In a recent article, we named the greatest baseball players ever at their respective positions. The choices were Mariano Rivera, closer; Lefty Grove, left-handed pitcher; Walter Johnson, right-handed pitcher; John Bench, catcher; Lou Gehrig, first baseman; Rogers Hornsby, second baseman; Honus Wagner, shortstop; Mike Schmidt, third baseman; David Ortiz, designated hitter; outfielders Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Stan Musial.
Now we reveal the runners-up, the second greatest players at every position on the diamond.
Trevor Hoffman, closer. Although he is second in career saves, his selection isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. Lee Smith set the mark at 478 saves and also logged more innings than Hoffman. Smith straddled the eras between when closers often pitched three, or at least two, innings, and the modern one-inning specialist. But finally it has to be Hoffman because his 601 saves stretched the record by over 100 and he also had a better ERA than Smith.
Warren Spahn, left-handed pitcher. He is chosen over Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax because Spahn won 363 games, the most by any lefthander in history, won 20 games or more six years in a row and an amazing 13 times overall, including winning 23 when he was 42 years of age. Additionally, he led the National League in victories eight times, and led the league in complete games nine times.
Christy Mathewson, right-handed pitcher. Like Walter Johnson, Mathewson was one of the five original Baseball Hall of Fame members in the 1936 class. Mathewson won 373 games, won at least 22 games for 12 straight years, and won 30 games or more four times. In the 1905 World Series, he hurled three shutouts in six days. He also has the modern day NL mark with 38 wins in 1908.
Yogi Berra, catcher. He beats out Carlton Fisk, Bill Dickey and Ivan Rodriguez on the strength of his postseason appearances. He was on 14 pennant-winning teams and 10 World Series champs, both all-time records. He also won three MVP awards and was underrated as a defensive catcher.
Jimmie Foxx, first baseman. He was the second player to reach 500 home runs. Foxx smashed 30 or more homers in 12 consecutive seasons and drove in over 100 runs 13 consecutive years. He also won back-to-back MVP awards and a Triple Crown.
Napoleon Lajoie, second baseman. Again, if it were based on impact on the game, Jackie Robinson would be a shoo-in. Unfortunately, Robinson wasn’t able to play in the big leagues until aged 28, which obviously depressed his lifetime totals. Lajoie hit over .300 16 times, over .350 ten times and had a career average of .339.
Cal Ripken Jr, shortstop. A perennial All Star, Ripken set the record for consecutive games played. He had over 400 homers and close to 1,700 RBI, amazing numbers for someone who played most of his career at shortstop. He also had over 3,000 hits.
George Brett, third baseman. There haven’t been that many great third sackers in MLB history. Brett is the only player to win a batting title in three different decades. To demonstrate his versatility, he was the first player in history to have at least 3,000 hits, 300 homers, 600 doubles, 100 triples, 1,500 RBI and 200 stolen bases. His .390 average in 1980 is the highest since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
Edgar Martinez, designated hitter. He just edges out Harold Baines. Martinez won two batting titles and hit .312 for his career. As stated in the first article, this is almost a negative position for guys who can hit but can’t find a position on the field they can play well.
Outfielders. We can now rank the six outfielders on a first and second team. First team, Henry Aaron for right field, Willie Mays in center, and Ted Williams in left. The runners-up will be Babe Ruth in right, Ty Cobb in center, and Stan Musial in left. Aaron is the all-time leader in homers for non-steroid users, and is also the all-time leader in RBI and total bases. He also was a more complete player than Ruth, who labored in the field and didn’t run well. Mays also was a more complete player than Cobb. This first and second team could be inverted and not much would be lost. Despite having overwhelming numbers, Barry Bonds didn’t make the list for left field because steroid users are discredited, at least for now.
Please see the related article below for the greatest at each position:
“National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum 2006 Yearbook”