This is part nine of my series ranking the top 250 baseball players ever to play the game. For more information about how this list was compiled please refer to part one. This section is for players ranked 50-26.
50: Nap Lajoie finished his career with 3,243 hits, 657 doubles, 380 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 150. He hit .426 in 1901, and led the American League in batting average five different times. Lajoie was part of the infamous Chalmers batting title race in 1910.
49: Wade Boggs was an All-Star twelve consecutive years from 1985-1996. He led the American League in batting average five times and on-base percentage six times. He finished his career with 3,010 hits and a slash line of .328/.415/.443. He didn’t make his Major League debut until his age 24 season, this was oldest debut age for anyone with 3,000 hits until Ichiro joined the club this year.
48: Warren Spahn pitched briefly in 1942 before enlisting in the Army to serve in World War II. When he returned (in 1946) he became one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He led the National League in wins eight times, complete games nine times, strikeouts four times, and ERA three times. He finished his career with 363 wins, which is still the most ever by a lefthander. Spahn and his former teammate Johnny Sain are the subjects of the Gerald V. Hern poem “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain”.
47: Nolan Ryan led his league in strikeouts 11 times and walks 8 times. He’s the all time leader in both categories (5,714 SO), (2,795 BB). He also has the lowest H/9 ratio in Major League history at 6.6. In 1989, at the age of 42, Ryan pitched in 239.1 innings and struck out 301 batters. That’s SO/9 of 11.3, which is the 2nd best ratio he posted in his career, his best was 11.5, he was 40 years old when he did that. Despite his fame and dominance Ryan never won a Cy Young award.
46: George Brett won the American League MVP in 1980. That year he hit .390/.454/.664/ that’s an OPS of 1.118 and an OPS+ of 203. He led the majors in each of those categories. He won two additional batting titles, and a World Series championship in 1985. He’s one of five players in Major League history with at least 3,000 hits, 500 doubles, 300 home runs, and 200 stolen bases.
45: Christy Mathewson pitched in 101.2 World Series innings, posting an ERA of 0.97 and a WHIP of 0.836. In the 1905 World Series he pitched three complete game shutouts and helped the New York Giants win the title. During is 17-year career he led the National League in wins four times, ERA five times, and FIP eight times. He finished his career with 373 wins, 2,507 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.13. That’s an ERA+ of 135. He briefly served with the U.S. Army during World War I.
44: Ken Griffey Jr was a sensation on the field and off of it. On the field he was young, athletic, made spectacular catches, and hit lots of home runs. He was our Willie Mays. Off the field he had his own video game, shoe, was part of the classic Homer at the Bat Simpsons episode, and his rookie card was coveted by seemingly every kid in North America. At the age of 30 he appeared to be well on his way to breaking the home run record, and possibly becoming the best player ever to play the game. That didn’t happen. When he turned 30 he got hurt and was never the same player again. Griffey never played in more than 145 games after he turned 30. From 2001-2010 (age 31-40) he averaged just 99 games a season. He still finished his career with 630 home runs. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame his first year on the ballot with a record setting 99.32% of the vote. He was born in the same town as Stan Musial.
42: Satchel Paige was a star pitcher in the Negro, Cuban, Dominican and Mexican leagues long before he officially made his Major League debut in 1948. That year he became the oldest “rookie” in MLB history and the first African-American to pitch in the World Series. Cleveland fans established a night game attendance record when 78,382 of them packed Cleveland Stadium to watch Paige pitch, that record still stands. Joe DiMaggio called him, “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.” In 1971 Paige was the first person chosen from the Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Further reading on Paige can be found here, here, and here.
41: Bob Gibson won two Cy Young awards, an MVP, and in 1968 he posted the lowest single season ERA since 1915. He won nine consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1965-1973, and when he got his 3,000th strikeout he was just the 2nd pitcher to reach that milestone. He was also one of the best postseason pitchers in the history of the game. He won two World Series championships, winning the MVP of the series both years.
40: Eddie Collins finished his 25-year career with a .333 batting average, 3,315 hits, and 741 stolen bases. He won four World Series championships too. However, Collins was a bigot. In 1945 when he was the General Manager of the Red Sox he orchestrated what turned out to be a sham a tryout meant to showcase Jackie Robinson. He and Tom Yawkey created a racist environment and the Red Sox were the last team in baseball to sign an African-American player because of it. Further reading on Collins can be found here and here.
39: Pop Lloyd could hit, he had power for his day, he could run, and he was believed to be an exceptional defender. He was often referred to as “the black Honus Wagner.” Wanger had this to say about the comparison, “I am honored to have John Lloyd called the black Wagner. It is a privilege to have been compared to him.” Lloyd played for nearly 30 years. Further reading on him can be found here and here.
38: Jimmie Foxx made his Major League debut at the age of 17. He later won three MVP awards, which included a Triple Crown season in 1933. He had at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI in twelve consecutive seasons. He was the 2nd player to reach 500 home runs, and the youngest to do so until Alex Rodriguez joined the club. He’s one of five players in Major League history to finish his career with a slash line of at least .300/.400/.600. He won back-to-back World Series Championships with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929 & 1930.
