First, a brief description of what this series of articles will be – for the most part, they will be top ten type lists; though they may be shorter (if there aren’t enough “great” players) or longer (if there’s a log jam of “great” players). I will say if the player is in the HOF, list any major awards the player won and provide their key stats. All stats and awards were obtained from Baseball-Reference. This series was originally published on Informative Sports in 2009, however, they have been edited for publication here - some players added, some rankings adjusted etc.
A couple of notes about the stats – they will include their total offensive numbers, not just stats for their main position (for example, Yogi Berra’s stats include his batting stats when he played LF or 1B) and any stats in italics mean they were the leader in that category out of the players in the list. Also, players will be ranked where they were best known at (Ernie Banks at SS for example) or where they played the most games (Pete Rose played the most games at 1B as a single position but he played more total games in the outfield and of those at LF, so that’s where he ended up getting ranked). To see how I evaluate/use stats, click here for a breakdown of hitting stats. At the end, I will then describe any reasoning behind my choices and why I ranked them where I did.
Only three caveats to my lists:
1 – the players have to actually be retired. They cannot be unsigned players who haven’t officially retired yet
2 - sorry, but no Negro League players will be on these lists unless they had long-term MLB service (any records or stats from the Negro Leagues are “questionable” at best due to the record keeping; i.e. Josh Gibson’s HR totals etc)
3- no confirmed or heavily-suspected PED users. This includes anyone who admitted to using steroids knowingly or unknowingly (so guys like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield are not on these lists) and guys where the evidence is very strong that they used (Roger Clemens for example)
We covered the greatest catchers, greatest first basemen, greatest second basemen, greatest shortstops and the greatest third basemen already, so this week we begin the outfield, starting with Left Field. Left field features two of the best pure hitters the game has ever seen in Williams and Musial, two of the most controversial in Jackson and Rose and the most dangerous man to ever set foot on the base paths in Henderson. Needless to say, determining the order wasn’t easy – Williams and Musial were the only two to not change position in the rankings at some point during the writing of this article.
#1 – Ted Williams: HOF, 2 MVPs (and 6 other top-5 finishes), 1 AL Batting Triple Crown, 1 MLB Batting Triple Crown, 17 time All-Star, 2292 Games, .344 batting average, .482 OBP, .634 Slugging %, 1.116 OPS, 190 OPS+, 521 HRs, 1839 RBIs, 2654 Hits, 2021 BBs and 709 Ks.
#2 – Stan Musial: HOF, 3 MVPs (and 6 other top-5 finishes), 20 time All-Star, 3026 games, .331 batting average, .417 OBP, .559 Slugging %, .976 OPS, 159 OPS+, 475 HRs, 1951 RBIs, 3630 Hits, 1599 BBs and 696 Ks.
#3 – Rickey Henderson: HOF, 1 MVP (and 2 other top-5 finishes), 10 time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 3 Silver Sluggers, 3081 games, .279 batting average, .401 OBP, .419 Slugging %, .820 OPS, 127 OPS+, 297 HRs, 1115 RBIs, 3055 Hits, 2190 BBs and 1694 Ks.
#4 – Carl Yastrzemski: HOF, 1 MVP (and 1 other top-5 finish), 1 AL Batting Triple Crown, 18 time All-Star, 7 Gold Gloves, 3308 games, .285 batting average, .379 OBP, .462 Slugging %, .841 OPS, 129 OPS+, 452 HRs, 1844 RBIs, 3419 Hits, 1845 BBs and 1393 Ks.
#5 – Pete Rose: 1 MVP (and 4 other top-5 finishes), 1 ROY, 17 Time All-Star, 2 Gold Gloves, 1 Silver Slugger, 3562 Games, .303 batting average, .375 OBP, .409 Slugging %, .784 OPS, 118 OPS+, 160 HRs, 1314 RBIs, 4256 Hits, 1566 BBs and 1143 Ks.
#6 – “Shoeless” Joe Jackson: 3 top-5 MVP finishes, 1332 games, .356 batting average, .423 OBP, .517 Slugging %, .940 OPS, 170 OPS+, 54 HRs, 785 RBIs, 1772 Hits, 519 BBs and 158 Ks.
#7 – Willie Stargell: HOF, 1 MVP (and 3 other top-5 finishes), 7 time All-Star, 2360 games, .282 batting average, .360 OBP, .529 Slugging %, .889 OPS, 147 OPS+, 475 HRs, 1540 RBIs, 2232 Hits, 937 BBs and 1936 Ks.
#8 – Lou Brock: HOF, 1 top-5 MVP finish, 2616 games, .293 batting average, .343 OBP, .410 Slugging %, .753 OPS, 109 OPS+, 149 HRs, 900 RBIs, 3023 Hits, 761 BBs and 1730 Ks.
Honorable Mention: Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice
Will/may be on this list someday: Ryan Braun, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn (will depend on where he ends up playing more games at) and Matt Holliday – right now, none of these guys are projected to be ranked at this position, however, they all have a great chance if their careers end well.
I chose Williams over Musial because of a major “what if”. What if Teddy Ballgame didn’t miss most or all of five seasons to military service? What would his numbers have looked like if he had played in the same number of games as Musial? He’d probably have over 600 HRs and close to another 1000 hits not to mention at least one or two more MVPs. I really hate using “what ifs” for these rankings, but sometimes they just have to be accounted for. Missing seasons during a player’s prime is not the same as missing them to injury. Even still, Musial’s career was a lot closer to Williams than I initially thought and it didn’t make deciding the number one spot any easier.
Numbers three through five were tough. Initially, Pete Rose started out third, Henderson fourth and Yaz fifth. After looking closer at the stats and their careers, I decided that the threat Rickey was on the base paths was significant enough to vault him into third. Yaz’ overall stats and defense earned him fourth. Pete Rose was a fantastic player and his desire on the playing field was hard to match, however, his stats in key areas (OBP, Slugging etc) in comparison to Rickey and Yaz fell just short. However, Rose’s ability to play multiple positions on the diamond will help when it comes to the overall player rankings in the coming weeks.
The final three spots were also tough. Shoeless Joe probably would have been higher on this list if the Black Sox Scandal didn’t happen and his career was longer. Stargell was a tremendous power hitter and if his OBP and batting average were slightly better, he might have moved up as well. Lou Brock was a fantastic player in his own right – he was a hit machine, but the low OBP and low power numbers in comparison to the others on this list dropped him to the final spot.
What’s really sad about ranking Left Field? The fact that Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez could not be included on this list to due a confirmed PED test (Manny and his positive test for a female fertility drug which is used to mask PED use) or way too many suspicions regarding use (Bonds). Bonds would have given Musial a run at #2 (before the PEDs he was not on Ted Williams level overall), while Manny is probably the greatest right-handed hitter since Joe Dimaggio and would have been top 5 as well (defense would have held him back I think).
So, what do you think? Do you have a problem with the order? Did I leave someone off? If so, let me know. Don’t just say “you left off so-and-so” — give me a good explanation of why they belong and where in the order they belong. If you present a good enough case, I just might add them to the list. Come back next week when we move to the deepest position (not counting pitchers) in baseball history – Center Field.
- MLB’s Greatest Players – Volume IV: Shortstops
- MLB’s Greatest Players – Volume I: Catchers
- MLB’s Greatest Players – Volume III: Second Basemen