Whenever you’re doing the research to compile a list of the ‘best of’ at any sport, you must do so with due diligence. Respecting the game, respecting the craft that goes into being great day-in and day-out.
Obviously, baseball is no different. It’s literally a daily grind during the season, with the MLB having one of the most grueling, strenuous daily game schedules and even in the offseason, working on that swing or making adjustments to that pitching motion.
So, when it comes to needing to come up with the 25 best baseball players of all time, it can be a daunting task because of the fact that so many incredible baseball players took the field, took the mound, working their tails off to be great and even working through the minors to make it to the majors. But it’s a task I’m willing to take on, sliding headfirst into home base. Someone’s gotta’ do it, right?
Why not swing for the fences here and if I strikeout? There’s always a next at-bat, right? From Babe Ruth to Ty Cobb to Jackie Robinson to Nolan Ryan to Mike Trout, there’s just so many great players to pick up a bat or slide on a glove so here’s my best at the: 25 Best Baseball Players Of All Time.
Before we get to the 25, have to clarify a few reasonings behind the list. Have to include guys who sit at the top of the league to this day in certain categories (strikeouts, home runs, hits, RBI’s, steals, even ‘defensive WAR’). As I mentioned, there’s a lot that goes into working on the craft, which means they need to be on the list for becoming great at a certain skill on the baseball diamond that helped their team win.
But first, let’s lead off with some honorable mentions because these guys had so much to give to the game that they can’t not be on this list somehow.
- Stan Musial
- Josh Gibson
- Tris Speaker
- Sam Crawford
- Eddie Collins
- Lou Brock
- John Henry ‘Pop’ Lloyd
- Brooks Robinson
- Mark Belanger
- Rogers Hornsby
- Shoeless Shoe Jackson
- Alex Rodriguez
- Sandy Koufax
- Jim Thome
- Frank Robinson
- Grover Alexander
I was so close to leaving all three of these guys on the list because all three New York Yankees have eight World Series to their names, which is tied for third best among all MLB players in history (per Fueled by Sports). The debate about GOATs among NBA players certainly includes how many rings they got, so this also should be taken into account when it comes to debating MLB GOATs. In this case, there simply wasn’t space when comparing with everyone else on the list. So, out of respect for an incredible eight World Series, they get their own list right here, as we shout out these three eight-time World Series winning Yankees:
- Frankie Crosetti
- Bill Dickey
- Phil Rizzuto
And there’s obvious sides people take when it comes to the steroid or performance enhancing drug controversies. Let’s just all come to an agreement that no matter where you fall, if we look strictly to what they did on the field without getting into the controversy on whether or not they used performance enhancing drugs, was incredible. And if they did, in fact, use performance enhancing drugs, well, that’s another story. We’ll let you decide what your thoughts are on this matter in the comments.
Now on to a quick list of where the controversy comes in. I have to include these guys somewhere on this list, right? Some Hall of Fame voters would beg to differ given the sensitive nature of either performance enhancing drug accusations or the Pete Rose gambling report (as recapped by Sports Illustrated’s Priya Desai talking to ‘former SI senior writer Craig Neff‘). But whatever camp you fall into regarding this, here’s what these guys did on the baseball diamond.
- Pete Rose leads all of MLB history in hits with 4,256.
- Roger Clemens is third in MLB history in strikeouts with 4,672. Here’s more background of the alleged PED use for Clemens (and Barry Bonds). USA Today’s Bob Nightengale states Clemens “never tested positive, never flunked a single drug test, never admitted to steroid use, but no one believes he was clean”.
- Sammy Sosa is ninth in MLB history with 609 home runs. Sosa has consistently denied using steroids per USA Today’s Paul Myerberg.
- Mark McGuire is eleventh in MLB history with 583 home runs. McGuire admitted to using steroids per ESPN.
- Barry Bonds, MLB’s home run leader with 762 homers in his career. Here’s a brief timeline of Bonds’ career and the reported steroid use for Bonds per the AP via USA Today.
