Amazing, amazing depth at this position. Probably more than any other spot in baseball history.
1. Babe Ruth 1914-1935 2503G, 714HR, 2220RBIs, .342BA, 206 OPS+
Obviously. Well maybe not so obviously. He played left field as well as right interchangeably, so I could have put him on that list instead. He also pitched some in case you hadn’t heard. Everyone knows about Ruth so moving on…
2. Hank Aaron 1954-1976 3298G, 755HR. 2297 RBIs, .305BA, 155 OPS+
Of course many consider Aaron the “real” home run king. It doesn’t matter, who wouldn’t rather have Hank Aaron on their team than Barry Bonds? I had a chance once in the late 80’s to pick up an Aaron rookie card.. in I think nrmt.. maybe exmt condition for $75. I passed on that and instead got:
1966 Pete Rose nrmt for $7
1966 Sandy Koufax nrmt for $5
1958 Harmon Killebrew nrmt for $5
1909 T206 John Mcgraw exmt for $25
1909 T206 Roger Bresnaham exmt for $25.
and my crowning jewel – a 1955 Al Kaline in gem mint for 12 dollars.
I think I talked him down to $75 for the group. I no longer have any of those cards. I still weep when I think of that Kaline. I foolishly traded it to my friend once.. had sellers remorse and wanted to trade back for it the following week: it was no longer nrmt. The others I sold when I was hard up for cash in the mid 90s. What does any of this have to do with Hank Aaron? Not much I suppose.
3. Frank Robinson 1956-1976 2808G, 586HR, 1812 RBIs, .294BA, 154 OPS+
People tend to think of Robinson as kind of a poor man’s Hank Aaron. So maybe he’s not quite as hugely popular as Aaron, but his lifetime OPS is almost exactly the same. Won the triple crown in 1966, but oddly that was the ONLY year he ever led the league in ANY of the triple crown categories. So I looked and sure enough every single other triple crown winner led the league at some point in something other than his triple crown year. Robinson finished 2nd in BA twice, 2nd in home runs twice, and 2nd in RBIs four times. Like Ruth played a lot of games in left as well.
4. Mel Ott 1926-1947 2730G, 511 HR, 1860 RBIs, .304BA, 155 OPS+
The right field position is just absolutely loaded. Ott appeared in eleven straight all star games.. from 1934-1944.. every game EXCEPT the first one in 1933. In 1945 Ott was still effective at 36, hitting 21/79/.308 151 OPS. But next year just fell off the map and was quickly out of the league. Another weird thing about Ott is he hit 323 of his home runs at home vs. 188 on the road, yet he hit .311 away while only .297 at home.
5. Reggie Jackson 1967-1987 2820G, 563 HR, 1702 RBIs, .262 BA, 139 OPS+
Jackson was a phenomenal athlete, and might surprise people being ranked so high but he played in a depressed statistical era. He was a great baserunner, but a rather bad fielder for some reason.
6. Roberto Clemente 1955-1972 2433G, 240HR, 1305 RBI, ..317BA, 130 OPS+
Did I mention right field was loaded? Many people would likely rank Clemente higher.. but home runs count for a lot. He certainly wouldn’t rank above Robinson. I wrote an article comparing Clemente to Kaline on this site. They are quite comparable and closer in ability than people might think. I’ll give Clemente the edge though. Not really based off anything other than reputation however.
7. Al Kaline 1953-1974 2834G, 399 HR, 1583 RBIs, .297BA, 134 OPS+
Al Kaline is one of my favorite players, in case you couldn’t tell. And he retired when I was one, and I’m not from Detroit so I don’t know why. I think it’s the fact he played year in, year out.. not a whole lot of accolades but well regarded.. and ultimately with a career that holds up well against some of the big name HOF players. Kaline holds what is probably my favorite record in baseball as well: Most home runs in a career without ever hitting 30 in a season. I dunno why but I like that one.
8. Gary Sheffield 1988-2009 2576G, 509 HR, 1676 RBIs, .292 BA, 140 OPS+
People forget about Sheffield. How good he really was. As a hitter I mean. He was a sucktacular fielder. he was a career journeyman, kind of odd and rare for a hitter of his quality. He also played a number of positions, just mostly in right. Truth is if you want to move him down father on the list I wouldn’t much care.
