Here with the latest, and possibly most important, installment of the HoG25 list series: the first 16 choices for our Top 25 Hitters of the Last 25 Years.
What do we love to argue more than baseball? Which element of the baseball do we specifically argue about most frequently, most passionately? Is it defense? Pitching? Or is it who was better, Rogers Hornsby or Napoleon Lajoie? Mike Schmidt or Pie Traynor? Barry Bonds or Pete Rose?
You don't need an explanation, an invitation or a traffic citation. See you in the comments section, witches.
25. Pedro Guerrero
Pedro Guerrero was one of the first non-Royals ball players I admired as a Little Leaguer. The teams to be reckoned with in the Bigs were the Yankees and the Dodgers and, much like today, that was because their rosters were stacked with awesome athletes. Guerrero is not to be overlooked. His career was well underway prior to 1984 but he continued to put up solid numbers -- .300 BA, .480 SLG, nearly 900 RsBI, and 215 jacks -- until his 1992 retirement. In particular, his ’85 season .320, .577 SLG, .999 OPS, was phenomenal, but if you look at who he ranks with in the ‘80s, that’s what’s more impressive.
His .308 average for the decade was fifth-best that span, placing him behind George Brett, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, and Wade Boggs. Pretty good company there. He squeezed into the top 20 (just ahead of Mattingly) in RsBI with 722, the total-bases category with 2,149, and landed at the four slot in slugging with a .506, ahead of Gwynn, Boggs, Eddie Murray, Andre Dawson, and Robin Yount, just to name a few. His OPS for the decade -- .888 –- was also fifth-best. All of this, it’s crucial to note, happened with significant injury sidelines scattered throughout the middle of the decade; he missed most of the ’86 season, and just shy of half of the ’88 campaign.
Guerrero’s presence in Major League Baseball was also a pivotal one for Latino players. There are obviously many things awry with MLB’s Hall of Fame and the fact that there are currently only nine Latinos in Cooperstown is likely one of them. I don’t aim to make a “Vote
for Pedro Pedro In” campaign out of this, but, if you take the top three Latino HoF hitters, their numbers are somewhat on par with Guerrero’s:
Roberto Clemente, through 18 seasons, hit .317, knocked in 1,305 runs, blasted 240 long balls, and slugged .475. Rod Carew played a season longer. He hit .328, 1015 RsBI, 92 jacks, and slugged .429. Tony Perez played for 23 years. His average was .279, his bat brought 1,652 runs home, he put 379 balls over walls, and slugged .463. Guerrero played three seasons fewer than Clemente, and he retired with a better average than Perez, just shy of Carew in RsBI and with more than double the homers, and his slugging percentage was better than anyone of the four. I’m not the first person to say that numbers can be manipulated to support any argument and I won’t be the last, but quality hitting has always been about consistency rather than fancy. When you’re consistent with the bat in your hands over a long period of time, they’ll eventually call you a great hitter, which I think Guerrero was. And so, it turns out, did Bill James, who once called him “the best hitter God has made in a long time.”
This list isn’t about Latino players, though, and it’s not about dudes who played longer than 25 years ago. The success of a guy like Guerrero was inspiration for a lot of really good Latino players, especially those from the Dominican Republic – Guerrero’s home.
Cecil's Note: it is a crime against all that is holy to favorably compare Pedro Guerrero to Roberto Clemente.
Ol' No. 7's Note: The only issue I have with putting Pedro Guerrero in this group is the spelling of his first name. It should be V-L-A-D-I-M-I-R.
Actually, after looking at the numbers, I can admit that Guererro was a pretty darned good hitter. And his numbers in the frame of the 80s decade are helpful, if completely arbitrary--by that metric guys like Guerrero and Jack Morris (winningest pitcher of the 80s) and Mark Grace (most base hits in the 90s) look better, while someone like Kevin Mitchell is downgraded because his peak years ran from '87-'94. Kevin Mitchell was another pretty darned good hitter, lifetime OPS+ of 142 and an MVP in 1989.
