How many players would you guess have played over 2000 games in left field off the top of your head? I would have guessed more than 4, but that’s all there is: Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Luis Gonzalez and Lou Brock. War and injuries caused Ted Williams to play fewer games and Carl Yastrzemski ended up moving to first later in his career. Anyway here are the top ten players of all time for left field.
1. Ted Williams 1939-1960 2292G, 521HR, 1839RBIs, .344BA, 190 OPS+
Had Williams had a little more speed and not been a slightly below average fielder we might be discussing the greatest player of all time. As it is many would rank Williams the greatest ever hitter and I can’t argue too much against that. He was fantastic. He got totally screwed in many of his MVP races as is well known. In 1941 he hit .406 and led the league in home runs. He finished 2nd to Dimaggio. In 1942 he finished 2nd to Joe Gordon even though he won the triple crown. He scored 53 more runs than Gordon and he was almost 2 and a half WAR ahead of Gordon. In 1946 he won the triple crown for a 2nd time and again finished 2nd, once more to Dimaggio. In this case Williams finished over FIVE WAR ahead of Dimaggio. Not even remotely close. In 1951 he finished 13th, even though he was the best hitter in the league that year. In 1957 he finished 2nd and was technically was the best hitter in the league, though Mantle had a higher WAR and won the award. Overall he should have won five MVP awards and could have possibly won more. No wonder he became such a moody SOB. Now on to a guy who didn’t deserve many of the MVP awards he won.
2. Barry Bonds 1986-2007 2986G, 762HR. 1996 RBIs, .298BA, 182 OPS+
There are few words to describe the loathing I feel for Barry Bonds. I’ll never forget watching the 1998 home run derby at the all-star game, and Mark McGwire launching moon shots. (McGwire actually didn’t do that well and Ken Griffey won the contest, but McGwire LOOKED impressive) The camera would cut to Barry Bonds watching this, and his eyes were just so wide…he looked like a kid seeing Santa Claus for the first time. In 1999 Bonds was injured much of the year, though he did hit 34 home runs in 355 At Bats. In 2000 however, at the age of 35, after the wear and tear of over 2000 games and coming off an injury Bonds suddenly appeared.. bulked up.. forehead popping.. no longer able to run anywhere near as fast.. and just suddenly became the most awesome, unstoppable offensive force in baseball history. He started hitting home runs, drawing walks, and raising his batting average to unbelievable levels. That’s just not statistically possible at that point in your career…UNLESS you account for steroids. Even today Bonds has his defenders. Anyway so where do I rank him? Ultimately I think you have to rank Bonds pre-1998. Basically where he was as a player before he started obviously juicing up. Even without PEDs I would rank him as the 2nd best left fielder, and maybe in the top ten players of all time. Power, speed, average, a great glove. Just a shame he had to ruin his legacy.
3. Rickey Henderson 1979-2003 3081G, 297HR, 1115 RBIs, .279BA, 127 OPS+
How does a player last almost 30 years in professional baseball putting the wear and tear on his body that Rickey did? I have no idea, but he was an amazing player that really took years for people to truly appreciate. I can’t imagine that his stolen base record will be broken in our lifetime. He was even prouder of breaking the all time runs scored record than he was of the stolen base mark. He developed some home run power to go with his speed and was a pretty good fielder as well.
4. Carl Yastrzemski 1961-1983 3308G, 452 HR, 1844 RBIs, .285BA, 130 OPS+
I only got to see Yaz play once in my life. Where I grew up the only two stations we got were WGN for the Cubs and WTBS for the Braves. So I rarely if ever got American league teams. I did get a Sox game in Yaz’s last year though, I guess on ABC or something. I don’t remember too much about the game, it was later in the year I think.. the Sox were well out of first.. it was a meaningless game really.. but Yaz came up to bat, hit a ball to right center which got past the fielder, and Yaz tried to stretch it into a double.. so this 43 year old man is just chugging towards second.. his eyes wild, his arms flailing.. just a tornado of chaos.. his helmet flies off and Yaz slides head first in a pile of dust as the ball arrives. SAFE. And Yaz gets up.. hair disheveled, brushes off a mountain of dirt to the roar of the crowd. What impressed me as a ten year old is that it was like he knew this was his last hurrah and he was just going to give it 120% every play, right to the end.. and squeeze every tiny bit of baseball he could out of his career. That’s what I think of when I think of Carl Yastrzemski.
5. Al Simmons 1924-1944 2215G, 307 HR, 1828 RBIs, .334 BA, 133 OPS+
Al Simmons was one heck of a ball player. He benefited greatly from the explosion of offense around 1930. He topped .380 four times, winning back to back batting titles in 1930 and 31. He also had 150-plus RBIs three times, winning a title in 1929. He appeared in the first three all star games and though injuries and age caught up with him, he was still a dangerous hitter at late as 1938, when he hit 21/95/.302. He was an outstanding defensive player though he drew few walks.