It’s tough because when you see those names, they were so good at their craft that you want to give them props for that. We forgive them if they did indeed take steroids. But then you also know the accusations are serious and needs to be treated delicately in order to set the right example for young baseball players, knowing that it’s wrong to take steroids to gain an edge over your opponent.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve entered the top of the first. It’s the home team vs. the away team. Buy you some peanuts and root, root, root for your favorite team and player. It’s time to step up to the plate and take a swing at:
The 25 Best Baseball Players Of All Time
25 – Mike Trout
The modern era’s best baseball player. With a plethora of dudes on this list, Trout had to find a way to flounder onto the top 25. And indeed he does. The three-time MVP, Rookie of the Year, eight-time All Star, eight-time Silver Slugger, two-time All Star MVP, and a Wilson Overall Defensive Player of the Year, Trout does it all on the diamond from batting to defense.
24 – Ozzie Smith
When you have a list of the best to ever play the game, you have to include some guys that were great at defense. Defense wins championships. You know this. Even in baseball. Fielding is crucial to a team’s success and you’ll see good teams be savvy in getting and grooming players who can make plays in the outfield and infield. So, I have to include Ozzie Smith on this list. Arguably one of the best defenders to ever play the game. Smith leads MLB history in ‘defensive WAR’ with a 44.2 rating.
Here’s what that means, per the MLB: “WAR (Wins Above Replacement) measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position (e.g., a Minor League replacement or a readily available fill-in free agent).”
23 – Cal Ripken, Jr.
Another player you’d want in your infield? Another one of the best defensive players in the game. Cal Ripken, Jr. is fourth in MLB history with a 35.7 defensive War rating.
Ripken, Jr. also holds the MLB record of consecutive games played. According to MLB.com’s David Adler and Chad Thornburg, “Ripken Jr. broke one of baseball’s most unbreakable records, toppling Lou Gehrig‘s 2,130-game streak, which stood for 56 years, in 1995. Ripken went on to play 501 more games and set the record at…2,632 games.” That’s what you call durability.
22 – Rickey Henderson
We go from defending to stealing bases. Another tried and true strategy in baseball. When you can get a baserunner from first to second to get a runner in scoring position by stealing a base, it can only help your team in getting more…runs. You know, what you need more of than the other team to win the game. And the guy who leads the MLB in most stolen bases is Rickey Henderson with 1,406. Henderson is the only player in MLB history with more than 1,000 stolen bases (SB) and sits atop the league comfortably, leading this stat by more than 100 SB’s.
21 – Oscar Charleston
Another important aspect of the game is batting average. The higher the batting average, the more consistent the hitter. A trait you want any player to have in getting on base more efficiently and more often (which obviously would help immensely with other players on base to drive them home). Oscar Charleston is second in MLB history in batting average with a .3643 career batting average. If you round up, that’s 40%! When you hit almost 40% of his list.
“Charlie was a tremendous left-handed hitter who could also bunt, steal a hundred bases a year and cover center field as well as anyone before him or since. … He was like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one,” Buck O’Neil, ‘Former Negro Leagues player, major league coach and scout’, said according to ESPN’s David Schoenfield.
20 – Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson is the first pitcher to show up on this list and he’s one of the best to ever throw a baseball. Johnson is second all-time in wins with 417 per Baseball Almanac, which is over 40 more than third. When you’re a winning pitcher who’s won 417 games, you need to be on this list.
19 – Darryl Strawberry
From Crenshaw, Darryl Strawberry played his pro career on the East Coast in the Big Apple with the New York Mets and New York Yankees. The outfielder was an eight-time All Star, three-time World Series champion, two-time Silver Slugger, Home Run Derby champion, and Rookie of the Year.
Strawberry overcame a lot in is his life and what’s amazing is even with all this success as a baseball player, there was something even more satisfying than any World Series or award or trophy could ever provide.
