leg kick, with which he could keep an eye on runners at first base, thereby avoiding stolen bases.

Willie Mays

Willie Mays

19. Willie Mays (1951-1973)

  • Home runs: 660
  • MVP Awards: 2
  • RBIs: 1,903
  • Batting average: .302
  • Nickname: The Say Hey Kid

Often considered to be one of the greatest five-tool players of all time—if not the greatest offensive player of all time—Willie Mays was third on the all-time home run list when he retired. He hit 660 homers and had eight 100-RBI seasons in a row. Mays also played sensational defense as he won 12 Gold Glove Awards. With his tremendous speed, he stole 338 bases.

Mays was selected to the All-Star team 24 times. He played in the Negro leagues until he was signed by the New York Giants for $4,000. This was not bad money in 1951. Mays lost nearly two entire seasons for military service during the Korean War. One may wonder what his career totals would have been without playing ball for the US Army!

Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron

20. Hank Aaron (1954-1976)

  • Home runs: 755
  • Hits: 3,771
  • RBIs: 2,297
  • Total bases: 6,866
  • Nickname: Hammerin’ Hank

Perhaps Hank Aaron’s greatest achievement was breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record of 714 by hitting 755. In order to break one of MLB’s most hallowed records, Aaron hit 30 or more home runs for 15 seasons! His record was eventually broken by Barry Bonds when he hit 762. But Aaron has other career records that may never be broken. His career records include 2,297 RBIs, 1,477 extra base hits, and 6,856 total bases. He also has the record for most All-Star team selections with 25.

Aaron began his MLB career at the age of 20 in 1954. He actually tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 at the age of 15. Unbelievably, he didn’t make the team. Just imagine what his career records would have been if he had become a Dodger five years earlier!

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks

21. Ernie Banks (1953-1971)

  • Home runs: 512
  • RBIs: 1,636
  • Hits: 2,583
  • MVP Awards: 2
  • Nickname: Mr. Cub or Mr. Sunshine

Ernie Banks was the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs. He first played at shortstop, later moving to left field before settling at first base. Banks soon established himself as one of the best power hitters in MLB; he was selected to the All-Star team 14 times and won the Most Valuable Player Award twice (1958 and 1959). In 1958, Banks' greatest season, he batted .313, hit 47 home runs, knocked in 129 runs, and attained an OPS of .980. In 1959, he knocked in a whopping 143 runs with 42 homers.

A durable player for 19 seasons, Banks played more than 100 games per season for 16 straight years. In 1977, he was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, he said, “We've got the setting—sunshine, fresh air, the team behind us. So let's play two!" (The latter line was his most famous.)

Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

22. Bob Gibson (1959-1975)

  • Won and Loss Record: 251 – 174
  • Cy Young Awards: 2
  • Shutouts: 56
  • ERA: 2.91
  • Nicknames: Gibby and Hoot (a reference to western film actor Hoot Gibson)

Bob Gibson threw very hard and had a surly disposition even with his teammates. This gave him the reputation as one of the most formidable and imposing starting pitchers in MLB history. Over a 17-year career, Gibson fanned 3,117 batters, hitting 102 batters with pitches. Gibson’s greatest season was in 1968, which came to be known as the Year of the Pitcher. His game record was 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA (an MLB record). He threw 13 shutouts and 28 complete games; he also won both the Cy Young and MVP Awards!

Gibson was also a phenomenal pitcher in three World Series (1964, 1967, 1968). His game record was 7-2 with an ERA of 1.89. He pitched eight complete games, two of which were shutouts.

Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson

23. Frank Robinson (1956-1976)

  • Home runs: 586
  • RBIs: 1,812
  • Hits: 2,943
  • MVP Awards: 2
  • OPS: .926

Frank Robinson became a hitting sensation in his first season in MLB. Playing in the outfield for the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson won the Rookie of the Year Award as he hit 38 homers and scored 122 runs. In 1961, he won the MVP Award as he hit 37 homers, knocked in 124 runs, and batted .323. While playing for the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, Robinson won another MVP Award, becoming the only player in MLB history to win MVPs in each league. He also hit for MLB’s Triple Crown that season with 49 homers, 122 RBIs, and batting for .316. All of this was highlighted by an OPS of 1.047.

Robinson was selected to the All-Star team 14 times. After his playing career ended, he became MLB’s first black manager. He compiled a managerial record of 1,065 wins and 1,176 losses.

Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver

24. Tom Seaver (1967-1986)

  • Won and Loss Record: 311 - 205
  • ERA: 2.86
  • Complete Games: 231
  • Shutouts: 61
  • Nickname: Tom Terrific and the Franchise

Tom Seaver showed great promise early in his career by winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1967. He had posted a game record of 16-13 and was selected for the NL All-Star team. For 20 seasons, Seaver, pitching mostly for the New York Mets, compiled very impressive stats. He won three Cy Young Awards and was selected to the All-Star team 12 times. He helped the “Amazing Mets” win the World Series in 1969 and threw a no-hitter in 1978.

Seaver and Walter Johnson are the only pitchers to win over 300 games, strike out over 3,000 batters, and have a career ERA under 3.00. Well, with a nickname like Tom Terrific, what else would he do?

Pete Rose

Pete Rose

25. Pete Rose (1963-1986)

  • Hits: 4,256
  • Batting average: .303
  • Batting titles: 3
  • RBIs: 1,314
  • Nickname: Charlie Hustle

As a marathon man in the annals of MLB, Pete Rose may not have impressed all the time, but his list of career records compiled over 23 seasons is spectacular. His MLB career records include playing in 3,562 games with 15,890 put-outs, 14,063 at-bats, 3,215 singles, 10,328 outs, and 4,256 hits. Those hits broke Ty Cobb’s record, which many believed would never be broken. Rose was also selected to 17 All-Star teams and was a major star for the so-called Big Red Machine in the 1970s.

Rose would manage the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1989. Unfortunately, he was banned from MLB for betting on games in which he managed. This means he is also ineligible for an induction into the hall of fame.

Steve Carlton

Steve Carlton

26. Steve Carlton (1965 - 1988)

Won and Loss Record: 329 - 244

Strikeouts: 4,136

Complete games: 254

Cy Young Awards: 4

ERA: 3.22

Nickname: Lefty

A left-handed pitcher with a dominating fastball and a legendary slider, Steve Carlton was one of the last “iron men of the mound” in MLB history. He pitched for 24 seasons and is the last MLB pitcher to throw more than 300 innings in a season; he is also the last NL pitcher to win 25 games or more in a season. Carlton’s best season was 1972, when he won his first Cy Young Award, his record 27 and 10, with 30 complete games, 8 shutouts and an ERA of 1.97—all of this for the last-place Philadelphia Phillies! Famously, in 1976, Carlton cut all ties with sports media for the remainder of his career. He said, ”I was tired of getting slammed. The irony is that they wrote better without access to my quotes.”

Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan

27. Nolan Ryan (1966-1993)

  • Won and Loss Record: 324 – 292
  • No-hitters: 7
  • Strikeouts: 5,714
  • Batting average against: .204
  • Nickname: The Ryan Express

Nolan Ryan had a 27-year career; he played in four different decades from age 19 to 46. He was just one year shy of five decades when he retired in 1999. His pitching records are very impressive, although he never won a Cy Young Award or threw a perfect game. He only had two seasons where he won over 20 games.

Nevertheless, even when well into his 40s, he still consistently threw the baseball over 100 MPH. He also had a devastating 12–6 curveball. Perhaps his great dominance can be expressed by this stat: he threw 7 no-hitters, 12 one-hitters, and 18 two-hitters. His only flaw was a lack of control; he walked 2,795 batters, which is an MLB record.

George Brett

George Brett

28. George Brett (1973-1993)

  • Hits: 3,154
  • Batting average: .305
  • Home runs: 317
  • RBIs: 1,596

George Brett had the ability to hit for a high average and for power. Brett and three other players—Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Stan Musial—are the only batters to slug over 300 home runs, swat over 3,000 hits, and bat over .300 in their career. Brett also won three batting titles in 1976, 1980, and 1990. He is the only MLB player to win a batting title in three different decades!

Playing all of his 21 seasons with the Kansas City Royals—and helping them win the World Series in 1985—Brett’s greatest year was in 1980. In that season, he batted .390, hit 24 home runs, knocked in 118 runs, and compiled an orbital OPS of 1.118. This led to him winning the AL MVP Award that year.

