MLB: Ranking the Top Five Players of All-Time

With MLB spring training underway and no new inductees into the Hall of Fame, the discussion came up of who were the top five baseball players of all time. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a hard list to come up with.

Whether it’s baseball players, movies, or even candy, typically there is a big debate on who or what to put on the list. And while that can still be the case here, I didn’t find much struggle with my list by following one rule. The player has to be in the MLB Hall of Fame.

The voting system for the Hall of Fame is not great by any stretch of the imagination but the best players ultimately end up there. In order to be considered the best of the best, you have to be included with the best. That means you don’t have the baggage that comes along with your name.

Coming up with the list wasn’t so hard. Putting the list in order was much more difficult.

5. Ken Griffey Jr.

The kid had it all including the sweetest swing of any player. The 2016 Hall of Fame inductee had a combination of power, speed, and defense that made him a must-watch.

Griffey currently sits seventh all-time in home runs with 630, 14th in RBI’s, and 15th in total bases. He’s a 13-time All-Star who won 10 gold gloves, four American League home run crowns, and the 1997 AL MVP. From 1990-1999, Griffey took home a gold glove and made the All-Star Team every year. All of this was done while being able to stay out of any steroid rumors going on throughout this era.

Griffey put together quite a resume of accomplishments considering he missed a lot of time with injuries. From his age 32-34 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Griffey only played in 206 MLB games. 

Griffey also missed a chunk of time from 1994-1995 because of the players’ strike-shortened seasons. He could have become the first player to eclipse Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in a single season if it weren’t for the strike. Griffey had 40 home runs with 50 games remaining before the season ended.

4. Willie Mays

Another player who has all five tools. Inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1979, Mays ranks sixth all-time in home runs with 660, 10th in RBI’s, 7th in runs scored, third in total bases, and fifth in WAR. 

The 24-time all-star won 12 gold gloves, two NL MVPs, and rookie of the year in 1951. In 1954 alone, Mays made the all-star team, won the batting title, MVP, and his only World Series championship. Of course, you can’t forget the iconic over-the-shoulder catch he made in game one of the 1954 World Series.

On top of all that, Mays is also just one of 18 players to hit four home runs in a single MLB game. It’s incredible a player of this caliber can be this low on the list.

3. Henry “Hank” Aaron

The true home run king ranks third on the list. A 1982 Hall of Fame inductee, Aaron’s 755 home runs are the most of any Hall of Famer. He also ranks first in RBIs and total bases. His total bases may be the most impressive statistic as he is 722 ahead of Stan Musial who is in a distant second. Hammerin’ Hank also ranks third in hits, fourth in runs, and seventh in WAR. 

Mays’ 24 all-star selections are nice but Aaron got the better of him with 25 selections of his own. He also won three gold gloves, two batting titles, four home run crowns, and surprisingly only one MVP award in 1957. 

The first player to catch Babe Ruth’s home run record. Easily one of the most feared hitters of all time.

2. Ted Williams

Ted Williams can be overlooked at times because his numbers aren’t as eye-popping as others which can make his ranking more tricky. The 1966 Hall of Fame inductee essentially missed five full MLB seasons between the ages of 24 and 34 due to military service in World War II and the Korean War. That’s a lot of prime years and quality at-bats to miss. Despite all the missed time, Williams ranks 20th all-time with 521 career home runs and 13th in RBI’s just ahead of Ken Griffey Jr. 

Many consider Williams the greatest hitter of all time. He is sixth all-time with a .344 career batting average. In 1941 Williams hit .406 and no player has reached .400 since. He is also the all-time leader in on-base percentage and second in OPS. The 19-time all-star won six batting titles. 

Williams also finished in the top three in MVP voting for six straight years from 1941-1949 with a three-year hiatus in between while he was serving in World War II. He won MVP in 1946 and 1949. He also won the Triple Crown twice in 1942 and 1947 but finished second in MVP voting in both of those years. 

