By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Typically July is one of the most patriotic months on the calendar.
The seventh month of the year kicks off with the Fourth of July and ends with back-to-school shopping putting millions of U.S. Americans on the same thought process.
In between those two events is the Mid-Summer’s Classic put on by Major League Baseball. The annual MLB All-Star Game was going Hollywood this year.
The 2020 Mid-Summer’s Classic was originally scheduled for July 14 at the historic home of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. It was 40 years ago the venue was the showcase for the best in the game.
As we know, there will be no MLB All-Star Game this year. So the big names of Major League Baseball won’t be on display in the exhibition game that has made many ball players legend.
So with no all-star game to watch, I’m doing like most folks across the country and patiently waiting for the return of sports by viewing classics.
This week’s Best Sellers’ List is going to tackle an age-old question. Who is the best baseball player of all time? Excluding pitchers — let’s pick up that topic next week — this is my list of the best to ever take the field of play.
With so many numbers to digest and break down, I’m using the scouts’ method of who is a five-tool player. The five tools of baseball are speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength.
Baseball is a game of eras like the Dead Ball Era, Whites-Only Era and Steroid Era. No matter the playing field, you need those five tools to be successful.
That leads into my honorable mentions: Mike Trout, Albert Pujos, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Walter Johnson, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Honus Wagner, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Mike Schmidt, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio, Mel Ott, Tony Gwynn, Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.Rogers Hornsby
From 1921 to 1929, Hornsby had one of the best stretches in MLB history. He led the league in runs batted in four times with 94, 126, 152 and 143. In 1922 Hornsby led the Majors with 42 home runs. And was able to do it again in 1925 with 39 dingers.
Among all hitters who amassed at least 3,000 plate appearances, only Ty Cobb had a higher batting average than Hornsby, who surpassed .400 in three seasons on his way to a career. Hornsby left the game after 22 seasons with an average of .358.
In 1922, the second baseman batted .401 with that career-high 42 home runs. “The Rajah” has the throne as the best second baseman ever.
The poster child for a five-tool player is Mr. Rickey Henderson. Solid outfielder executing several assists. He could track down line drives and deep fly balls with ease. He finished his career with 3,055 hits and popped 297 home runs. He is the all-time leader in lead-off dingers in MLB history.
And finally, Henderson has so much speed, he can donate some to the rest of the batting order and still be the quickest on the field.
Henderson is the all-time leader in stolen bases with 1,406 and crossing the plate with 2,295 runs. Rickey did things with swagger that rubbed some the wrong way. But he was unapologetically good at what he did for his teams. Henderson won World Series titles in 1989 with Oakland and 1993 with Toronto. He was a 10-time All-Star, won a gold glove, took home three Silver Slugger Awards and of course led the league in stolen bases 12 times.
“Double X” saw his fair share of the dreaded third X, sending him back to the bench on strikeouts. But those 1,311 strikeouts were worth it to hit 534 career home runs. The original Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, Foxx joined the Philadelphia Athletics at age 17. Foxx didn’t earn his playing time until turning 20 in 1928, going on to average .328 at the plate.
Foxx’s peak was only about 14 years, racking up more than 500 home runs and earning three MVP awards. Those three seasons featured a slugging percentage above .700. Two of them included a top-10 RBI tally for a single season in MLB history.
Since his retirement and passing, Cobb’s personal life, personality and beliefs have tainted his baseball legacy. But as you will notice on this countdown, I’m going by the play on the field strictly. Cobb wouldn’t invite me over for dinner. But if I were a general manager of a baseball team 100 years ago, I would find a roster spot for him.
The stud of the Dead Ball Era, Cobb set the MLB record for hits 4,189 (later broken by Pete Rose). Cobb still holds the game’s best batting average at .366. with 295 triples. He is fourth all-time in stolen bases with 897.
After debuting with a .240 average in 41 games, Cobb never batted below .316 through 23 seasons. He led the league in batting average 12 times, reaching the .400 mark three times.
Ken Griffey Jr.
One of the players who made baseball cool during my childhood. Known as “Junior” or “The Kid,” Griffey had one of the most beautiful swings in baseball history. His effortless flow at the plate would deliver epic and memorable home runs.
