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, September 04, 2004
 
Number 135: Billy Hamilton.

"Sliding Billy" was a prototype of the small, fast centerfielder that has persisted throughout much of baseball history. Hamilton gained notoriety for his baserunning exploits in the wide-open baseball of the 1890s, playing for Philadelphia and Boston.

Hamilton got his start in the American Association at Kansas City in 1888, although he was from the east. He batted .264 in 35 games that year at age 22, then .301 with 144 runs as a full-timer the next year. In 1890 a lot of things got shook up, and Hamilton moved east to Philadelphia to fill empty roster spots. He hit .325 with 133 runs in that first NL year, and established himself as a star.

Hamilton put the bat on the ball and ran like crazy, and drew 100 walks a year besides. He could fairly be described as baseball's greatest leadoff man before Rickey Henderson. He peaked at a .404 average in 1894, with a .523 OBA. After 1895 he moved to Boston, building up their team. The Beaneaters won pennants in 1897 and 1898 with Hamilton batting leadoff. He missed a lot of 1899 with injuries, returned for a full season in 1900, then retired after his 1901 campaign. In 14 seasons, he led the league in batting average twice, on-base average five times, runs four times, and stolen bases five times.

Hamilton earned 155.72 ratings points.

Hamilton's stats: .344 average (8th all-time), .445 on-base average (4th all-time), 912 SB (3rd all-time), 1690 runs.


Friday, September 03, 2004
 
Number 134: Reggie Smith.

Who gets underrated? Good defensive players from low-offense eras. The overall low level of hitting hides their offensive gifts, while it's harder to express the glove work in the statistics. So guys like this, a center fielder and later right fielder in the 1960s and 1970s, get overlooked.

Smith was a rookie with the Impossible Dream Red Sox team in 1967, and without him that pennant would not have been won. Smith was in Boston through 1973, spent some time in St. Louis, then to Los Angeles where he contributed to some more winners, and finally was on a World Series winner in 1981 as a backup. All the while, he compiled a 137 OPS+ for his career.

Smith earned 155.85 ratings points.

Smith's stats: .287 average, 314 HR, 2020 hits, 137 steals.


Sunday, August 29, 2004
 
Number 133: Tim Raines

Raines came up through the minors as a second baseman, but his defense was a little shaky, so the Expos decided his speed would help in the outfield, and put him in left. He played CF for one season, 1984. Mostly, he was a left fielder, and a good one. He was also an extremely effective leadoff hitter, with great speed, a tremendous batting eye, and some power.

Raines broke through in 1981 at age 21, hitting .304 as a rookie. He stole 71 bases in 88 games that year, and would steal at least 70 in each of his first six seasons. He won the batting title in 1986 at .334, and set a career high in home runs in 1987 with 18. After making the postseason as a rookie, he would not get back again until 1993, with the White Sox. He was on a World Series winner in 1996 (as a starter) and 1998 (as a reserve) with the Yankees. In between, he didn't win any MVP awards, but he deserved a couple. Raines should have won the NL MVP in 1987, and could have won in 1985 and 1986, but the Expos didn't win so neither did he. During that three-year period, 1985-87, he was without doubt the best player in the NL. The only MVP he did win was for the 1987 All-Star Game.

Not recognized for his excellence during his career, partly because of some run-ins with drugs, he became something of an elder statesman, especially with the Yankees. He should have been elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible, but the writers have slighted him again. There is no doubt he belongs.

Raines earned 156 rating points.

Raines' stats: .294 average, 1571 runs, 808 steals, 2605 hits, 1330 walks, 430 doubles, 170 homers.