Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

Ah, the crack of the bat. The smell of fresh-cut grass. Munching on Cracker Jack while trying to avoid being splashed by the massive beer barely clung onto by the inebriated fan sitting behind you. Nothing says summer quite like baseball, the American national pastime. Baseball’s place in the American zeitgeist comes, at least in part, from its long history and the general consistency of the game over decades—it’s quite likely that your great-great-grandfather would be able to easily follow a modern game if he were magically plopped into the stands. This history and consistency make it a bit easier to compare players from much different eras than it is to do so for other sports, which is what I’ll be attempting here. Let’s see how it goes!

 

Roger Clemens

 

 

Over the course of his illustrious 24-year career, Roger Clemens amassed a record seven Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher of the year in either the American or National League and threw 4,672 strikeouts, the third most of all time. In 1986 he became one of the rare starting pitchers to win a league MVP award after he posted a 24–4 record with a 2.48 earned run average (ERA) and 238 strikeouts for the Boston Red Sox. Moreover, he did all this while a number of opposing batters were taking steroids, which resulted in offensive statistics going through the roof at the time. So why isn’t he higher? Well, it’s very likely that Clemens himself took steroids, so his accomplishments aren’t quite as stunning for the era as they appear. Plus he’s quite possibly the player I’ve hated the most during my baseball fandom, so he gets a deserved place here but can’t go any higher lest I render this list incomplete by tossing my keyboard out a window in a tizzy. Hurrah for subjectivity!

 

Honus Wagner

A number of modern fans probably know Honus Wagner best as the subject of the most-valuable baseball card in history, the rare 1909–11 T206 Wagner card that was produced by the American Tobacco Company. The scarcity of the card is a big reason why it can fetch upwards of $2 million in a sale, but it wouldn’t be nearly as valuable if the person depicted on it was just a run-of-the-mill player and not one of the best to have ever stepped on a diamond. “The Flying Dutchman” (god, they came up with such good nicknames back in the day) led the National League in batting average eight times over the course of his career and retired with a stellar .328 average despite having played during the offense-killing “dead-ball era.” At the time of his retirement in 1917, he had tallied the second most hits (3,420), doubles (643), triples (252), and runs batted in (1,732) in major-league history, and all of these totals still rank among the top 25 of all time. A measure of Wagner’s greatness is found in the 1936 balloting for the inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he was one of the five players selected for that honor among the thousands who had played the game up to that point.

 

Stan Musial

Quite possibly the greatest person on this list, “Stan the Man” was a historically good player as well as a model citizen. The beloved St. Louis icon played his entire 22-season career with the city’s Cardinals franchise and is as inextricably linked with his town as an athlete ever has been. Stan Musial led the Cardinals to three World Series titles (1942, 1944, and 1946) while racking up just as many MVP awards (1943, 1946, and 1948) and amassing a lifetime .331 batting average. As evidence that he was a man with a keen eye for the ball, Musial’s highest single-season strikeout total was a paltry 46 (in 505 plate appearances) as a 41-year-old who started in the Cardinals’ outfield. (He still hit .330 that year.) His hitting was so consistently good that opponents often resigned themselves to their fate, as noted by pitcher Carl Erskine: “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third.”

 

Ty Cobb

 

And now here’s possibly the greatest humanity drop-off in list-item history. If Musial was a fairy-tale prince when it came to comportment, Ty Cobb was the evil troll under the bridge chucking boulders at passing children. An unrepentant racist who routinely sharpened his spikes to maximize potential injury to opponents on hard slides and who once fought a fan in the stands, Cobb was nevertheless a supremely talented player who has the greatest lifetime bat

Gideon Canice

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