Top 100 MLB Players of All Time: 80-71

80. Jim Palmer

2014 was Mike Mussina’s first attempt at election into the Hall of Fame. He fell far short with only 20.3% of the vote. He never won a Cy Young award and didn’t enjoy his first 20-win season until his final season in 2008. But his career statistics suggest he should be a no-brainer for election into the Hall. Let’s play a game that you may be very familiar with if you read Joe Posnanski’s blog: Player A vs. Player B. In this game we look at statistical categories for two similar players and guess which player represents which real life person. For example:

 

Wins

WL%

IP

HR Allowed

BB

SO

ERA+

Player A

243

0.631

3507

320

709

2303

122

Player B

270

0.638

3562.7

376

785

2813

122

Obviously these numbers are incredibly similar. They may even slightly favor Player B. Which player is which real life person?

Player A: Hall of Famer, and Player number 101 on my list, Juan Marichal
Player B: Mike Mussina

So far, Mussina appears to be right on par with Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. Let’s compare the same statistics to Hall of Famer Jim Palmer:

 

Wins

WL%

IP

HR Allowed

BB

SO

ERA+

Mussina

270

0.638

3562.7

376

785

2813

122

Palmer

268

0.638

3948

303

1311

2212

125

With the exception of homeruns allowed, and ERA+ Mussina appears to come out as a slightly better pitcher than Palmer. But obviously these statistics don’t tell the whole story. What happens to Mussina’s Hall of Fame case when we bring in other determining statistics?

 

WAR

ERA

CG

SHO

Hits

Runs

ER

Mussina

83

3.68

57

23

3460

1559

1458

Palmer

69.4

2.86

211

53

3349

1395

1253

Mussina has a significant advantage in WAR, but falls noticeably short in the remaining categories. Mussina never won a Cy Young award, though he probably deserved at least one, but he was as consistent and excellent a pitcher over an 18 year span as any pitcher in the history of the league. He was not just a consistently outstanding pitcher, but he was also stellar at fielding his position, as evidenced by the six Gold Glove Awards he earned during his career. He has comparable numbers to other Hall of Fame pitchers, but there is really nothing about his career that jumps out at you other than his consistency.

However, when you talk about eye-popping statistics Jim Palmer has them in bunches. He led the league in wins three times on his way to eight 20-win seasons and a 2.86 career ERA. He led the league in ERA twice. Innings pitched four times. Complete games once and shutouts twice. Palmer won three Cy Young Awards and finished second in MVP voting in 1973, also winning four-consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1973 to 1979. He was one of four 20-game winners in the 1971 Orioles rotation, only the second rotation* in baseball history to feature four 20-game winners.**

*The 1920 Chicago White Sox were the first.

**I will give a virtual cookie to the first person that can name the other three pitchers in that great Orioles rotation in the comments section.

At age 18 Jim Palmer became the youngest pitcher ever to pitch a shutout in the World Series. He won a game in the 1966, 1970, 1971, and 1983 Fall Classics, becoming the only pitcher to win a World Series game in three different decades.

Speaking of eye-popping statistics, Palmer started 521 games, completing 211 of them, with a total of 3,948 innings pitched, yet he never allowed a grand slam in his Major League career nor did he ever allow back-to-back homers.

79. Tom Glavine

In order to have one of the strongest rotations in the history of the game you must have a strong left-hander in your rotation. The great rotation of the Atlanta Braves featured Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, but the lefty that split the two righty’s up was none other Hall of Famer Tom Glavine.

The Atlanta Braves of the 1990’s were both one of the winningest teams in baseball history and one of the most disappointing teams in baseball history. Between 1991 and 2002 the Braves won 11 division titles and five pennants, but only managed one World Championship. Sure, most franchises would kill for that kind of success, but I think the Braves would have liked to have won more than one World Series.