But I've decided that I have no problem with Pedro Guerrero, because he may be the funniest player in baseball history. There's his participation in this video, which very well may be the gayest four minutes ever committed to celluloid. There's his bit part in the OJ Simpson saga--after the murders, a bunch of 911 calls were released. One had OJ trying to track down his girlfriend, and The Juice uncorked this line:
'She's been doing drugs for two days with Pedro Guerrero, who just got arrested for cocaine, and I'm trying to get her to leave her house and go into rehab right now.'
Only OJ pronounced it PAY-Dro (pause) Gurr-RARE-oh, and the tape became a staple of Jim Rome's show for months. And speaking of Guerrero's affliction for the cola, he was busted for buying 33 pounds of coke from an undercover cop in 1999. His lawyer secured an acquittal, however, on the argument that Pedro Guerrero was too stupid to have masterminded such a deal. The attorney claimed in open court that Guerrero's IQ was 70 and that he was unable to make his own bed or fill out a check. Illiterate dancing cokehead retard Pedro Guererro, he's the best.
24. Dustin Pedroia
Pedroia makes for a tough case considering that this is only his fourth year in the Bigs, his third with significant playing time. He makes this list for reasons very similar to Guerrero’s, however, and those are reasons of consistency. Sure, he could completely tank in the next few years, and be remembered as a guy that was great for a minute, but for now, his display of hitting has warranted mention on this here list. He made his debut in late August 2006 and was on the roster for 31 games, not even 100 plate appearances. The following year, he hit .317, drove in 50 runs, and was one double shy of hitting 40, all of which was enough to get him Rookie of the Year, an award that goes great with a World Series championship ring, I imagine. In 2007, he added to his feats by hitting 54 doubles, batting .326, generating 83 RsBI, and slugging .493. He also made an All-Star Game, won a Silver Slugger, and league MVP. Through just over 100 games this year, he’s toying with .300, slugging better than .420, and has made another All-Star Game.
Let’s compare him with the guy he just barely beat out in Pedro Guerrero. If Pedroia plays for 16 years at this pace, he’ll hit .309, have 1,136 runs batted in, and just over 200 home runs. That’s all assuming he just continues to average what he’s done so far. We’re not talking fancy hitting, and we’re not talking power. Great hitting, again, is about consistency, and through three full seasons, Pedroia has shown that that’s his M.O. If this guy’s league-leading 213 base hits a year ago are a sign of the numbers he’ll put up in the future, he could easily become one of the greatest 25hitters of all time.
23. Don Mattingly
Here are the things I like about Don Mattingly: his nickname, Donnie Baseball, is so New York that it should come with a warning not to go swimming on the beaches after a heavy rainstorm. His moustache was fantastic. His batting eye, superb. His…
OK, I’m out. I was never a Mattingly fan, really. Mostly because I’m a National League guy, and as everyone familiar with the notion of sports conspiracy theorism is aware, the stars of the Big Clubs in the East (read: American League, and don’t mention the Mets or I’ll kick you in the shin) get all the love and attention, at the expense of deserving, underappreciated soldiers like Damon Berryhill and Rick Wrona. So fuck Mattingly, I thought as a youth, because my guy is better.
Well, my guy wasn’t, actually, but that’s because my guy was Leon Durham (and later, Mark Grace). Mattingly had a four-year span that was truly spectacular, from 1984-87—check out his ’86 season, which featured 238 hits, 53 doubles, 31 homers, 113 ribbies and a slugging percentage of .573. He led the majors in seven offensive categories that year. I’ve never been good at math, but yowsers. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.
He fell off pretty badly after that--although he had a good ’89--and never won a World Series, since he retired in ’95. Part of me thinks that’s unfortunate. But it’s a very, very small part. The rest of me thinks it’s fucking hilarious.
22. Andre Dawson
When I see Andre Dawson’s name, I fondly remember my brief infatuation with the Montreal Expos, and how a small portion of a baseball roster could make a team not completely suck. Between 1969 and 2004, the Expos had one playoff appearance, and since they’ve been the Washington Nationals, they’ve only not finished in last place (second-to-last in 2007) once. I’m not sure how, if you’ve been an Expos/Nationals fan since their origin, you maintain your sanity, but I know that having Andre Dawson on your club for at least 10 of those years had to help a little. Dawson left Montreal in 1986 and became a Cub, and then he was a Red Sock, and finally a Marlin. But he was always a great hitter.
