Since the National League was founded 1876, an incredible 22,534 players have suited up for a professional baseball team. Some of those players only got one at bat, while others changed the game as we knew it. And out of all those 22,534 players, here are my top 10 greatest baseball players of all time.
10. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
In 2022, Pujols became just the fourth man in baseball history to reach 700 home runs. But even that distinction doesn’t do him justice. Pujols finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in each of his first 11 seasons, and from 2003–09, he slashed .337/.435/.640 with an adjusted on base plus slugging (OPS+) of 178 (100 is average), walked 670 times with just 408 strikeouts and won three MVPs.
9. Pedro Martínez, Red Sox
Pedro might not have the counting stats that other great pitchers do, but no one has ever pitched better. From 1997–2003, Martínez posted a 2.20 ERA and struck out nearly 32% of batters he faced, winning three Cy Young awards and finishing runner-up twice. In 2000, pitching in hitter-friendly Fenway Park at the height of the steroid era, he posted a 0.737 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), the lowest single-season mark in baseball history.
8. Mickey Mantle, Yankees
A three-time American League MVP and seven-time World Series champion, Mantle was a key piece of the Yankees dynasty of the 1950s. Among his more impressive stats are his career 172 OPS+ and 536 homers in 9,910 plate appearances. His 1956 season remains the last time any hitter has won an MLB-wide Triple Crown.
7. Lou Gehrig, Yankees
The ‘Iron Horse’ is most famous for his 2,130 consecutive games played streak, a record which has since been broken by Cal Ripken Jr. Gehrig was the ultimate run producer, tallying over 150 RBIs in seven different seasons. He ranks third all-time in slugging percentage and OPS, behind only Babe Ruth and Ted Williams in both, and won the Triple Crown in 1934, something Ruth never managed.
6. Ty Cobb, Tigers
Cobb still holds baseball’s highest career batting average with an insane .366 mark, doubly impressive considering he registered 13,103 career plate appearances, fifth most of all time. He’s one of only two men in baseball history to record over 4,000 career hits and was a menace on the basepaths, stealing 897 bags in his career.
5. Hank Aaron, Braves
Aaron’s 755 home runs and 3,771 hits rank second and third all time, respectively. His 2,297 RBIs are the most in baseball history, as are his 6,856 total bases. The latter stat is even crazier when you consider that he traveled nearly 11 miles more on the basepaths than anyone else in baseball history.
4. Barry Bonds, Giants
Bonds’ steroid usage makes his legacy controversial, but his greatest asset wasn’t his power, it was his discipline. He walked 2,558 times in his career, the most of all time, and in 2004, he posted an absurd .609 on base percentage. You could not get this man out. Even before beginning steroids in 1999, Bonds slashed .290/.411/.556, hit 411 home runs, had 307 more walks than strikeouts in 8,100 plate appearances and won eight Gold Gloves and three MVPs.
3. Ted Williams, Red Sox
Imagine having your age 24, 25 and 26 seasons interrupted by World War II and still putting up the highest on-base percentage of all time. No one commanded the strike zone better than Williams; he never had a single season where he struck out more than he walked, won two Triple Crowns and his 1941 season remains the last time any man hit .400 in a season.
2. Babe Ruth, Yankees
No one changed baseball quite like Babe Ruth, the game’s first power hitter. In 1920, his first season with the Yankees, he hit 54 homers, more than all but two teams hit combined that year. His .690 slugging percentage is by far the highest in baseball history and he still holds the highest OPS of all time.
1. Willie Mays, Giants
Mays did everything well, and he did it post-integration, unlike Ruth. He could hit for contact (.301 career average) and power (660 career home runs), and led all of MLB in stolen bases three times. He also played elite defense in center field, winning 12 Gold Gloves, helping him lead the National League in wins above replacement nine times in his career.Williams was a better contact hitter, Ruth was a better power hitter, but Mays was the complete package, which makes him the greatest player in baseball history.