Tony Gwynn

Tony Gwynn

29. Tony Gwynn (1982-2001)

  • Batting average: 338
  • Runs scored: 1,383
  • Hits: 3,141
  • Stolen bases: 319
  • Nickname: Mr. Padre

Left-handed hitting outfielder Tony Gwynn was considered to be one of the most consistent hitters ever. He could hit the ball to all fields, essentially hitting it wherever it was pitched. He won eight NL batting titles and never hit below .309 for a season in his 20-year career. Playing all of his games with the San Diego Padres, Gwynn was a 15-time All Star, and he won 7 Silver Slugger Awards and 5 Gold Glove Awards.

In 1994, during a strike-shortened season, Gwynn hit .394. At the ancient age of 37 in 1997, he stroked 220 hits and achieved a batting average of .372! Gwynn was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

Cal Ripken Jr.

Cal Ripken Jr.

30. Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001)

  • Consecutive games played: 2,632
  • Home runs: 431
  • Hits: 3,184
  • RBIs: 1,695
  • Nickname: The Iron Man

Cal Ripken could play some ball—and then some! On September 6, 1995, he broke one of baseball’s seemingly unbreakable records, Lou Gehrig’s record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games. This is often considered to be one of baseball’s most memorable moments. Ripken is also considered to be one of MLB’s greatest hitting shortstops. While playing at that position, he whacked 345 home runs and won eight Silver Slugger Awards.

Ripken was also a great defensive shortstop and third baseman as he won two Gold Glove Awards. He also won the AL MVP Award in 1983 and 1991. Ripken was selected to the AL All-Star team 19 times. Since his retirement in 2001, he has purchased three minor league baseball teams.

Rod Carew

Rod Carew

31. Rod Carew (1967-1985)

  • Hits: 3,053
  • Batting average: .328
  • RBIs: 1,015
  • Batting titles: 7
  • All-Star games: 18

Growing up in Gatún, Panama, Carew began playing baseball so he could get away from his abusive, alcoholic father. Playing second base for the Minnesota Twins, Carew impressed very quickly as he won the 1967 AL Rookie of Year Award. Over the following seasons, Carew excelled at becoming one MLB’s greatest contact hitters.

In 1977, Carew won the AL MVP Award as he batted .388 with 239 hits, 100 RBIs, 128 runs scored, and an OPS of 1.019. In that year, Time magazine crowned him as “Baseball’s Best Hitter.” Carew was also a great base runner; he stole 353 bases during his career, including seven steals of home in 1969. This was one short of tying Ty Cobb’s record of eight for a season. Carew stole home 17 times in his career, but this was quite short of Cobb’s career total of 54.

Mike Schmidt

Mike Schmidt

32. Mike Schmidt (1972-1989)

  • Home runs: 548
  • MVP Awards: 3
  • Gold Glove Awards: 10
  • RBIs: 1,595
  • OPS: .908

Mike Schmidt is the greatest slugging third baseman of all time—and his defense was excellent as well. Schmidt led the National League in homers eight times, won six Silver Slugger Awards, and bested the NL in RBIs four times. He also made the All-Star team 12 times and helped the Philadelphia Phillies—for whom he played for all of his 18 seasons—win the World Series in 1980. He also won three MVP Awards, more than any other third baseman.

The strike-shorted 1981 season was perhaps Schmidt’s best, as he led the league in home runs, runs scored, RBIs, total bases, and walks. Showered with accolades for his great career, Schmidt was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1995, and a statue of him was erected at Citizens Bank Park in 2004.

Ricky Henderson

Ricky Henderson

33. Ricky Henderson (1979-2003)

  • Hits: 3,055
  • Stolen bases: 1,406
  • Runs: 2,295
  • Home runs: 297
  • Nickname: The Man of Steal

Comprising a spectacular combination of speed, on-base percentage, and power, Ricky Henderson is often called the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. At any rate, he’s the greatest base stealer ever, having swiped 1,406, way more than Lou Brock’s record of 938. Playing in MLB for 25 seasons, Henderson has other impressive career records. He has 2,295 runs and 2,190 walks, including seven seasons with more than 100. Due to his frequent base stealing, he also has the record of being caught 335 times.

Henderson also won an MVP Award in 1990. He was one of the few position players to bat right handed while throwing left handed, and he has been the most successful player to do so. Henderson was also one of baseball’s most eccentric characters; he is often compared to Yogi Berra.