After the 1996 season, he retired, leaving career numbers of a .279 average, 438 home runs, 1,591 RsBI, and a .482 slugging percentage. Those numbers aren’t fantastic, necessarily, but enough to get him eight All-Star nods, four Silver Slugger awards, and a 1987 league MVP award, a season during which he led the N.L. in homers with 49, and RsBI with 137. That last stat is the most important to me. He drove in 137 runs for a last-place Cubs team. He also managed to slug a career-high .568 that year, but slugging gets a little more into power than I’d like to. The RBI is really a fantastic stat in baseball because it can mean a variety of things. It could mean you got a base hit, and one of your teammates scored. It can mean you smacked a homer. It could mean that you got a sacrifice fly, which is one of those deals in which personal accolades are sacrificed for the greater of the team, but this was seldom the case for Dawson.
In 9,927 career at bats, Andre Dawson hit 118 sacrifice flies. Two of those came in 1987 when he drove in 137 runs. Now, it’s important to note that Dawson struck out almost as many times as he drove in runs throughout his career, but the thing I liked best about Dawson’s stick was its versatility. Yes. He had power. Four hundred thirty-eight dingers is a might powerful. But he also had 503 doubles and nearly 100 triples. Sure. He had speed early in his career, but it tapered off considerably by the mid-‘80s, at least in terms of swiped bags. But he kept getting extra-base hits, and it was the versatility to do that, hit for power, and drive in runs that make him one of the best batters over the last quarter century.
21. Tim Raines
When I was a little kid, the Denver Bears were the Triple A affiliate for the Montreal Expos. This being the early ‘80s, Mile High Stadium played host to a couple of really fine ballplayers, most notably Tim Raines and Andre Dawson. It's fitting that they end up side-by-side on our list.
Raines, in particular, captivated my interest, partly because he was my dad’s kind of player—pa was always partial to the base-stealing hustlers—partly because I owned (and still do) his rookie card and partly because, well, he was flippin’ awesome. Long after he left Denver for colder northern pastures, Raines remained one of my personal faves. When he won the batting title in ’86, when he stole 90 bases, when he showed up for spring training demanding to be nicknamed “Rock,” these were things I found appealing. Later on I would discover the wonders of freebasing cocaine on my very own, bringing closure to the circle of life.
Raines was probably the second-best leadoff man of his generation, which in most generations would earn you a gold watch and maybe a premiere spot at the autograph table, but in his meant only that he wasn’t as good as Rickey Henderson. Who was? Raines led his league in steals for four consecutive years in the early ‘80s—not his fault that Rickey was breaking the single season record during the same era. Rock was a run-scoring machine, twice leading the majors in that category. He had a season where he stole 50 bags and only got caught five times.
He played well beyond his prime (like Rickey) but never showed Rickey’s power or ability to drive in runs, and over the course of his final seven or so seasons, his production fell off precipitously. But still, Raines was a hell of a hitter. One of the best at stretching a single into a double I've ever seen. Plus, he developed a slide aimed at protecting the vial of coke he kept in his stirrup sock.
20. Chipper Jones
It’s easy to forget the career achievements of one Larry Wayne Jones. After all, Atlanta no longer makes the postseason every single season, and if you primarily watch your baseball in October you haven’t seen Chipper in a few years. The fact that he’s played his entire 16-year career in one city hides him a little more—Chipper has never been a prize in a blockbuster trade or had a press conference after a splashy free agent signing. Plus, he’s a complete hick—I’m pretty sure he sleeps with a dip in, and he once had an affair with a Hooters waitress that resulted in a bastard kid.
Chipper Jones is still, though, the finest third baseman of our generation. His ticket to Cooperstown is punched, and he’s one of the three best hitters to play the position in the history of the game (I’m still counting Alex Rodriguez as a shortstop).
Now I know that you’ll see Paul Molitor and Wade Boggs higher on this list, and both of those guys were third basemen, sort of. Molitor played all over the field, but 3B was where he spent most of his time when he actually donned a mitt (1174 games at DH, 791 at 3B). Boggs is overranked here for a few reasons, one is that the House of Georges inexplicably values slap hitters over sluggers (link to Bonds/Rose exchange between Cecil and Bank) and two is that when I was a kid Wade Boggs was my favorite player in the whole world.
