This is the eighth in a series of articles dealing with baseball’s greatest players, position by position, culminating in an overall list of the greatest players. This volume covers Center Field. Who are the greatest in MLB History? Continue reading to find out.
First, a brief description of what this series of articles will be – for the most part, they will be top ten type lists; though they may be shorter (if there aren’t enough “great” players) or longer (if there’s a log jam of “great” players). I will say if the player is in the HOF, list any major awards the player won and provide their key stats. All stats and awards were obtained from Baseball-Reference. This series was originally published on Informative Sports in 2009, however, they have been edited for publication here - some players added, some rankings adjusted etc.
A couple of notes about the stats – they will include their total offensive numbers, not just stats for their main position (for example, Yogi Berra’s stats include his batting stats when he played LF or 1B) and any stats in italics mean they were the leader in that category out of the players in the list. Also, players will be ranked where they were best known at (Ernie Banks at SS for example) or where they played the most games (Pete Rose played the most games at 1B as a single position but he played more total games in the outfield and of those at LF, so that’s where he ended up getting ranked). To see how I evaluate/use stats, click here for a breakdown of hitting stats. At the end, I will then describe any reasoning behind my choices and why I ranked them where I did.
Only three caveats to my lists:
1 – the players have to actually be retired. They cannot be unsigned players who haven’t officially retired yet
2 - sorry, but no Negro League players will be on these lists unless they had long-term MLB service (any records or stats from the Negro Leagues are “questionable” at best due to the record keeping; i.e. Josh Gibson’s HR totals etc)
3- no confirmed or heavily-suspected PED users. This includes anyone who admitted to using steroids knowingly or unknowingly (so guys like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield are not on these lists) and guys where the evidence is very strong that they used (Roger Clemens for example)
We covered the greatest catchers, greatest first basemen, greatest second basemen, greatest shortstops , greatest third basemen, the greatest left fielders and the greatest center fielders already. This week we move to our final position, right field. This position is home to the two greatest home run hitters of all-time, the best outfield arm the game’s ever seen, a constant Triple Crown threat and the straw that stirs the drink. Let’s get to the rankings:
#1 – Babe Ruth: HOF, 1 MVP (and 1 other top-5 finish), 2 time All-Star, 2503 games, .342 batting average, .474 OBP, .690 Slugging %, 1.164 OPS, 207 OPS+, 714 HRs, 2217 RBIs, 2873 Hits, 2062 BBs and 1330 Ks.
#2 – Hank Aaron: HOF, 1 MVP (and 7 other top-5 finishes), 21 time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, 3298 games, .305 batting average, .374 OBP, .555 Slugging %, .928 OPS, 155 OPS+, 755 HRs, 2297 RBIs, 3771 Hits, 1402 BBs and 1383 Ks.
#3 – Frank Robinson: HOF, 2 MVPs (and 4 other top-5 finishes), 1 ROY, 1 AL Batting Triple Crown, 12 time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 2808 games, .294 batting average, .389 OBP, .537 Slugging %, .926 OPS, 154 OPS+, 586 HRs, 1812 RBIs, 2943 Hits, 1420 BBs and 1532 Ks.
#4 – Roberto Clemente: HOF, 1 MVP (and 3 other top-5 finishes), 12 time All-Star, 12 Gold Gloves, 2433 games, .317 batting average, .359 OBP, .475 Slugging %, .834 OPS, 130 OPS+, 240 HRs, 1305 RBIs, 3000 Hits, 621 BBs and 1230 Ks.
#5 – Mel Ott: HOF, 3 top-5 MVP finishes, 11 time All-Star, 2730 games, .304 batting average, .414 OBP, .533 Slugging %, .947 OPS, 155 OPS+, 511 HRs, 1860 RBIs, 2876 Hits, 1708 BBs and 896 Ks.