6. Billy Williams 1959-1976 2488G, 426HR, 1475 RBI, .290BA, 133 OPS+
Billy Williams just flew under the radar for many years. 1. He was a Cub 2. He rarely led the league in anything.. runs and hits in 1970, batting average in 1972. 3. He played out his career in relative obscurity.. finishing with the A’s AFTER their world series runs.. 4. He played most of his career in a low offense era where his stats are actually much better than they look. When he was elected to the hall of fame in 1987 I had to look him up to know just who he was. But I’ve learned to gain an appreciation for Williams over the years. Wasn’t a particularly great fielder.
7. Tim Raines 1979-2002 2502G, 170 HR, 980 RBIs, .294BA, 123 OPS+
I’ve always thought of Tim Raines as Rickey Henderson lite. I think most people probably think of him that way.. It’s not really a fair comparison. He drew plenty of walks.. just not as many as Rickey.. had some power, but not as much as Rickey.. stole lots of bases.. just not quite as many as Rickey. Hmm come to think of it maybe Rickey Henderson lite is a pretty good description of Tim Raines. There are two things he did better than Henderson though.. he hit for a somewhat higher average, winning a batting title in 1986, and Tim Raines is the most accurate base stealer in history.. he was rarely caught. Raines is probably the best player not in the hall of fame that isn’t excluded for steroids or banishment.
8. Zach Wheat 1909-1927 2410G, 132 HR, 1248 RBIs, .317 BA, 129 OPS+
The only major statistic Wheat ever lead the league in was batting average in 1918, although he was in the top ten in the National League in most offensive categories almost every year. Later in his career he hit .375 two years in a row and .359 at the age of 37. But that was in the live ball era and he was only as good as he had always been. Had Wheat played his entire career with the live ball he would have finished over 3000 hits with a lifetime average near .330. He was a pretty good fielder too.
9. Joe Medwick 1932-1948 1984G, 205 HR, 1383 RBIs, .324BA, 134 OPS+
Joe Medwick is mostly known for his triple crown season in 1937, though he was a fine player for many years. He and Johnny Mize led the Cardinals attack in the late 30s. He had over 220 hits three years in a row.. led the National league in RBIs three straight years from 1936-1938, and stayed the league through WWII. After getting traded he ended his career back in St. Louis as a teammate of Stan Musial.
10. Goose Goslin 1921-1938 2287G, 248 HR, 1610 RBIs, .316 BA, 128 OPS+
The Senators greatest non-pitcher. Goslin wasn’t considered that good a fielder, yet his fielding statistics aren’t that bad really. He probably should have been moved to first base I suppose. Had a good mix of power and speed. Not really a whole lot else I can say about him.
Honorable Mention (and why I didn’t pick them)
Joe Jackson – When baseball reinstates him and puts him in the hall of fame, I’ll rank him fourth on this list. Until then. I dunno.
Ralph Kiner – Kiner’s OPS+ would rank third among left fielders but he was a terrible fielder and just didn’t play long enough for me.
Willie Stargell – Stargell played fewer games than Kiner in left, and was also a terrible fielder. In fact in many ways they’re similar.
Jim Rice – All those RBIs just became too much for hall of fame voters and they just couldn’t resist electing him to the hall of fame in 2009. He’s certainly not the worst player in the hall of fame but he’s definitely in the lower tier. He was a meh fielder.
Lou Brock – Lou Brock is one of the more overrated players in baseball history. Yes he stole lots of bases but he was also caught a lot. Many players had better percentages. He hit .293 with over 3000 hits but it was a rather empty average. He didn’t hit many home runs or draw many walks. His lifetime OPS+ was a slightly better than average 109 and he was a train wreck as a fielder.
Bob Johnson – Indian Bob Johnson is one of those players who falls through the cracks of baseball history. His lifetime OPS+ is a robust 139, he was a seven time all star, and he left the game after 1945 even though he had a quite respectable 12/74/.280 line after 13 years playing. Part of that was his age.. he was 39 and got started late in his career because the A’s had Al Simmons at the time and they just didn’t want to move him. He continued to play in the minor leagues until 1951. Overall in his professional career he had over 3000 hits and 400 home runs. Just not quite enough of that in the majors to crack the top ten for me. I would put him in the hall of fame though.
George Foster – Great peak.. but he just couldn’t sustain it. Also not a great fielder.
Roy White – Good solid player for a decade and a half for the Yankees. But good and solid generally isn’t good enough to make the top ten at a position.
Minnie Minoso – Minoso was a great all around player… power, speed, defense.. though he was caught stealing a lot.. also led the league in hit by pitch an amazing ten times. Amazing considering he only played eleven full seasons due to the color line. That’s not his fault. I supposed you could put him at the bottom of the list and kick Goslin off. If I were going to do that though I’d probably do it with Bob Johnson instead.