But back to Chipper—when he’s done he’ll slide in behind only George Brett and Mike Schmidt on the list of all-time third sackers. He’s currently shy of 3,000 hits, sitting at 2,382 after 15+ seasons and claiming that his current three-year contract will be his last. His 423 home runs still place him third all-time among 3B (only Schmidt with 548 and Eddie Mathews with 512 have more) and among switch hitters (behind only Mickey Mantle’s 536 and Eddie Murray’s 504). His career OPS is .953, his career OPS+ is 145, his career batting average is .310, he’s finished in the top 10 of MVP voting six times and he won the award in 1999. No doubt, right behind Schmidt and Brett.
--Ol' No. 7
19. Rafael Palmeiro
I watched the first at-bat of Rafael Palmeiro’s career. If memory serves, and it probably doesn’t following everything I’ve ingested over the last 20 years, he hit a single. I thought to my not-quite-teenage self, good eye, contact hitter, maybe he’s got a batting title in him.
Actually, I didn’t. More likely what occupied my forebrain was something along the lines of “when are girls going to stop thinking I’m lame? Metallica ROOLZ.” But if I had made such an observation it would have been understandable—after all, that’s what Palmeiro was. A contact hitter with a good eye and not a ton of power. In three years at the Wrigley bandbox, his highest home run total was 14 in 1987, which occurred during a campaign that saw outlandish increases in power totals across the league.
Or was he? Upon his arrival in Texas, his power numbers steadily climbed up, up, up into the stratosphere. The former singles man turned into a yearly 30+ tater man, with accompanying boosts in RBI, runs scored and slugging percentage. He still had the great eye—although his batting averages fluctuated wildly—but wow, the dude managed to go past 500 fucking home runs! Unbelievable! Why, it’s almost like he left Chicago and landed in one of the dirtiest clubhouses in history, the Rangers of the early-to-mid ‘90s, where George Bush stood at the players’ entrance every day in a gingham frock holding a bowlful of Dianabol.
I’m not necessarily one to say that steroids make the player—in Bonds’ case, for instance, he was fantastic without them. So, we can likely assume, was Manny. But Palmeiro? He’s trickier. He was a legitimately excellent hitter by nature, but the thing that launched him into the record books was indisputably fueled by chemistry. Same with Mark McGwire. This will all eventually be sussed out in Hall voting, and I think the selectors will probably do the right thing and let the deserving Roidballs, the Bondses and the Clemenses, in.
I’m not sure Rafy is one of those, but his numbers necessitate his presence on this list.
18. Derek Jeter
For some reason, I ended up with a bunch of guys I just don’t like. Jeter, A-Rod, Bonds and Piazza all chap my ass, and I have little love for whiny Frank Thomas. Hell, even guys I respect like Griffey and Rickey agitate me in their old age. Or maybe it’s my old age.
Don’t cry for me, though, I drafted this bunch of dickholes. And you simply can’t compile a list of the 25 best hitter of my sports-watching lifetime without including The Captain.
His career numbers are there—with only 36 more hits he’ll surpass Lou Gehrig for the most by a Yankee and he’ll reach 3,000 in 2011. He’s won four rings and has a .309 average in 123 (!) postseason games. And he’s plowed through just about the most impressive list of starlets on record: Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, Gabrielle Union, Lara Dutta, Vanessa Minillo and a pre-crazy Mariah Carey. So what if he gave most of them the herpes?
Anecdotally, I’ve seen Derek Jeter get a hit exactly 100 per cent of the time he’s needed one in a big spot against the Red Sox. For those of you without a calculator that’s a BA of 1.000.
Defensively he’s overrated and slipping, of course, although he’s enjoyed quite resurgence in effectiveness at shortstop this season. I always hear talk about him shifting to first or the outfield to finish his Yankee career, but I don’t see why he can’t man short for a couple more years while A-Rod is dealing with his bum hip. Besides, this list is for hitters, Jeter could wear a cinder block instead of a Rawlings in the field and he’d still be here.
I tip my cap to you, Derek Jeter, and only half-heartedly wish that you get hit by a bus this afternoon.