9. Dwight Evans 1972-1991 2606G, 385 HR, 1384 RBIs, .272BA, 127 OPS+
I was trying to figure out who to put in this spot.. Tony Gwynn? Harry Heilman? Maybe move Gary Sheffield down? Maybe even Sammy Sosa.. but Dwight Evan’s name just kept popping out at me.. taunting me. So here he is. Truth is Evans was criminally underrated and should probably be in the hall of fame. There’s two type of ball players statistically. Well three types if you count the Babe Ruth/Willie Mays mega stars. The two are those players whose statistics are worse than they appear and those that they’re better than they appear. Dwight Evans is certainly in the latter. He had a fair amount of power.. drew plenty of walks.. hit for a pretty decent average considering the era. He was actually a much better than his long time teammate Jim Rice, who did make the hall of fame. What he’s really known for is being a fantastic fielder. Probably the 2nd or third best on this list behind Clemente and maybe Kaline.
10. Tony Gwynn 1982-2001 2440 G, 135 HR, 1138 RBIs, .338 AVG.
I could have put any number of players here, but I’ll talk about them in the honorable mentions. Of all the players I’ve personally seen (mostly on TV naturally), I’ve never seen a player with the ability to put the bat on the ball like Tony Gwynn. It seemed like he just never struck out, and a few years it looked like he really might have challenged the .400 mark. Didn’t work out, but just a fascinating guy to watch at the plate. Pretty good base runner in the 80s before he turned into a butterball. also won 5 gold gloves but was really an average fielder for the most part.
Honorable Mention (and why I didn’t pick them)
Paul Waner – Might be surprising he isn’t on the list but I’m not sure who I’d replace with him. Not much power but otherwise a great hitter. Poor defense.
Sammy Sosa – Really not off the list due to steroids but taken as a whole his OPS is too low and not that great a fielder anyway. A lot of right fielders are surprisingly bad in that regard. Anyone looking for proof of steroids just look at his career. In 1990 he hit 15 home runs in 532 At Bats. As late as 1997 he hit 36 in 642 At Bats. He then proceeded to tear off 66,63,50,64,49. Once he was forced to quit the juicing his numbers fell back to earth: in 2005 he hit 14 in 380 At Bats and in 2007 it was 21 in 412.
Bobby Abreu – Pretty good all around career – but his stats are like Dwight Evans – if Evans was a below average fielder.
Dave Winfield – Very very close to making the list, and would have had he not gotten injured before the 1989 season. He was never the same player after that. He won seven gold gloves which sounds great, but then I looked at his fielding stats, and well they just look kind of bad. Gold gloves might be the most subjective award in baseball.
Dave Parker – In terms of just sheer raw ability one of the top five players on the list, but somehow it just didn’t pan out. Had some injuries in the early 80s. Made a comeback but just didn’t quite play at the same level afterwards. Very similar to Fred Lynn in many ways like that.
Larry Walker – A good solid hitter, and a pretty good fielder as well, BUT he played a lot of his career in Coors field which artificially inflated his statistics to a great extent.
Ichiro Suzuki – a hard guy to judge.. His hitting is not as good as people think – he’s basically a better version of Lloyd Waner in that regard – very good average, but low walks, therefore huge amounts of hits – yet virtually no power. Problem is Lloyd Waner doesn’t belong in the hall of fame so that’s not really a plus. What is a plus is Suzuki’s baserunning. 472 Steals with an amazingly low 102 caught stealing at his age? That’s incredible. Plus his fielding.. The man is a hoover vacuum in right field. His arm may not be like Clemente or Evan’s but he’s probably one of the top five fielders in right of all time.
Sam Rice – .322 average in a day when a .322 average wasn’t particularly special. So-so fielding. No power.
Vladimir Guerrero – Again it’s the fielding that gets him. 140 lifetime OPS, but awful glove.
Harry Heilmann – If it were just hitting he’s rank 6th or 7th. But well you know the story.. terrible fielder.. so he’s off the list.
Bobby Bonds – I suspect were it not for injuries he might rank higher and probably would have made the hall of fame. But you know you could say that for a lot of people at a lot of positions. That’s life. Career was basically done at 33.
Chuck Klein – Take a gander at his home/away statistics. Go ahead take a peek. I’ll wait. Still think he belongs in the top ten on this list, much less the hall of fame? Thought so.
Rocky Colavito – There’s quite a bit of underground support for Colavito as a player and for the hall of fame. And those people may actually have a point. Hit for a fairly solid average for the day.. had Harmon Killebrew level power.. drew plenty of walks. Reasonable fielder. 132 OPS lifetime. Problem is his career was just too short. Retired at the age of 34 due to injuries. And really he had been done for a few years prior to that. There’s a lot of guys like that, Hall of fame level ability- had good careers, but injuries just cut them a little too short to really be considered for the hall of fame. Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Colavito, maybe Ron Guidry pitching. Charlie Keller might be the poster boy for that type of player.
Andre Dawson – Much better fielder than many of the players on this list, but his complete inability to draw walks HURTS man.