“I’ve achieved a lot of great things-becoming a world icon in MLB, Championships, All-Star Games, Rookie Of The Year, and earned millions of dollars, but what does it all mean if a man’s not free and loses his soul! Today was the most incredible gift I ever received in my life, being baptized in the Jordan River with my Wife!”Darryl Strawberry according to Sports Spectrum’s Jason Romano
18 – Derek Jeter
Straight outta’ Michigan, one of the best shortstops to ever play the game donned those classic pinstripes with the New York Yankees. Jeter is sixth in MLB history in hits with 3,465 total. The shortstop’s also got five World Series to his name, five Silver Sluggers, five Gold Gloves, a Willie Mays World Series MVP, 14 All Star game nods, and recently got inducted into the Hall of Fame (received a vote on 396 of the 397 submitted ballots per Sports Illustrated’s Jenna West in 2020). Jeter is now in the front office, sharing ownership of the Miami Marlins and its CEO (per NBC Sports).
17 – Ken Griffey, Jr.
I remember playing the Ken Griffey, Jr. video game on Gameboy with that classic cover. The Seattle Mariners and this home run slugger went hand-in-hand. MLB MVP, 13-time All Star, ten-time Gold Glover, seven-time Silver Slugger, he’s also known for his three Home Run Derby wins. Seventh all-time in MLB history with 630, Griffey, Jr. could flat out hit the ball. Far. Home run after home run-type-of-far.
16 – Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson was one of the best players in the game. Period. With 563 home runs in his career, it’s good for 14th all-time. Jackson found a way to win with his teams. A whole lot. Five times winning the World Series. Jackson also was a MVP, two-time World Series MVP, 14-time All Star, and two-time Silver Slugger.
15 – Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez is fourth all-time in home runs with 696 and fifth in MLB history in RBI’s with 2,086. A three-time MVP, 14-time All Star, two-time Gold Glover, ten-time Silver Slugger, he also won a batting title and World Series.
Fun fact: Add A-Rod as another MLB player turned pro sports team owner as he is reportedly buying the Minnesota Timberwolves according to ESPN. A-Rod is teaming up with “Walmart Inc. e-commerce veteran Marc Lore” to buy the team per Bloomberg’s Matthew Doyle.
14 – Mickey Mantle
One of a few MLB players who have seven or more World Series (per Fueled by Sports), you know I have to include Mickey Mantle towards the top of this list. The Hall of Famer was a three-time MVP, 20-time All Star, a Gold Glover, won a batting title, and get this: won a Triple Crown (in 1956)!
The Triple Crown “is one of the most difficult feats in baseball, as a player has to lead either the American League or National League in batting average, home runs and RBIs” according to MLB.com’s Andrew Simon.
13 – Randy Johnson
From Triple Crowns in batting to Triple Crowns in pitching, we move over to the pitcher’s mound.
Randy Johnson is second in MLB history in strikeouts with 4,875 and also won a triple crown. Triple crown in pitching is “leading one’s league in wins, ERA and strikeouts” according to MLB.com’s Ed Eagle.
Johnson is also a five-time Cy Young winner, ten-time All Star, won the ERA title four times, and was the 2001 World Series MVP, helping his team win the World Series.
12 – Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig won eight World Series titles (per Fueled by Sports). Eight! Seventh all-time in RBI’s with 1,995, Gehrig is a Hall of Famer, won a batting title, was a two-time MVP, seven-time All Star, and also won the Triple Crown.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame states that “Gehrig is chiefly known for playing in 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees, a magnificent streak long thought to have been unbreakable until Cal Ripken, Jr. came along.”
The National Baseball Hall of Fame also pointed out that “Gehrig’s consecutive games streak came to an end on May 2, 1939, when he removed himself from the lineup after a dismal start caused by his mysterious neuromuscular disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS – later known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease.’ Gehrig was the Yankee captain from 1935 until his death in 1941. In 1969, he was voted the greatest first baseman of all time by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.”