--Ol' No. 7
17. Robin Yount
If the Expos were my National League mistress, the Brewers were my A.L. concubine as a kid. I’m not sure why, but the roster of Milwaukee enchanted me. There were just so many interesting guys on it: Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Ned Yost, Pete Vuckovich, Paul Molitor, and of course Rollie Fingers. And of course Robin Yount. I never checked the newspaper for regular comparisons as a kid, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t peep my baseball cards every year to see how close Yount and George Brett were in batting statistics. I never wanted Yount to be better, but I always had a lot of respect for his game. I remember Yount being a relatively clutch hitter, a guy that mixed his hits up a lot, so much so that I was surprised to learn that he only hit for the cycle once – June 12, 1988 against the White Sox -- in his professional career.
There are a number of fascinating tidbits about Yount, though. For example, no player had more hits than he did in the 1980s; he led them all with 1,731. He also had the sixth-best (just behind Guerrero) batting average of the decade, was 10th best with RsBI, and the 11th-best slugger of the period.
My two favorite Yount statistics, though, are his extra bases, and his playoff numbers. Regarding hits better than singles, he hit 583 doubles, 126 triples, and 251long balls in his 20-year career with the Brew Crew. And the two-time MVP, three-time All-Star only made it to two post-seasons, and neither fall in the last 25 years, but they’re worth mentioning. In 17 playoff games, Yount hit .344, slugged .469, hit two doubles, a triple, a home run, and drove in 7. He also twice led the league in triples, including a career-high 11 in 1988. Yount’s a tricky guy for this list in that he logged several great seasons in the early ‘80s, but his play throughout the decade, and even into the ‘90s, when he continued to spread it around, tallying 102 doubles, 15 triples, and 43 home runs between 1990-93.
16. Ryne Dee "Ryno" Sandberg
This was a total homer pick on my part. Ryno is a fringe candidate, of this I am quite aware, and his numbers have been bested by several second sackers in recent years. But you know what, fuck Chase Utley. Fuck Jeff Kent and the clean-ass truck he rode in on. This is my pick and I’m going to defend my guy.
Ahem (shuffles papers): Ryne Sandberg is one of only three second basemen in the history of baseball to hit more than 40 home runs in a season, joining Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby and, uh, losing manager in the most recent World Baseball Classic Davey Johnston. He scored more than 100 runs seven times in his 16-year career, led the league in that statistic three times, won the 1984 NL MVP Award—in a sepia-toned season that will keep every Cubs fan warm when they are finally and irrevocably alone on their hard, impersonal hospital deathbeds—and had an incredible 1990, when he socked the aforementioned 40 dongs, scored 116 times, batted in 100 runs, hit .306, led the league in total bases and received not *one* first place vote for MVP. Barry Bonds ended up taking it home that year, such was the overall disregard for the position at the time.
Yet while guys like Utley and Kent and Roberto Alomar have changed the way the baseball cognoscenti views a second baseman’s potential offensive impact, it was Sandberg (and to be fair, Joe Morgan before he deserved firing) who was the catalyst for that transformation. Plus, he was arguably the best defensive player of his generation, at any position (And yeah, smartass, I know we aren’t talkin’ defense, here. Still.)
15. Dave Winfield
I think somewhere out there, Dave Winfield is still playing professional baseball. I don’t remember Dave Winfield as a San Diego Padre, but I remember getting my first Dave Winfield baseball card and feeling great about it. I usually got shitty cards while all of the neighborhood kids would open up their packs, packs right underneath mine in the box. Only theirs would have like five All-Star-caliber players and a secret, hidden extra five awesome cards stashed beneath their fresh piece of gum. Mine always had rejects and gum left over from the ‘60s. But one afternoon I opened my pack and, Bam! Winfield. Right on top. I remember seeing those cursed pinstripes, but feeling okay with it knowing that it was Winfield there on the front with that Richard Pryor kind of smile on his face.
And then I turned it over. Jesus H, I thought. This dude’s been playing since before I was born, and he’s still killing it. That was 1984, when Winfield hit .340, drove in a cool even 100, cracked just under 20 HRs, and made his eighth straight (en route to 12) All-Star game. Winfield played for a whole slew of teams I couldn’t give two shits about, but he played forever. Twenty-one seasons to be exact. One of my favorite things about Winfield, aside from the tenacity he displayed while getting regularly shit on by George Steinbrenner, was that he continued to hit the ball better-than-successfully by the time he could say, “I’m 40. And I’m a man.”
