I looked at MVPs, WAR, Gold Gloves, Career OPS+, Peak performance, and four stats from baseball-reference: Black Ink (how many times led the league in something), Grey Ink (how many times in the top 10 in something), HOF Standards (an all encompassing look at stats and assessing points for accumulation), HOF Monitor (similar to HOF standards with a different point system. I didn’t use any points system, but looked at all these things to rank these guys. I didn’t look at All-Star games nor World Series titles or wins.
16. (1 point) - Ozzie Smith. Love the Wizard, and he is certainly in any conversation for best fielder ever, and did it at the hardest position. The problem is he is a complete non-factor offensively. Never led the league in anything besides sacrifice hits and plate appearances, career average of just .262, and a career OPS+ of 87, only breaking 100 four times in his career.
15. (2 points) - Roberto Alomar. The spitting incident mars his career a bit, but he’s still got an argument as the best 2nd basemen of the modern era. Fell short of 3,000 hits and never led the league in anything other than runs scored. I was willing to consider Ozzie as 15 instead of 16 because of his fielding, but Alomar is right there with him with 10 gold gloves, and was far superior offensively.
14. (3 points) - Ernie Banks. Had one hell of a peak, winning two MVPs, and was the standard for power hitting second basemen for a long while. What surprised me was how low his career WAR is - lower than Smith and Alomar, and just over half of a couple of the guys on this list. He was the face of the franchise for a long time, but pretty much all these guys were at this point.
13. (4 points) - Brooks Robinson. Not the offensive force the Banks was, but he gets the nod ahead of him thanks to his incredible defense. Brooks won a staggering 16 gold gloves, the most ever for a position player and behind only Greg Maddux for most all time. I didn’t know this before looking into these rankings, but Brooks finished in the top 5 in MVP voting five times in his career. He had a really strong peak, and played almost every game leading the league in games played five times.
12. (5 points) - Derek Jeter. #### the Yankees.
11. (6 points) - Chipper Jones. Chipper had a very nice career and was a truly excellent player, but he’s hurt because of his lack of league leading stats. He has one batting title and won the OBP title the same year, and had another year with the league leading OPS, but that’s it. It’s hard to find any real criticisms of him, but everyone else is a real monster.
10. (7 points) - George Brett. Hard to believe Brett couldn’t crack the Top 10, but here we are. The man ticks every box: 3,000 hits, 300 homers, 1,500 RBI, a gold glove and an MVP. This is where ranking started to get really, really hard. So why Brett here? Simple enough - he only had one MVP. It’s not much of a criticism, but everyone else left either has multiple MVPs or played before the MVP was given out. Sorry George, please don’t come flying out of the dugout to yell at me.
9. (8 points) - Joe Morgan. A truly horrendous announcer and baseball mind who inspired one of my favorite websites of all time (firejoemorgan.com), Morgan could do it all with speed and power, finishing his career with two MVPs and five gold gloves to go along with his 2,500 hits, 268 homers, and 689 stolen bases - which is still 11th most of all-time. One of the more confusing things about Morgan’s staunch refusal to embrace sabermetrics or any kind of advanced thinking is that he led the league in walks four times and OBP four times (not the same four years) - staple stats in the advanced metrics world.
8. (9 points) - Cal Ripken Jr. Best known for his streak of 2,625 games played in a row, Ripken also revolutionized the shortstop position. He proved you didn’t have to be small, or quick, or wirey to play shortstop, and you also didn’t have to be a slap hitter. Despite being 6-4, Ripken was one of the best to play the position in his time with two gold gloves while accumulating 3,184 hits and 431 home runs, winning two MVPs, and a rookie of the year. You can argue he should have ended the streak earlier, as his offense did struggle in his later years, but you can’t deny the iconic moment of him running around Camden Yards, high fiving fans. Bonus points given since I was at the game where he collected his 3,000th hit!
7. (10 points) - Nap Lajoie. Always tough to rank the super old guys against more modern players, but Nap has some insane numbers. Career batting average of .338, including .426 in 1901, over 3,000 hits, and five batting titles. In 1903 Cleveland changed their team name from the Bronchos (whatever that is) to the Naps in his honor. He would also go on to be player/manager for the team. Legend.