Griffey led the Majors in RBIs in 1997 with 147 while hitting 56 home runs. That was the first of a three-year period he led the league in dingers hitting 160.
He finished his career with 630 home runs. Injuries limited him to only 2,781 hits. What made Griffey so special was his timing, clutch plays and baseball IQ. I guess growing up around the game assisted his natural gifts.
Griffey dominated the game from his defensive position in centerfield. During his prime, Griffey could climb the wall to rob the opposition of a homer. Then he would crush the ball with a no-doubter home run.
To many this man is still the “Home Run King.” Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs will always hold a special place in the history of Major League Baseball. Let’s also show some respect to his 3,771hits, .305 career batting average and 2,297 runs batted in (MLB record).
Aaron led the Majors in RBIs four times with the highest 132. His home run totals are the illustration of consistency. He did lead the league in dingers four times with 44 home runs three of those times. His highest amounts of home runs came in 1971 with 47 shots.
Aaron didn’t strike out much and with timely hitting would drive in his teammates. He wasn’t all about the dinger. Aaron is the definition of remarkable consistency as an elite slugger.
This man might be No. 1 on this list if it weren’t for a little thing called World War II. Just entering the prime of his career in 1943, Williams began three years of military service. Staying alive and keeping his body intact, Williams came back in 1946 with 38 home runs and 123 RBIs.
His first four years, Williams recorded 127 home runs and 515 runs batted in. His first six season back in the Majors saw similar numbers with 159 RBIs in 1949. During that stretch he led the league in home runs twice.
Williams wrapped up his career as the all-time leader in On Base Percentage at .482. And when you’re a legend, you end things on a legendary note. Williams’ last at bat in the Big Leagues was a homer.
Willie Mays is baseball’s most well-rounded player ever. He was the combination of elite contact, power and defense. “The Say Hey Kid” is the greatest center fielder of all time.
His home run total is now the fifth best of all time with 660 home runs. Mays batted .302 for his career and is known for his famous over-the-shoulder catch during the 1954 World Series.
Mays is a baseball icon. Some of the reasons Mays was so special in the hearts of many was his productivity on the field. He led the league in home runs four times with 51, 49, 47 and 52, respectively. The was the best in the league at triples, by the way, leading his peers three times. And toss in four years of leading everybody in stolen bases. He achieved that from 1956 to 1959.
Mays has the personality to charm his peers, writers and fans. Then he earned those groups’ respect by playing hard on the field each time he went out there.
George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. is an American icon. The nicknames validate that like “The Great Bambino,” “The Sultan of Swat” and “The Big Bam,” just to name three of them.
He is mythical and it sometimes seems that stories about him should be placed next to John Henry and Paul Bunyan. But I guess 714 career home runs will add to your legend. During that time, pitchers feared the Babe, walking him more than 2,000 times with 170 base-on balls coming in 1923.
When you’re the best power hitter of your generation, you will naturally lead the league in runs scored, doing it eight times.
Ruth is the all-time leader in slugging percentage with .690, on-base plus slugging percentage with 1.164 and OPS+ at 206.
Ruth rewrote the record books on offense, setting standards that have taken nearly a century to reach or surpass.
The all-time leader in walks with 2,558. He was once walked with the bases loaded by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite all those free passes, he crushed 762 career home runs for the best mark in MLB history.
He finished with 2,935 career hits, leading the league in backing average in 2004 at .362. He is the owner of multiple Gold Gloves playing left field. He is the only member of Major League Baseball’s 400/400 Club, which means he hit more than 400 home runs and stole more than 400 bases. Bonds is the charter member of the 500/500 club, finishing with a career total of 514 stolen bases.
Bonds was awesome prior to the year 2000 and enhanced his game afterwards with 73 home runs in one season, breaking the record of 70 set by Mark McGwire.
In 1993 he led the league in homers and RBIs with 46 and 123, respectively. And, finally, I have to toss in the fact he’s the all-time leader in intentional walks with 688. When you get free passes like that, you’re going have one of the best on-base percentages of all time.
The combination of speed and power makes Bonds the greatest of all time.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.