#6 – Reggie Jackson: HOF, 1 MVP (and 4 other top-5 finishes), 14 time All-Star, 2 Silver Sluggers, 2820 games, .262 batting average, .356 OBP, .490 Slugging %, .846 OPS, 139 OPS+, 563 HRs, 1702 RBIs, 2584 Hits, 1375 BBs and 2597 Ks.
#7 – Al Kaline: HOF, 3 top-5 MVP finishes, 15 time All-Star, 10 Gold Gloves, 2834 games, .297 batting average, .376 OBP, .480 Slugging %, .855 OPS, 134 OPS+, 399 HRs, 1583 RBIs, 3007 Hits, 1277 BBs and 1020 Ks.
#8 – Tony Gwynn: HOF, 1 top-5 MVP finish, 15 time All-Star, 5 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, 2440 games, .338 batting average, .388 OBP, .459 Slugging %, .847 OPS, 132 OPS+, 135 HRs, 1138 RBIs, 3141 Hits, 790 BBs and 434 Ks.
Honorable Mention: Roger Maris, Enos Slaughter and Dave Winfield
Will/may be on this list someday: Vladimir Guerrero and Ichiro – both will make this list, the only question will be where; I’m thinking Vlad will be somewhere between Ott and Kaline while Ichio will be near Clemente/Robinson/Ott.
Number one in this list has to be Babe Ruth. What he did is beyond description. He hit more home runs in single seasons than entire teams did; he got on base almost half the time he stepped to the plate. Most of his career records have since been broken; however, when he retired he owned 54 individual records. I will cover Ruth in greater detail when I do the overall rankings in the coming weeks.
Hank Aaron comes in at number two. Yes, he finished with more HRs, hits, and RBIs than Ruth, but he did all that in almost 800 more games than Ruth. Aaron’s greatness can’t be denied; he was a great player for a very long time. If he and Ruth played the same number of games, I firmly believe he doesn’t come close to Ruth in HRs, hits etc so he ends up behind Ruth in these rankings.
Numbers three and four and five are tough. I initially had Clemente at three, Robinson at four and Ott at five, then changed the order three or four times. All three were tremendous players in their time. Robinson is the only RF in this list to win a batting Triple Crown (Ty Cobb is the only other player in history to win the Triple Crown as a right fielder) and Clemente is the greatest defensive RF in history. Depending on what you value more, power or defense, you could put either one of these guys at three or four and you wouldn’t be wrong. For me, outside of the HR totals, Robinson was a slightly better hitter than Clemente, but Clemente’s defense was enough of a difference to get him the third spot.
Numbers six and seven had the same issues as three and four – who deserves to be ranked higher because they’re both similar hitters with one having an advantage defensively. Reggie was a tremendous “spotlight” hitter and Kaline was a great defender. The difference is Reggie’s OPS+ was slightly better than Kaline’s. If you wanted to put Kaline ahead of Reggie for his defense, you wouldn’t really get an argument from me.
Rounding out this list is Tony Gwynn. One of the best hitters in the 1980s and one of the best contact hitters the game’s ever seen. Tony wasn’t going to take a lot of walks, strikeout a lot or hit for power, all he would do is put the ball in play and make the defense do their job. He also was pretty decent with the glove in right field. It’s this balance that earned him the final spot on this list.
The players who received honorable mentions all could have arguments made for them being ranked. However, they missed the list for assorted reasons:
- Maris has and always will be, underappreciated for what he did. His career just didn’t last long enough in my opinion (only 12 seasons with a couple truly great years).
- Enos Slaughter put up decent numbers, but never had that truly great set of years.
- Dave Winfield is probably the greatest athlete on this list (was drafted for the MLB, NBA and NFL) but his career numbers were “complier-like”. He never had that truly great set of years either.
So, what do you think? Do you have a problem with the order? Did I leave someone off? If so, let me know. Don’t just say “you left off so-and-so” — give me a good explanation of why they belong and where in the order they belong. If you present a good enough case, I just might add them to the list. Come back next week when we take a look at the greatest starting pitchers.