6. (11 points) - Jimmie Foxx. Foxx won 3 MVPs: 1932, 1933, and 1938. Babe Ruth was still around for those first two, so that makes those even more impressive. The modern power boost has pushed his career rank to 19th in homers, but his 534 was a monster number for a long time, and his 58 in 1932 was second most of all-time right up until 1961. No gold gloves back then, but Foxx also led the league in assists by a first baseman three times, and in least errors once.
5. (12 points) - Mike Schmidt. I was just barely too young, and too American League centric, to truly appreciate this guy. 3 MVP awards, 10 gold gloves, nearly 550 career home runs (leading the NL ten times), and a career OBP of .380? Truly an all around great. He could easily be number three instead of four, but the stats are just barely in the next guy’s favor. Toughest ranking was choosing between these two.
4. (13 points) - Alex Rodriguez. Obviously I didn’t penalize him for the Roids and the lying and dating weird people. On another day I might have, but I chose to look mostly just at the numbers and such for baseball, since it is such a 1-on-1 game, in a way I didn’t for basketball. He beats out Schmidt in career hits, home runs, RBI, Runs, WAR, Stolen Bases, Batting Average, Slugging, and OPS. He is tied with him in OBP and trails him in OPS+. Schmidt’s 10 gold gloves to A-Rod’s 2 weren’t enough to overcome some of these offensive (and offensive) differences. If you were really looking to ding A-Rod you might bring up that tired narrative that he failed in the postseason, and yes, he had some truly stinker playoff series, but he also had some amazing ones. We just tend to remember the bad ones, because it’s easy to root against him - he’s generally loathsome (although reinventing himself on TV now). But he’s also the fourth best infielder on this list.
3. (14 points) - Lou Gehrig. Now we get to the cream of the crop, and it’s not some kind of anti-recency bias at play, it’s just the dominators or old dominated in a way we very rarely see in more modern times. Now quick, when I ask you the best baseball team of all-time, how far do you have to get to get to the 1927 Yankees? Not too far I’d bet. They’re a team of legend, led by Gehrig and of course, the MVP that year, Babe Ruth. Wait. What? Yeah, Gehrig won the MVP that year. He hit .373/.474/.765, led the league with 447 total bases and 173 RBI. Monster year, in a monster career. Oh, and he would top those 173 RBI four years later with 185. I know, I know - RBI are in large part a function of the team’s ability and the situations the player finds himself in. Well Lou took advantage. Two MVPs, six other top 5 MVP finishes, a triple crown in 1934, and one hell of a famous quote. It was harder to keep him out of the 2nd spot than it was to consider dropping him to four.
2. (15 points) - Honus Wagner. The legendary card. The T206. Only 57 copies are known to exist. Somewhere less than 200 made - either because they were distributed by a tobacco company and Honus didn’t improve, or more likely he wanted more money. The card has sold for $2.8 million in 2007, $1.2 million in 2012 (poor quality), $3.1 million in 2016, and $1.2 million in 2019 (also poor quality). It would be nice to have one. He also retired with 3,400 hits, which still ranks 8th all-time, 252 triples (3rd all-time), 643 doubles (10th all-time), won 8 batting titles, led the league in OPS 8 times, and is still ranked 10th all-time in WAR. The man simply dominated and his stats still are amongst the best of all-time. Elected to the very first HOF class in 1936.I know it’s tough to really know how good we would be today, but obviously I’m not using that as my criteria. That’s ok, because it’s my list.
1.(16 points) - Rogers Hornsby. An absolute legend with a great career and an amazing prime. From 1924-1929 he hit .378/.365/.635, an OPS+ of 185. That’s over six years! During that time he won 2 MVPs, added a runner up and a 3rd place, while hitting over .400 twice, winning three batting titles, and leading the league in OPS five of those six years. Not to mention winning a triple crown in 1925. His second triple crown. Yes, his first came in 1922, which would be considered not in his prime. He won a triple crown before he hit his prime. Hit .380 or better 7 times. Ranks second all time in batting average, 8th in on-base, 10th in slugging, and 7th in OPS which adds up to 12th all time in WAR. The man was a beast, and I don’t think you’ll find much argument for him as #1.