Discussing best player lists is never a straightforward matter in any sport. Sure, heavy similarities may appear in the lists of experts, but you rarely, if ever, get two totally in sync with their lists. Advanced statistics like WAR, ERA+, and OPS+ have helped put a player’s accomplishment into context better, but it remains difficult to compare players across generations. However, there are some players whose greatness transcends generations.
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1. BABE RUTH
Where else to start. The Sultan of swat is the undisputed greatest ever to grace the sport. He broke the record for homers four times in eight years. To put his greatness in context, from 1918-1931, he hit 607 homers, more than twice any other player in that time frame. Remarkably, he could have stayed on as a pitcher and still made this list. He finished his pitching career 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA, and he was 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA in three World Series starts.
2. BARRY BONDS
The home run King with a tainted crown. The black sheep of this list. The stain of the PED era shouldn’t distract people from what a ridiculous athlete he was. 2001-2004 Bonds was something else. The man invoked fear in pitchers. He holds the top three spots in the OPS+ table and his record home run season isn’t even first. And it’s not like he wasn’t already incredible enough before the infamy.
3. TED WILLIAMS
Despite losing three years of his prime to world war II, Ted Williams is considered the best pure hitter in the game’s history. The Boston Red Sox legend is the last hitter to record a .400 average he did way back in 1941. He ended his career with 521 home runs could easily have added another 100 to his home run tally if not for the hiatus.
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4. WILLIE MAYS
The ultimate five-tool player. Combined power, pace, and defense like no other, and while his peak may not have been as high as others on this list, what makes him stand out was his longevity, delivering elite consistency for two decades straight.
5. WALTER JOHNSON
Walter is the best pitcher in the history of the game. Cy Young did it longer, but he did it much better, which edges him out in front. He dominated the 1910s leading the league in strikeouts in all but one season, and was strikeout leader twelve times. He also told the all-time list for shutouts with 110, with a gap of 20 on his nearest competition.
6. HANK AARON
Barry Bond’s stained career means he is was still seen as the king of home runs. Like William Mays, it’s Aaron’s consistency and longevity at the elite ranks that makes him stand out. He finished his career with at least 30 home runs in 15 seasons.
7. CY YOUNG
The man behind the award. The benchmark for pitching excellence. The ultimate workhorse, he leads all-time rankings in wins (511), losses (316), innings pitched (7,356), starts (815), and complete games (749). Some of these records are unlikely ever to be broken in the modern game
8. TY COBB
Off the field, he might not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but there were no questions about his ability on the diamond. His batting average of .366 remains the best. Very few can come close to the level of dominance he attained in the 1920s. Eight of his batting titles came in that decade, and he led virtually any thinkable stat at least once during the decade.
9. LOU GEHRIG
Always behind Ruth in terms of acclaim, Lou Gehrig was a slugger in every sense of the word. His record of 2,130 consecutive games stood until 1998. He had his career cut short by what is now popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease
10. STAN MUSIAL
Stan The Man spent his entire career with the St Louis Cardinals was a superb all-round offensive player. He ranks second, fourth, and sixth in all time tables for total bases, doubles, and hits. He won three MVP awards and was batting champ seven times in his illustrious career.
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