The 1995 Series was the only series the Braves came away with a victory in. Glavine won Game Two and in Game Six he pitched a brilliant one hit game over eight innings to clinch the title for his team. He was named World Series Most Valuable Player for his effort.

Glavine won 20 games in a season five times, and 305 for his career. He joins Warren Spahn and Early Wynn as the only two pitchers to accumulate over 300 career victories despite never striking out more than 200 batters in a season.

1998 was arguably Glavine’s best season. He posted a 2.74 ERA, led the National League with 20 wins and tossed three complete game shutouts on his way to winning his second Cy Young Award. During that ’98 season the National League average ERA was 4.21, which meant that Glavine’s ERA that season was 1.68 runs lower than the league average.

Glavine won 164 games in the 1990’s, second only to teammate Greg Maddux’s 176.

78. Paul Molitor

Some players need a clever story to justify their ranking. Some players need to be compared to other great players to justify their ranking. Paul Molitor can just let his stats speak for themselves.

Sure, he was one of the most versatile players in the history of the game, and displayed great savvy at the plate and on the basepaths. But, the real story comes from the amazing statistics he compiled throughout his 21 year career.

In 2,683 games Molitor:

Hit safely 3,319 times (10th All-Time)
With a .306 Batting Average
1,782 Runs Scored (20th All-Time)
605 Doubles (11th All-Time)
114 Triples
234 HRs
4,854 Total Bases (24th All-Time)
1,307 RBI
504 Stolen Bases (37th All-Time)
1,094 Base on Balls (79th All-Time)
Had a 39-Game hitting streak in 1987

Paul Molitor is one of only four players along with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Eddie Collins to have a .300 average, 3,000 hits, and 500 stolen bases. Molitor’s 3,000th hit was a triple, making him the only person in history to get his 3,000th with a three-base hit.

77. Cal Ripken Jr.

They say that athletes aren’t role models. They say that the parents should be the role models. Work hard. Be honest. Become a better person. Set a good example.

What if the athlete exemplifies these characteristics?

What if the athlete is Cal Ripken Jr.?

When Cal’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games played began on May 30, 1982 I was barely older than one year. On September 6, 1995 he played in his 2,131st consecutive game, the game that broke Lou Gehrig’s 56 year old record and practically saved baseball from disaster after the 1994 player strike, I was 14 years old and about to start my first day of high school. When Cal voluntarily ended his consecutive games streak on the evening of September 20, 1998 I was 17 years old and just beginning my senior year of high school.

For virtually my entire life up to that point Cal Ripken never took a day off. He was the epitome of blue collar work ethic, and he was from the Baltimore area, just like me. I watched Cal play in 8,264 consecutive innings in my early childhood from June 5, 1982 to September 14, 1987. I challenged myself to be just like Cal. I never took a day off of school despite the fact that I suffered from Crohn’s Disease, which can be very debilitating at times. But I always told myself “If Cal can play baseball every day, than I can go to school every day.”

I remember watching Cal slug 34 homeruns in the 1991 season while batting .323. He was unstoppable that year. My younger brother and I would go to the ball field and take turns hitting, pretending that we were Cal Ripken with every swing.

How could you not look up to a guy that hit 431 career homeruns and 1,695 RBI while primarily playing a position that was relegated to the small guy that could do nothing but maybe steal bases?

Was he a truly great person off the field? I don’t know. I was only lucky enough to meet him once in an incredibly brief encounter. But, what he accomplished on the field by playing every single game for over 16 years was certainly worthy of role model status, and I am proud to have had someone like Cal Ripken Jr. to look up to as a child growing up in the Baltimore area.

76. Miguel Cabrera

When Miguel Cabrera’s career began on June 20, 2003 he didn’t just quietly walk on to a Major League field and gradually work his up to greatness. No. When Miguel Cabrera came to the Show he knocked down the door with an emphatic bang, spray painted his name all over the record books, and declared his greatness in his first game by becoming just the third player in Major League history to smack a game-winning homerun in his big-league debut. The other two were Josh Bard in 2002 and Billy Parker in 1971. While those two players slinked back into obscurity, Miguel Cabrera’s star continued to soar.