1. Babe Ruth

Widely considered the greatest baseball player ever, the Babe hit a remarkable 714 home runs in his career at a time where nobody was hitting them out at the rate he was. He’s top 10 in almost every single major MLB category. He’s sixth all-time in RBI’s, fourth in runs scored, eighth in batting average, eighth in total bases, first in WAR, and first in OPS.

Ruth was a pitcher early in his career with the Red Sox where he went 94-46 with a 2.28 earned run average. He became a full-time outfielder once he was traded to the Yankees in 1920.

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Ruth was a part of the first Hall of Fame class in 1936. He was selected to the first two all-star games in 1933 and 1934. Ruth won an MVP, a batting title, and seven World Series championships. He also led the American League in home runs 12 times and RBI’s six times. 

The Great Bambino set the bar for all future players over one hundred years ago and he is still the benchmark to this day.

Honorable Mention

Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez

The MLB steroid era has kept many players out of the Hall of Fame the last decade. For Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, they would have likely made the hall regardless. But because of the baggage, they bring with them, voters have kept them out and therefore weren’t eligible for my list. They both rank top four in home runs and RBI’s but how far down the list would they have fallen without juicing? Probably far enough to not be considered in the top five players of all time.

Pete Rose

Pete Rose finds himself out of the Hall of Fame for different reasons. It is well documented that he confessed to betting on games he was involved in. He says he would bet on them to win and who knows what the truth is. But there is enough concern for him to be banned from the game and isn’t eligible to be voted for the Hall of Fame. His 4,256 hits record will never be touched. He ranks sixth all-time in runs scored and played in more games than any other player. If he were in the hall today he probably would have made the list.

Future Consideration

Mike Trout

Mike Trout is the best player in the game today. Not only is he going to be in my top five someday, but he has a legit chance to take over the number one spot. 

He already has over 300 home runs at 28 years old. He’s on pace to be top 10, maybe top five in WAR when his career is over. And as of right now he is eighth all time in OPS. Not only does he have great power but he has great speed too. He has over 200 stolen bases, more than Ken Griffey Jr. 

Probably the greatest player we will ever see in our lifetime.

Clayton Kershaw

This is interesting because how far up can a pitcher rank on an all-time list? I don’t think a pitcher will ever crack my top five but if one could it would be Clayton Kershaw. In an era that is all about hitting and runs, Kershaw has been the exception. As Trout will be the best player we will ever see, Kershaw will be the pitcher we ever see. 

It’s hard to compare pitching stats across different eras. Strikeouts are way up in today’s game so those may be inflated. Wins are way down today because pitchers don’t pitch as often or don’t stay in games as long. But the one constant we can compare is earned run average. 

Kershaw’s ERA currently sits at 2.43 for his career. That is amazing in any era, especially this era. For comparison, Greg Maddux had a lifetime ERA of 3.16. Randy Johnson’s was 3.29. Bob Gibson is at 2.91. Tom Seaver 2.86. Cy Young, who has an award named after him, has an ERA of 2.63. Not to mention he pitched in the dead-ball era. 

If a pitcher were to make it into a top-five list, it should be Clayton Kershaw. 

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols wasn’t on my radar initially as he enters what is likely his final year. He ranks fifth in home runs, doubles, and total bases. He’s also second in RBI’s behind the late Hank Aaron. 

Offensively he’s in the conversation. But what separates the others from Pujols is the defensive side. As you may have noticed, all of the top five players were outfielders. While Pujols was a solid first baseman, he hasn’t played much of the field since 2015. In his career, Pujols has been the designated hitter in over 25% of games he has started. 

Since joining the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, Pujols has only had one major achievement when he made the All-Star Team in 2015. He also hasn’t hit over .285 in his tenure in Los Angeles.

He is definitely a Hall of Famer, but the best of the best need to have longevity on both sides of the ball.

Who do you have as the top 5 all-time players in MLB? Leave a comment below.

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You can follow Tyler Samsel on Twitter @tylersamsel.

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