So you want a great outfielder on your team. What do you want this player to do? Hit for a batting average of least .300 and draw alot of walks? Be a great baserunner, not only by stealing bases but by not making outs on the base paths and taking the extra base on a hit? Have a great throwing arm, not only to throw out runners but keep runners from taking the extra base? Be a power hitter who hits home runs and drives in runs? And lastly but certainly not least be a great fielder who catches the balls other outfielders never reach. Well, that is quite the list of talents. Someone who can do all of that will not come along every day. Here is my list of five greatest outfielders in baseball history with an explanation. There have been more than 5 players who should be on this list so since I had to pick 5 I had to make the tough choices. This is much harder than my articles on 5 greatest swimmers and 5 greatest golfers or even 5 greatest perfect games.
1. Ted Williams. If you have read my article on the 5 greatest hitters of all time you will know that I put Ted Williams first. There has never been a hitter for average and power like Williams. You cannot have a top 5 list without him. Now he was not a base running threat to steal. But with his power you did not want him trying to steal. He played in an unusual park for outfielders and he did a great job as a defensive player. Born August 30, 1918, Williams came to the majors with the Boston Red Sox in 1939 and he hit from the very beginning. His 1941 season ranks as one of the greatest years ever for any player. He hit .406 the last player to hit over .400. This year will mark the 68th year since Williams hit .400 and no one has matched his mark. Not only did he hit over .400 he hit 37 home runs and drove in 120 runs. He walked 145 times and only struck out 27 times. His on base percentage was .551. In 1941 Ted Williams came up to bat 606 times. Think about it. Pitchers had the opportunity to face him 606 times and could only strike him out 27 times. That is less than 5% of the time. He played in 143 games so he struck out roughly once every 5 games.
2. Willie Mays. I saw Willie play and he was one of my childhood great players so maybe I am biased. Mays was born May 6, 1931 and made his debut with the New York Giants in 1951. His best seasons were 1954 and 1965 with the Giants. He hit 660 home runs and had a career batting average of .302. But the greatest of Mays was best seen is just watching him play. In the field he was a true marvel. The old shots of his great catches seem dated today but there has never been anyone who played the outfield like Willie Mays. He had the speed to reach the ball and the ability to get there at just the right time and make the catch. Most of his great catches are on balls that almost any other outfielder would never reach.
3. Ty Cobb. Behind Williams as the second greatest hitter of all time, Cobb did not have the power hitting but his ability to hit the ball was so great he more than made up for lack of power. In addition no one ran the bases like Cobb, whether in stealing bases or taking an extra base. Born December 18, 1886 in Georgia and known as the “Georgia Peach”, Cobb had a career batting average of .367, the best in baseball history, and won 12 batting titles including an incredible 9 in a row from 1907 to 1915. He stole 892 bases and drove in over 100 runs seven times. He was a legend on the base path. This quote is attributed to him according to his official website, cmgww.com “The base paths belonged to me, the runner. The rules gave me the right. I always went into a bag full speed, feet first. I had sharp spikes on my shoes. If the baseman stood where he had no business to be and got hurt, that was his own fault.” That quote defines the play of Ty Cobb.
4. Hank Aaron. A much underrated outfielder who hit for average and obviously for power with his home run numbers. He was not as flashy as Mays but he rarely made a mistake on the bases or in the field. Like Mays he was one of the greats who came into prominence in the 1950s during my childhood. I always thought the 1950s were a golden age for baseball. Mays and Aaron were in their primes and Williams was still performing in Boston. So Aaron has to be on the list and not just for his 755 home runs. Born February 5, 1934 Aaron came to the big leagues with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 at age 20. Aaron’s greatest is in his consistency and longevity. He just kept up great numbers year after year. From 1955 to 1970 he never played fewer than 147 games and from 1955 to 1963 he played in at least 151 games every year.
5. Babe Ruth. I know you are saying that all he could do was hit home runs and that is not really true. He had a great batting average. Sure the old film makes his run look strange. But how could you leave him off any list. He is the greatest baseball player of all time and certainly one of the top athletes of all time. You could on and on with his numbers. Tied for 7th place all time with a career batting average of .342 is just the beginning. At a look at his 1921 season with the New York Yankees shows his greatness. He played in 152 games, scored 177 runs, batted .378 with 59 home runs and 171 runs batted in. He also walked 1145 times to give him an on base percentage of .512. Perhaps one of the greatest seasons ever for a baseball player.
So there you have it. There are several other players who deserve to be on the list. As for current players there are some great outfielders such as Ichiro Suzuki and Vladimir Guerrero who just hit career home run 400. However in my opinion none of the current outfielders match up with the five listed above.