Miggy is currently playing in his age-31 season. He has 382 homeruns (at the time of this writing), which ranks 11th through age 31. That is more homeruns than Willie Mays (368) had through his age 31 season, but fewer than Juan Gonzalez (397). He is fifth in RBI’s (1,346) behind only Lou Gehrig (1,450), Mel Ott (1,465), Alex Rodriguez (1,503), and Jimmie Foxx (1,625).

Miguel’s seven-consecutive 30-homer seasons are a Detroit record, destroying the previous record of four shared by Hank Greenberg and Cecil Fielder. With a .330 batting average, 44 homers, and 139 RBI in 2012 he became the first person to win the elusive Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did it 45 years earlier in 1967.

Only five players reached 1,000 RBI’s for their career at an younger age than Miguel Cabrera, who was 29 years, 9 days old when he achieved the marvelous feat. Mel Ott was the youngest at 27 years, 94 days, followed by Jimmie Foxx at 27 years, 229 days; Alex Rodriguez at 28 years, 282 days; Ken Griffey Jr. at 28 years, 298 days; and Lou Gehrig at 28 years, 302 days.

With 1,346 career RBI’s to date Miguel Cabrera has a legitimate shot to break Hank Aaron’s career RBI record. He is currently trailing by just 951 RBI’s. Not counting his rookie season in which he barely played half of the games Cabrera is averaging 117 RBI’s per season. If he maintains that average pace he will break Aaron’s record in his age-39 season. If his production drops off by 17 RBI’s per season than he will break the record at the very beginning of his age 41 season. Whether or not his body will hold up for that long remains to be seen. But what we know now about Miguel Cabrera is that he belongs in the conversation with the elite hitters in the history of the game, and I’m sure when I revise this list in 10 years I will find Miguel Cabrera has crept his way into the top-50 of the all-time greatest MLB players.

75. Whitey Ford

Using of a mix of changeups, curveballs, and fastballs with pinpoint control Whitey Ford was able to pitch to 236 career wins, a Yankees franchise record. His 236-106 record gives him the best winning percentage (.690) of any 20th century pitcher.

Whitey Ford was known as the “Chairman of the Board” for his ability to stay cool, calm, and collected in big game situations. Mickey Mantle once said he had “Nerves of Steel”.

Ford pitched in 11 World Series for the Yankees with 10 victories, 94 strikeouts, six championships, and one World Series MVP. Between the 1958, 1960, and 1961World Series Ford pitched 33 consecutive scoreless innings.

The worst ERA of Ford’s career was 3.24 in 1965. He ended his career with a 2.75 ERA, 45 shutouts, 156 complete games, 1,956 strikeouts, and the 1961 American League Cy Young Award.

74. Bob Feller

Bob Feller probably deserves to be higher on this list than number 74, but the way the research was conducted and the way the list was compiled forced me to place him here. Unfortunately, this is where he is for this exercise. But before we talk about why Feller deserves to be ranked higher on the list let’s talk about what he actually accomplished.

“Rapid” Robert Feller won 266 games and lost only 162 while playing 16 seasons for the Cleveland Indians. In his rookie season, at the age of 19, he won 17 games. He followed that up with 24 wins his next year. Feller won 20 games or more in a season six times and led the American League in wins each of those seasons. He led the American League in strikeouts seven times and struck out 348 batters in 1948, which was an American League record* until Nolan Ryan struck out 383 in 1972.

*The National League record is 441 strikeouts by Old Hoss Radbourn in 1884. This record still stands to this day, and will likely never be broken. The modern day National League record (post-1901) is 382 by Sandy Koufax in 1965.

Feller threw three career no-hitters and 12 career one-hitters. He remains the only person to throw a complete game no-hitter on Opening Day, which he accomplished on April 16, 1940.