37: Pete Alexander suffered from epilepsy. The disease would occasionally cause him to collapse in between innings or stager around on the mound. At the time many people attributed this behavior to drunkenness (sometimes it was), but he was also suffering from the effects of a horrible disease. Over his twenty-year career he won 373 games, recorded 2,198 strikeouts, and posted an ERA of 2.56. He won a World Series championship with the Cardinals in 1926. He was portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the 1952 film The Winning Team.
36: Jackie Robinson grew up in a racist, segregated country. The atmosphere in Major League baseball was a microcosm of those views as well. When Robinson became the 1st black player to join a Major League club since the 1800s some of his teammates tried to boycott his arrival, opponents threatened not to play if he was in the lineup, and fans shouted racist comments at him on a daily basis. It would have been understandable if he let the pressure get to him, or didn’t play to his full capabilities, but he did. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1947 and the MVP in 1949. He was an exceptional fielder, he could run, hit for average, and take a walk. He won a World Series championship with the Dodgers in 1955, and finished his ten year Major League career with a slash line of .311/.409/.474. Prior to joining the Dodgers Robinson played baseball, football, basketball, and track at UCLA. He served with the U.S. Army for nearly three years during World War II. Further reading on Robinson can be found here, here, here, here and here.
35: Carl Yastrzemski had a historic season in 1967. He won the Triple Crown that year but he also led the American League in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB, H, and runs. It was one of the best seasons any player has ever had. The following year became known as the year of the pitcher, Yastrzemski was the only player in the AL to hit over .300, he finished 9th in MVP voting, which was a mistake. He retired with 3,419 hits, and 452 home runs. Only Pete Rose played in more Major League games than Yastrzemski.
34: Mel Ott made his Major League debut at the age of 17. He led the National League in home runs six times, and was the first National Leaguer to reach 500 career home runs. He won a World Series championship with the Giants in 1933.
33: Cal Ripken won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1982. The following year he was the league MVP and his Orioles team won the World Series. In 1991 he won another MVP and posted a WAR of 11.5, which ranks as the best season any shortstop has ever had. Ripken, of course, is known for his iron man streak. From May 30th 1982 to September 19th 1998 he played in 2,632 consecutive games breaking Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,131. Along the way to 2,632 he also surpassed Sachio Kinugasa’s NPB record of 2,215.
32: Joe DiMaggio won nine World Series championships with the Yankees. He won three American League MVP awards, and was an All-Star in all thirteen years of his career. In 1941 he famously got at least one hit in 56 consecutive games. He missed three full seasons (age 28-30) due to his military service during World War II. DiMaggio at one point was married to Marilyn Monroe. After he retried he became the face of Mr. Coffee.
31: Lefty Grove won the pitching Triple Crown twice. He led the American League in wins four times, strikeouts seven times, and ERA a record nine times. He was named AL MVP in 1931. He finished his career with 300 wins and an ERA+ of 148. He won back-to-back World Series championships (with Foxx) in 1929 & 1930.
30: Eddie Mathews finished his career with a slash line of .271/.376/.509 which converts to an OPS+ of 143. He retired having hit 512 home runs, which was 230 more than any other third baseman had at the time. Ty Cobb once said of him, “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them.” A nice piece of trivia, he was the cover athlete on the inaugural issue of Sports Illustrated.
29: Roberto Clemente was born in Puerto Rico, he later became one of the Island’s most famous and well-respected citizens. The Brooklyn Dodgers originally signed him, but he was drafted away from them by the Pirates in the 1954 rule 5 draft. Clemente was a brilliant defender who won twelve Gold Glove awards. He led the National League in batting four times, won the MVP in 1966, and won two World Series championships with the Pirates. He finished his career with 3,000 hits. He also served with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Clemente died at the age of 38 in a plane crash while en route to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Major League Baseball later established an annual award named after him given to a player who best demonstrates a commitment to community and helping others in need.
28: Johnny Bench made his Major League debut at the age of 19, he was a star at 20. He won two MVP awards, ten Gold Gloves, and was selected as an All-Star fourteen times. He popularized the one-handed style of catching, forever changing how the position is played. He won back-to-back World Series championships with the “Big Red Machine” in 1975 & 1976, he was named MVP in the latter. He remains the best combination of offense and defense the position has ever seen.
27: Tom Seaver won three Cy Young awards, a World Series championship with the “Miracle Mets”, and was selected as an All-Star on twelve occasions. He finished his career with 311 wins and 3,640 strikeouts. He’s one of just 32 players in Major League history with a WAR of at least 100.
26: Cy Young is the all time leader in Wins (511), innings pitched (7,356), games started (815), complete games (749), and batters faced (29,565). Those records will never be broken unless there is a change to how they’re scored. He was a titan of his time, an all time great, and should be remembered as such. However, it should also be noted that when he began his career pitchers threw underhanded, foul balls did not count as strikes, and the pitching mound was fifty feet away from home plate. In fairness, most of these rules evolved into their current form within five years of his Major League debut but this does help illustrate the quality of baseball being played at the time.
Part ten will be up tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter @RossCarey and join the conversation at #Top250