11 – Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols has that unique, epic stance when he steps up to the plate. And it works. When he hits it, he connects well and blasts ’em outta’ here! Pujols is fifth in MLB history in home runs with 673, 13th in hits with 3,274, and third all-time in RBI’s with 2,128. And what’s incredible, he’s still going strong! Pujols is the best player on this list who’s still playing in the MLB.
Pujols also has a foundation aimed “to live and share our commitment to faith, family and others” per the Pujols Family Foundation website.
“My life’s goal is to bring glory to Jesus. My life is not mostly dedicated to the Lord, it is 100% committed to Jesus Christ and His will. God has given me the ability to succeed in the game of baseball. But baseball is not the end; baseball is the means by which my wife, Dee Dee, and I glorify God. Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I would also rather be known as a great husband and father than an All-Star baseball player. Perhaps one day I could be honored with an invitation into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. That would certainly be a boyhood dream of mine come true, but it is a far greater honor that one day I will be in Heaven with God to enjoy Him forever.”Albert Pujols: Pujols Family Foundation ‘Message of Faith’ part of his ‘Personal Testimony’
10 – Willie Mays
Willie Mays was made to play baseball excellently. Mays has two MVPs to his name, 24 All Star nods, 12 Gold Gloves, a batting title, a World Series win, was a Rookie of the Year, and also is in the Hall of Fame. Mays is sixth in MLB history in homers and 12th in hits. One of the best to ever play baseball, you probably have heard of his name as he’s commonly associated with baseball and his legacy lives on as every player who wins a World Series MVP is named the “Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player” (per MLB.com’s David Adler).
“They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays”
Ted Williams once said according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame stated that “(h)e spent most of 1952 and all of 1953 in the Army, but in 1954, Mays showed his all-around ability, leading the league with a .345 batting average and 13 triples while blasting 41 homers and ringing up 110 RBI.”
9 – Joe DiMaggio
Joe DiMaggio is second in MLB history in World Series wins with nine according to Fueled by Sports. The Hall of Famer won two batting titles and three MVPs to go along with 13 All Stars.
8 – Jackie Robinson
Now on to the top 8 best baseball players of all time! And you can’t have a list like this without Jackie Robinson. Robinson, of course, is known for helping end segregation in baseball and players honor him by wearing his number-42 in certain MLB games today.
“The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.”JackieRobinson.com: ‘Biography’
According to Sports Spectrum’s Jason Romano, “(Fox News Ed) Henry’s exhaustive investigative work into the life of the Brooklyn Dodgers legend revealed that Robinson was guided by his love for God, even in light of the terrible injustices that he faced entering professional baseball as its first African American player.”
Robinson was not only a major player in society, he was a major player when he stepped up to the plate, winning an MVP, Rookie of the Year, a batting title, and was a seven-time All Star and World Series champion.
7 – Nolan Ryan
MLB’s strikeout leader in the history of the game, all Nolan Ryan seemed to do on the mound was throw strikeout after strikeout. Ryan’s career total is 5,714, the only pitcher to ever throw more than 5,000 in the MLB. Ryan’s pitching helped his team win a World Series. The pitcher also won two ERA titles and was an eight-time All Star.
6 – Satchel Paige
A Hall of Famer, Satchel Paige was an eight-time All Star, two-time ERA title winner, won a Triple Crown, and won the World Series twice. The National Baseball Hall of Fame states “Paige became the first African-American pitcher to pitch in the World Series”.
Fun fact: “at the age of 59 in a one-game stint with the Athletics on Sept. 25, 1965…(h)e pitched three shutout innings.”
“Age is a question of mind over matter,” Paige once said according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
ESPN‘s David Schoenfield listed Paige as the greatest Negro League player of all time.
