(Originally Published April 15th, 2009 in the Evergreen Times, Rod Sager)
Baseball season is here again! As you may very well know, Rickey is headed to the Hall of Fame this summer. I have spent a lot of time writing about Rickey’s accomplishments over the years. This man has broken more records than any player in modern history. He has also dominated several categories, the most notable is the stolen base record. Rickey’s career mark is better than any three current major league players COMBINED! Any suggestion that he may be the greatest baseball player of all time is reasonable and certainly quite plausible.
It is hard to quantify a current player against the legends of all time. We all know that Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, etc. left an indelible legacy of the sport of baseball. Players like Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson are fresh in our minds. We can still feel the buzz of their great performances. But will that “buzz” stand the test of time? Is it an immortal buzz? Only time will tell.
Some wonder if the steroids controversy will still hold weight 50 years from now. Will Barry Bonds use of steroids be overlooked decades down the road? One cannot help but wonder what kind of Herculean feats Babe Ruth would have done if he took steroids. Maybe he would have hit 1,000 home runs. Maybe he would have blown out his knee and hit only 400. Who knows? What we do know is that no matter what, these steroid using greats will probably have an asterisk next to their records and perhaps under their bust in the Hall of Fame.
Let’s take a look at the short list of candidates for greatest player ever. These are my top 15 in random order.
- Rickey Henderson 1979-2003 Bats R, OF
- Barry Bonds 1986-2007 Bats L, OF
- Roger Clemens 1984-2007 Bats R, P
- Alex Rodriguez 1994-Curr Bats R, SS, 3B
- Babe Ruth 1914-1935 Bats L, P, OF
- Ty Cobb 1905-1928 Bats L, OF
- Willie Mays 1951-1973 Bats R, OF
- Ted Williams 1939-1960 Bats L, OF
- Walter Johnson 1907-1927 Bats R, P
- Hank Aaron 1954-1976 Bats R, OF
- Lou Gehrig 1923-1939 Bats L, 1B
- Roger’s Hornsby 1915-1937 Bats R, 2B
- Stan Musial 1941-1963 Bats L, OF
- Joe DiMaggio 1936-1951, Bats R, OF
- Jimmie Foxx 1925-1945, Bats R, 1B
I would measure greatness in several ways. Did the player have a lasting competitive career? Did the player have a short string of “mega-seasons” mixed with mediocrity or did he actually have solid seasons every year? How did the player match up with his peers through history and in his own era? Did the player dominate at his position or at least in several stat categories?
It is safe to say that everyone on the list above meets the criteria for greatness. To narrow down the field we must consider how the player affected the game of baseball overall. In this regard, Babe Ruth is the king. The ‘Sultan of Swat’ changed the way the game of baseball was played. He also nearly single-handedly brought the game into the mainstream of American sports. Henderson was not the first great base stealer, he was however the very best. He really did not change the way the game was played. What he did do however, is score more often than any player in MLB history. That my friends is amazing considering Rickey only hit 297 home runs.
Rickey is most comparable in performance to Ty Cobb. I strongly believe that Rickey is the better athlete. Over all I think Henderson is the best all round baseball player in the history of the MLB. Babe Ruth however is the greatest player ever to play the game. His legacy and impact on baseball are immeasurable.