In 1941, at the age of 23, Feller enlisted in the Navy. He had 107 career wins at this time and missed three full seasons and almost all of a fourth season before returning from the war. In his first two full seasons back he won 26 and 20 games respectively.

Now, this is where I want to speculate how good Bob Feller would have looked in the history books had he not joined the armed services. The way that I do this is I take the average of the three seasons before he left for war, and the average of the three full seasons after he came back from war, and take the average of those figures and multiply by the years he missed to come up with a rough estimate of what his career numbers could have been if it were not interrupted by military service. I will perform this same exercise for other players who missed prime years in their baseball careers due to the war.

In the three years prior to his military service Feller averaged 25 wins, 11 losses, a 2.88 ERA, 28 complete games, five shutouts, and 256 strikeouts per season. In the three full seasons following the war he averaged 22 wins, 14 losses, a 2.75 ERA, 25 complete games, 6 shutouts, and 236 strikeouts per season.

After doing some math we come up with a rough idea of what his career numbers would have been. I come up with approximately 337 wins, 200 losses, 2.96 career ERA, 297 complete games, 61 shutouts, and 3,319 career strikeouts.

337 career wins would rank him between Steve Carlton (329) and Roger Clemens (354). A 2.96 ERA would jump him significantly higher on the ERA list and would put him right there with Hall of Famer Kid Nichols (2.96 ERA). 297 complete games bumps him slightly higher on the CG list to just below Lefty Grove (298). 61 shutouts would tie him with Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver for seventh all-time. 3,319 strikeouts would jump him from 26th all-time all the way up to 12th all-time, just behind Greg Maddux (3,371) and Phil Niekro (3,342).

*Spoiler Alert* – All of the pitchers listed in the above paragraph are ranked higher than Bob Feller on this list.

But none of this happened, so I can only rate Bob Feller based on the numbers that actually happened:
266 wins, 162 losses, 3.25 ERA, 279 complete games, 44 shutouts, and 2,581 strikeouts. All told, these are still phenomenal numbers.

73. George Brett

Sometimes the trick to being one of the greatest players of all time is to be consistent for a very long time. Sure, having a season in which you slash .390/.454/.664 at the plate and win an MVP award, as George Brett did in 1980, doesn’t hurt. But what separates the truly great from the flashes of great is consistency and longevity.

George Brett batted .333 in 1976, .390 in 1980, and .329 in 1990. He led the league in batting average all three of those seasons, making him the only man to win a batting title in three different decades. He retired after the 1993 season with a lifetime batting average of .305.

On May 28, 1979 Brett hit for the cycle. He did it again on July 25, 1990. George Brett holds the Major League record for longest times between cycles at 11 years, 57 days.

George Brett became the first player in history to accumulate 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, 600 doubles, 100 triples, 1,500 RBIs, and 200 stolen bases. He joins Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Stan Musial as the only players to have 3,000+ hits, 300+ home runs, and a .300+ batting average.

George Brett was one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. Not just for one season, but consistently for 21 seasons.

72. Ed Delahanty

The thing that I like most about the old-timey players from the late 19th-century is that they have no shortage of impropriety. Oftentimes their life of debauchery has a tragic, yet fascinating end.

Ed Delahanty’s life is the epitome of late 19th-century degeneracy and misconduct. “Big Ed”, as he was affectionately known, wasted his fortune gambling on horses, racking up large debts and turning to booze. He was a belligerent drunk that terrorized anyone that got too close during one of his binges.

When his debts became too large he would beg his teammates for money and threaten to kill himself if they didn’t help him out. Fearing for his safety, several of Ed’s teammates felt it necessary to keep a close watch on him at the team hotel, but Delahanty chased them away with a knife.

Delahanty had joined the Washington Senators before the 1902 season, but with no star players other than himself he became disgruntled with the losing team and attempted numerous times, unsuccessfully, to jump ship and join the New York Giants.