Johnny Bench

Johnny Bench

34. Johnny Bench (1967-1983)

  • Home runs: 389
  • MVP awards: 2
  • RBIs: 1,376
  • Hits: 2,048
  • Grand slams: 10

Perhaps the greatest all-around catcher in MLB history, Johnny Bench played his entire 17-year career with the Cincinnati Reds, making the All-Star team 14 times. In the mid-1970s, the Reds were nicknamed “The Big Red Machine” because they had a lineup stacked with great hitters. Bench had his greatest season in 1970 when he hit 45 home runs and knocked in 148 runs on his way to capturing the NL MVP Award. In 1972, he won his second MVP award by hitting 40 homers with 125 RBIs. Bench was also a defensive standout that won 10 Gold Glove Awards. He led the National League in caught stealing percentage on three occasions.

Famously, in 1968, Bench wanted to convince pitcher Jim Maloney that he had lost pop on his fastball. In a game where Bench had Maloney throw a fastball, he dropped his catcher’s mitt and caught the pitch barehanded. Nevertheless, Maloney, threw a no-hitter against the Houston Astros in the following season. Bench was catching in that game.

Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens

35. Roger Clemens (1984-2007)

  • Won and Loss Record: 354 - 184
  • Cy Young Awards: 7
  • Strikeouts: 4,672
  • MVP Award: 1
  • Nickname: The Rocket

Roger Clemens has been a controversial figure in MLB. He was one of the most intimidating starting pitchers in MLB history; he struck out 20 batters in a game on two occasions. He threw a fastball that could hit the high 90s, and he had a hard-breaking slider and splitter. He often hit batters and had a surly, combative attitude.

He became enmeshed in the anabolic steroids scandal of the 2000s, but it was never proven he’d ever taken such drugs. Be that as it may, Clemens pitching records are off the charts. He had seven Cy Young Awards, 118 complete games, 46 shutouts, and he won 20 or more games six times. He’s the only pitcher in MLB history to win more than 350 games and strike out over 4,500 batters.

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds

36. Barry Bonds (1986-2007)

  • Home runs: 762
  • MVP awards: 7
  • Walks: 2,558
  • Batting average: .298

Barry Bonds was certainly one of the greatest power hitters of all time. His prowess was Ruthian or Maysian. Or was it Bondsian? Anyway, Bonds put up some mind-boggling career totals; he had an OPS of 1.051, 1,996 RBIs, 2,227 runs scored, and he won 12 Silver Slugger awards. He was also a great defensive player. Although his arm wasn’t the best, he won eight Gold Glove awards.

Showing an outstanding combination of power and speed, Bonds is the only MLB player to hit over 500 home runs and steal over 500 bases. Perhaps his greatest season was in 2001 when he hit 73 homers, knocked in 137, achieved an OPS of 1.379, and walked 177 times. Although his reputation was marred by his inclusion in the steroids scandal, Bonds has little if anything to prove in MLB.

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux

37. Greg Maddux (1986-2008)

  • Won and Loss Record: 355 - 227
  • ERA: 3.16
  • Strikeouts: 3,371
  • Cy Young Awards: 4

Greg Maddux has been called the smartest pitcher ever, and he’s also been called the greatest control pitcher of all time. While he did not possess a great fastball, he won games with placement of the ball, finesse, and gamesmanship. From 1992 to 1995, Maddux won four straight Cy Young Awards; he was the first pitcher to ever accomplish this feat. Maddux is also the only pitcher to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons.

He had tremendous defense as well as he won 18 Gold Glove Awards, more than any other MLB pitcher. He also won 20 games twice and 19 games four times. After giving up a grand slam to Will Clark in the 1989 NLCS, Maddux said he thought Clark had read his lips when he talked to manager Don Zimmer while on the mound. After that happened, Maddux always covered his mouth with his glove for private conversations.

Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson

38. Randy Johnson (1988-2009)

  • Won and Loss Record: 303 - 166
  • Strikeouts: 4,875
  • Cy Young Awards: 5
  • ERA: 3.29
  • Nickname: The Big Unit

Randy Johnson was a hard-throwing southpaw who could regularly throw a baseball 100 MPH. He also happened to be the tallest player in MLB history at 6'10". This made Johnson one of MLB’s most formidable pitchers. He would strike out 4,875 batters in his career; this is second only to Nolan Ryan on the all-time list. Johnson also threw a no-hitter in 1990 and a perfect game in 2004. He accomplished the latter at the age of 40, making him the oldest pitcher ever to do so.

