Rating the Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

My rankings of the greatest baseball players ever, starting with number 1, in order.

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Saturday, August 09, 2003
 
Number 58: Warren Spahn

He was never a dominant pitcher, like a Sandy Koufax or Pedro Martinez. He didn't have the overpowering stuff of a Roger Clemens or Walter Johnson. He was very good, for a very long time, usually one of the two or three best pitchers in the NL. His top season win total was 23, and that twice, the second time at 42 years of age. He won 21 and 22 a lot, and won the Cy Young Award in 1957, the year his Braves won the World Series.

Spahn reached the majors in 1942 with the Boston Braves and pitched in four games, but then the war intruded. In 1946 he resumed his major league career, now aged 25, and went 8-5. In 1947 he started a string of excellent seasons, winning 20 or more games 13 times in 17 seasons, and being consistently effective. He contributed to pennant winners in Boston in 1948, and then in Milwaukee after the Braves moved they won again in 1957 and 1958. Spahn was consistently the ace of those Braves teams, combining first with Johnny Sain and then with Lew Burdette, rarely even missing a start. He finished second in Cy Young voting three times, and third once. He was the greatest lefty in National League history, a gentleman widely respected around the league.

Spahn earned 188.28 rating points.

Spahn's stats: 363-245 record, 3.09 ERA, 2583 K, 382 CG, 4-3 World Series record.


Friday, August 08, 2003
 
Number 57: Ken Griffey, Jr.

He was so good he made the All-Century Team in mid-career, but an injury-filled second half to his career had some observers doubting his Hall of Fame credentials. Regardless, this guy is a Hall of Famer right now. He is the sixth-best center fielder in history. The frustration of the injuries has made people forget how good he has been.

Junior reached the majors in 1989 at the age of 19, and he was already a solid major league regular. The Seattle Mariners put him in the lineup on merit, not out of desperation. He became a .300 hitter the next year, a 40-homer man in 1993. He became an annual Gold Glove winner and won 10 in a row. An injury knocked him out of the lineup for much of 1995, but his team made the playoffs anyway. He came back strong the next year, and won the 1997 AL MVP as the Mariners went to the playoffs again. They didn't get far either year, and as salaries increased for their stars, the Mariners began to look for ways to change. In 1999, they made it known that Griffey was available. He eventually narrowed the teams to which he would accept a trade to Cincinnati, his dad's old team. A four-for-one swap was arranged, and a triumphant homecoming planned. It didn't work out that way. Too many injuries in Cincinnati, followed by career codas in Chicago and then back to Seattle to finish up.

Griffey has earned 188.69 ratings points.

Griffey's stats: .284 average, 630 home runs, 184 SB, 1836 RBI, 2781 hits.


 
Number 56: Yogi Berra

Berra was a member of ten World Championship teams, more than anyone else ever. Being a Yankee during the heart of the dynasty had a lot to do with that, but Berra had a lot to do with the ten rings. He is arguably the greatest catcher ever, winning three MVP awards for his combination of strong hitting, solid defense, and a clutch reputation. Berra played in 12 World Series, and hit 12 home runs with a .274 average. He had 259 WS at bats, like playing another half season.

When he first came up, he was reportedly a poor defensive player, but worked hard and became a good catcher with a dangerous bat. Good defensive catchers with the ability to hit in the middle of the order are extraordinarily valuable. Berra is one of the best-hitting catchers ever.

He was notorious for swinging at, and hitting, balls pitched anywhere, sometimes nowhere near the strike zone. Berra walked with some frequency and rarely struck out. He looked somewhat cartoonish, but was a heady baseball player, capable manager, and an astute businessman who became quite wealthy between his good salary, sensible business decisions, and fairness dealing with people.

Berra won ten rings, three MVPs and two second-place finishes despite never leading the league in an offensive category.

Berra earned 188.96 ratings points.

Berra's stats: .285 average, 358 homers, 1430 RBI, 2150 hits.


Sunday, August 03, 2003
 
Number 55: Ron Santo

The greatest player overlooked by the Hall of Fame, Santo combines many of the traits of the classic underrated player. He was a hitter with a broad base of skills during a pitcher's era, which held down his stats. He was a fine defensive player. He never made it to a World Series, never got to play on that big post-season stage. While he has had some recognition since his career's end as a broadcaster, and for his fight against diabetes, he has never emerged on the national stage there either, despite his work at WGN.

Santo joined the Cubs in 1960, when they were going through the era of the College of Coaches. He had generally good batting averages, lots of walks, good power numbers, but got overlooked in a lineup also including Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, and a league with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, as well as Roberto Clemente and other more recognizable players. He reached a .300 average four times, and also drove in 100 runs four times, but never seemed to register on the consciousness of the press or the public. He won 5 straight Gold Gloves, 1964-68, and finished in the top ten of MVP voting four times, but never above 4th. That was 1967, when he was the best player in the league. He could have won in 1969, but the Cubs collapsed at the end of their best shot at the postseason in decades.

Santo played 14 years with the Cubs, then was traded across town to the White Sox for 1974. The Sox had Bill Melton at 3B, so they sent Santo to play 2B. 34-year-old third basemen have a hard time moving to second, and Santo played mostly DH that year, his last, then retired. He was an all-star for 9 years, and a truly great player. Some day, the Hall will open and let him in, hopefully while he is still alive to accept the honor.

Santo earned 189.13 rating points.

Santo's stats: .277 average, 342 homers, 1331 RBI, 1108 walks, 1138 runs, 125 OPS+