Delahanty’s final attempt to join the New York club proved to be fateful. During a Senators road trip to Detroit Delahanty decided he was going to make one last attempt at fleeing the lowly Senators and boarded a train headed for New York by way of Ontario, Canada. Once on the train Big Ed downed five shots of whiskey. The liquor made him uncontrollable. He was smoking when he wasn’t supposed to. He accidentally broke the glass in front of the emergency tool cabinet. He was so disoriented that he entered an occupied berth and began to pull a woman out of the berth by her ankles. Delahanty had to be subdued by three men, and was subsequently thrown off the train by the conductor.

Drunk and disoriented, Big Ed began to walk the length of the 3,600 foot long International Railway Bridge that crossed over the Niagara River into Buffalo. Sam Kingston, a night watchman on the lookout for smugglers approached Delahanty. The two fought each other until Kingston was knocked down and unable to get back up. Delahanty managed to escape the fracas. Moments later Delahanty either jumped or drunkenly stumbled off the edge of the bridge, falling 25 feet into the 40-foot-deep Niagara River.

Delahanty’s body was found almost a week later, naked except for tie, shoes and socks, at Horseshoe Falls. Delahanty’s relatives believed that Kingston murdered the great baseball player, but no the ensuing investigation never turned up such evidence.

Delahanty’s tragic death could have been the result of foul play, or it could have been a drunken bad decision that proved to have disastrous results.

As engrossing as the story of Ed Delahanty’s death is, the story of his playing career is no different.

In just over 15 seasons Ed Delahanty batted .346 (6th all-time). He hit .410 in 1899. In 1893 he had 146 RBIs on his way to 1,466 for his career. In 1895 he scored 149 runs on his way to 1,600 for his career. In 1899 Delahanty hit 55 doubles, breaking the previous record for my doubles in a season set by Tip O’Neill.

Delahanty was easily baseball’s best player from 1890 to 1899. He ranked first in Hits, Doubles (leading by 102), Slugging Percentage, On Base Plus Slugging, OPS+, Extra Base Hits (leading by 104), and Total Bases (leading by 184). He ranked second for the decade in Triples, Home Runs*, and RBI. He was third in Runs Scored, fourth in Batting Average, ninth in On Base Percentage, and 13th in Stolen Bases.

*While playing for the Phillies in 1896 he once hit four inside the park homeruns in one game.

A remarkable playing career poisoned by the vices of gambling and alcohol with a terribly tragic and unfortunate ending. It sounds like a story born in Hollywood, but it is actually the regrettable, yet extraordinary life and death of the great Ed Delahanty.

71. Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson was another player who could have starred in multiple sports. He was a star basketball player for Creighton University and went on to play one season with the Harlem Globetrotters during the 1957-58 season.

When Gibson came to the Major Leagues he wasn’t great at first. He had a 3.81 ERA through his first three seasons, but pitched to a losing record before finally breaking out in 1962. Once Gibson obtained his confidence he became an intimidating force for the Cardinals known for coming up big in big games.

In the 1964 World Series Gibson won games five and seven. In the 1967 World Series Gibson won all three games in which he pitched, and in 1968 he won games one and four, making him the only player to win seven straight World Series starts. He earned the World Series MVP in both 1964 and 1967.  

Pitching quickly and utilizing a fastball that would break a radar gun with a hard-breaking slider that left batters swinging wildly at air Gibson struck out 3,117 batters and ranks second in the National League, behind only Tom Seaver, with nine seasons of 200 or more strikeouts.

In 1968 Gibson pitched to a 1.12 ERA with 22 wins, 13 complete game shutouts, and 268 strikeouts. He won his fourth of nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards. He won his first of two Cy Young Awards and was the National League Most Valuable Player.

Gibson won 20 games five teams, retiring with 251 wins, a 2.91 ERA, 56 shutouts, and 3,117 strikeouts. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.

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