5 – Mariano Rivera
Mariano Rivera, in 2019 according to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, “appeared on all 425 ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, making him the first player to be unanimously elected” to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
When you’re the first player in MLB history to get unanimously selected to the Hall of Fame, you start off this top five.
Hoch mentioned that “(t)he pitch that Mariano Rivera refers to as ‘a gift from God’ inexplicably appeared one afternoon in June 1997, as the reliever played catch with a teammate in front of the Yankees’ dugout. Each toss darted with wicked movement, and what would be recognized as the most lethal cut fastball in history had been born…Rivera destroyed countless bats across big league infields, celebrating championships and eventually standing alone as the all-time saves leader.”
4 – Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra. That right there is a cool name. And Yogi stands alone as the player with the most World Series of any player in MLB history (per Fueled by Sports) as Berra won 10 and is the only player with double digit World Series wins. Another double-digit stat? 18 All Star nods. Oh, and sprinkle in three MVPs and a Hall of Fame selection. That is what you call a recipe for being one of the best baseball players ever.
3 – Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth is another name that is just a classic baseball name. When you hear Babe Ruth, you think baseball. And for good reason. Ruth was one of the best to ever pick up a baseball bat. The ‘Bambino’ played from 1914 to 1935 and held the home run record for a while until Hank Aaron. Ruth is third in MLB history with 714 homers and second all-time in RBI’s with 2,214.
2 – Hank Aaron
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the 25-time All Star, World Series champion, three-time Gold Glover, two-time batting title champion, MVP, and Hall of Famer who beat Babe’s home run and RBI records. Aaron’s 2,297 career RBI’s lead the MLB for most in its history! Aaron’s 755 homers are second all-time.
You could easily debate whether or not Aaron or this next player (along with really any of these top players) is the GOAT in baseball history.
1 – Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb won an MVP, a Triple Crown, and 12 batting titles. You heard that right, a dozen batting titles.
Detroit, stand up! Cobb played on the Detroit Tigers and, per the National Baseball Hall of Fame, “(s)pending most of his career in the outfield, Cobb helped the Tigers win three American League pennants from 1907-09 and served as player-manager of the Tigers from 1921-1926.Cobb was known for his aggressive base running style and his ability to hit to all fields. He won nine consecutive AL batting titles from 1907 to 1915 and three more in his career. He hit .320 or better for 22 consecutive seasons including over .400 three times.”
Cobb is second all-time in hits with 4,189 and ninth all-time in RBI’s with 1,944. When you hit the ball this well and when you do so in such a consistent, consecutive manner, your team can rely on you to get on base and drive your teammates home, which gets you the best player of all time title. And that, my friends, brings us home on this list.
Hope you enjoyed this list! Again, this is subjective and up for any (healthy) debate. Who’s your top 10? Top 25?
As the MLB season is in full swing, do you think any more current MLB players could crack into this top 25 at some point during their careers? Let me know in the comments.
And it’s one, two, three strikes you’re outta’ the old ballgame!
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 The 25 Best Baseball Players Of All Time
- 2 25 – Mike Trout
- 3 24 – Ozzie Smith
- 4 23 – Cal Ripken, Jr.
- 5 22 – Rickey Henderson
- 6 21 – Oscar Charleston
- 7 20 – Walter Johnson
- 8 19 – Darryl Strawberry
- 9 18 – Derek Jeter
- 10 17 – Ken Griffey, Jr.
- 11 16 – Reggie Jackson
- 12 15 – Alex Rodriguez
- 13 14 – Mickey Mantle
- 14 13 – Randy Johnson
- 15 12 – Lou Gehrig
- 16 11 – Albert Pujols
- 17 10 – Willie Mays
- 18 9 – Joe DiMaggio
- 19 8 – Jackie Robinson
- 20 7 – Nolan Ryan
- 21 6 – Satchel Paige
- 22 5 – Mariano Rivera
- 23 4 – Yogi Berra
- 24 3 – Babe Ruth
- 25 2 – Hank Aaron
- 26 1 – Ty Cobb
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