He also threw 100 complete games, threw for 37 shutouts, and won five Cy Young Awards. This puts him behind only Roger Clemens with his seven awards. Johnson won the pitching Triple Crown in 2002 with his game record of 24-5 and 334 strikeouts. In 1992, Johnson had trouble with his control until Nolan Ryan helped fine-tune his delivery.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr.

39. Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-2010)

  • Home runs: 630
  • Hits: 2,781
  • RBIs: 1,836
  • Batting average: .284
  • Nickname: The Kid

The son of Ken Griffey Sr., another fine baseball player, began his MLB career at 19. Ken Griffey Jr. impressed everyone with his great all-around baseball ability. Over his 22-year career, Griffey Jr. won an MVP Award in 1997, hit 56 homers, and achieved an OPS of 1.028. He also obtained seven Silver Slugger Awards, 10 Gold Gloves, and 13 All-Star selections.

Even though Griffey Jr. hit 630 home runs, making him seventh on the all-time list, he probably would have hit many more if injuries hadn’t hampered his final five seasons. In 1993, he hit one of the longest home runs ever. The ball hit the warehouse beyond the right field wall in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He’s the only player ever to perform such a prodigious feat!

Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera

40. Mariano Rivera (1995-2013)

  • Saves: 652
  • ERA: 2.21
  • ERA + (adjusted for league average): 205
  • Strikeouts: 1,173
  • Nickname: The Sandman

Mariano Rivera had 652 career saves, the most in MLB history. He also finished 952 games, another MLB record. His lifetime ERA+ of 205 is also a record, and his lifetime WHIP was 1.000. If all of these records and achievements don’t make him the best closer in history, what would it take? Rivera played his entire 19-year career with the New York Yankees (17 as their closer), and he helped them win five World Series.

His record in the post-season is very impressive as well. He had 42 saves with a game record of 8-1. Primarily using a cut fastball, or “cutter,” in his pitching repertoire, Mariano closed out ballgames like no other in history!

Alex Rodgriguez

Alex Rodgriguez

41. Alex Rodriguez (1994-2016)

  • Home runs: 696
  • Hits: 3,115
  • MVP Awards: 3
  • RBIs: 2,086
  • Nickname: A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez was one of MLB’s best five-tool players. Some of his remarkable career records include hitting more than 600 home runs, batting for .295, knocking in over 2,000 runs, amassing over 3,000 hits, scoring over 2,000 runs, and stealing over 300 bases. Rodriguez is the only player in history to attain such lofty heights in offensive performance.

A-Rod also won 10 Silver Slugger Awards, two Gold Gloves, and three MVP Awards. Unfortunately, he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, and he was suspended from MLB for the entire 2014 season. Perhaps negating his “juicing” somewhat, A-Rod has had a successful post-baseball career as an MLB analyst.

Albert Pujols watches one of his many homers

Albert Pujols watches one of his many homers

42. Albert Pujols (2001 - 2022)

Home runs: 703

Hits: 3,384

MVP Awards: 3

RBIs: 2,218

Batting Average: .296

Nickname: The Machine

One of the greatest sluggers and hitters for average in the history of MLB, Albert Pujols had many legendary achievements in his 22-year MLB career. In 2001, he drove in 130 runs, breaking the NL record for RBIs by a rookie (he also won the Rookie of the Year award). In 2009, Pujols hit five grand slams in a season, tying Ernie Banks’ record set in 1955. From 2001 through 2010, Pujols knocked in over 100 runs for 10 consecutive seasons, establishing an NL record. Pujols was also selected to 11 All-Star teams. He won six Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves. A phenom even while playing high school baseball, Pujols once hit a homer that traveled 450 feet!

© 2020 Kelley Marks

Comments

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 04, 2020:

Thanks for the comments, Peggy Wood and Devika Primic! Since Major League Baseball is one of my passions, I had a great time writing this article, and I'm very happy at least two people found it interesting.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 04, 2020:

Wow! This is a well researched hub on the popular baseball players which I did not know as much of and you enlightened me in detail.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 03, 2020:

You have assembled a great list of the baseball players who made history. I am more familiar with many of the older ones on your list such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Micky Mantle, etc.