Though never quoted as saying those words, Winfield hit .290, 26 home runs, and 108 RsBI as a 40-year-old
Virgin Toronto Blue Jay. Winfield’s career was full of interesting surprises, like the time he was arrested for hitting a bird during warm-ups (H.S. link), or the time he was traded from the Twins to the Indians for a meal, or the time he got his 3,000th Major League hit, off of Old No. 7’s father-in-law, nonetheless. He retired with numbers that mostly speak for themselves: .283 BA, over 1800 (1800!) runs batted in, and 465 home runs. And hey, he opted to enter Cooperstown as a Padre, perhaps just to piss off Steinbrenner, which should earn him a spot on any list.
14. Mike Piazza
Piazza is the best-hitting catcher to ever play the game. Why should this matter? Who cares what position a guy plays in an exercise like this? Shouldn’t we only focus on his stick, not where he wastes his time in the defensive half of the inning?
It matters because if your premium defensive positions can also mash, it’s a huge advantage in the game. If your second baseman is Chase Utley, if your shortstop is Jeter, if your centerfielder is Ken Griffey in his prime, or if your catcher is Piazza, you’re a big leg up in the lineup over the team that has to play Endy Chavez, Paul Bako, Joey Cora or Alex Cora at those positions. You can hide a guy at first if his slugging warrants it, but once your lousy fielders are stashed at the corners someone has to catch. Unless Jamie Moyer is pitching and every ball is crushed, then I guess you could dispense with a catcher.
Piazza, of course, was himself hidden at first base by the Mets once his already-suspect catching skills eroded, but he turned out to be an even crappier first baseman.
I complain a lot about how Rockies’ hitters don’t get enough respect and hardware because their Coors Filed stats are discounted (and Colorado pitchers do not see a corresponding adjustment), but Larry Walker should not have won the MVP in 1997. Piazza hit .362 with 40 HR and 124 RBI as a catcher. From 1993 through 1998 here are his BAs while wearing the tools of ignorance: .318, .319, .346, .336, .362, .328. Fuck me.
And speaking of, Mike Piazza’s also the best hitter to have ever held a press conference to say he wasn’t gay. That should count for something.
--Ol' No. 7
13. Frank Thomas
Another guy who has kind of been forgotten due to how his career ended and teams did the last few years, Frank Thomas was a tremendous batsman who ought to make it to Cooperstown.
There are some grumpy baseball men—and I am in fact talking to you, Joe Morgan—that think Billy Beane wrote Moneyball and invented the concept of on-base percentage. Neither of these are true. Moneyball was written about Billy Beane, in part, but mostly about the Oakland A’s focus on OBP as an undervalued statistic. Rich teams paid superstars for their batting average, home runs and runs batted in, and overlooked guys who got on base yet didn’t have gaudy stats in the Triple Crown categories. Beane found this anomaly and exploited it for a few years, accumulating guys who could get to the basepaths and later score runs.
Frank Thomas always got on base, his career OBP was .419. His Triple Crown stats are also excellent (.301/521/1704), but Thomas’ finest baseball skill was his ability to discern a ball from a strike and wait for his pitch. Could he have slammed a few more dingers and (especially) driven in a few more runs by swinging at marginal pitches with ducks on the pond? Sure. But give me Thomas’ eye over Reggie Jackson’s hacks every day of the week and thrice on Sunday (and Thomas even had two more RBI than Reggie).
The Big Hurt had an ignominious end to his White Sox career, grousing about disrespect and playing time in 2005 even as the team was streaking to its first title in 88 years. Sure, he’s a prima donna and he ended up as a fat bum. But Frank Thomas was one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen.
--Ol' No. 7
12. Eddie Murray
(image owned by www.derekerdman.com)
Though he also played for the Dodgers, Mets, Indians, and Angels, I’ll always remember Eddie Murray as a Baltimore Oriole. Murray was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, and for good reason. His career numbers--.287, 504 home runs, 1,917 RsBI, and a .476 slugging percentage shouldn’t make him, as Cecil said, “kind of a forgotten man,” but that is just what he seems to be. In fact, it’s even strange to me that Murray played in 18 World Series games in his 21-year career. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that some great pitching staffs and Cal Ripken, Jr. overshadowed Murray for many of his years in B’more, but that shouldn’t take away from some of the greatness he displayed at the plate.
Looking at the ‘80s alone, Murray comes in just behind Yount at the top of the list with an 1,642 hits for the decade. He’s in the top 15 of batting average, third behind Mike Schmidt and Dale Murphy for most home runs, tops with RsBI at 996, second in total bases with 2,791, tied with Dawson and Jim Evans for fifth in slugging, first in runs created with 1,042.6, and he easily makes the top 20 in the OBPs, the OPSs, and the RsS. In fact, he might very well be the most under-appreciated hitter of the last 25 years. I remember a good deal of Orioles-Royals games both on TV and in person as a kid, and I remember always thinking as he’d step into the batter’s box, “Welp, if we can keep him to a single, it’s a success.”
The switch-hitting, eight-time All-Star holds the MLB record for RsBI by switch hitters. He is also in exclusive company with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Rafael Palmeiro, as the only three hitters in history to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. His 19 grand slams are only fewer than Manny Ramirez’s 20, and Lou Gehrig’s 23, and on 11 different occasions, he hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game, all of which command his presence on this list.
11. Cal Ripken, Jr.
Cal Ripken, Jr. has always been a mystical sort of baseball player to me. I understand much of what he contributed to the game of baseball, but I feel like I saw better performances from Murray more often than Ripken. That said, Ripken had what is arguably the most phenomenal career in our baseball lifetimes, evidenced by more accolades and statistics than I care to write about or you care to read.
Though this installment is about hitting, I must, not having much, or any really, occasion to write about the man, mention the streak: On September 6, 1995, when Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games streak, the crowd, opposing team, and umpiring crew participated in a 20-plus-minute standing ovation. Twenty minutes! I think Pete Rose’s hit-record ovation was only nine. But anyway, the streak itself is an incredible feat, and worth mentioning in and of itself, but more importantly, what it means to be healthy enough and play well enough for that long a stretch to warrant being in your club’s lineup every night for all of those seasons. Which means we’ve gotta look at some numbers, and they’re pretty staggering, all things considered.
Three thousand one hundred eighty-four hits, 603 of which were doubles, 431 home runs, and 1,695 RsBI over 12,883 plate appearances. He won Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, and 19 consecutive All-Star appearances. There isn’t really a whole lot else to be said about the guy. He was a fantastic ball player, a great hitter, and one of the most reliable athletes in modern sports, which goes back to that theme of consistency. He consistently tallied 150+ hits per season, and was oftentimes better. He was good for 20 HRs a year, and frequently in the 100 neighborhood of runs batted in per campaign. His contribution to the game was well-documented by the incredible preparations and attendances to various ballparks throughout the country as his final season came to a close.
10. Ken Griffey, Jr.
As he winds up his career hitting .225 on a charity contract for the Mariners, it’s hard to imagine that Ken Griffey was once the best player in baseball. He was, though, a lethal combination of power, speed and glovesmanship that saturated highlight reels for the decade of the 1990s.
Following his trade to his hometown Cincinnati Reds, however, Griffey was always hurt. He topped 140 games only twice as a Red. Batting average was always a source of pride for Junior, I remember a commercial he did where he pointedly corrected the narrator on his .302 lifetime. And that was commendable, to hit for that much power while still maintaining .300 is incredible. That’s long gone, of course, Griff’s topped .300 only once since 200 and sits at .286 lifetime.
He has belted 623 fucking home runs, however, and seems to be clean. Is he clean? We may never know, because for most of his career he was not tested for performance enhancing drugs. Pete Rose and George Brett and Mike Schmidt and Willie Mays and Tris Speaker were never tested, and for all we know were juiced to the gills. This is the problem with selectively burning the McGwires and Sosas and Bondses and Clemenses at the stake while exalting allegedly pristine players like Griffey and Jeter—you don’t know. You just don’t. Ken Griffey was an all-time great player, let’s celebrate that and move on to all the steroid guys in our top 10.
--Ol' No. 7