Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #45 - David Ortiz

David Ortiz

David Ortiz was the greatest designated hitter in the history of baseball, and his contributions to the Red Sox turned around the franchise's fortunes.

Ortiz spent the first 6 years of his career with the Minnesota Twins, where he was splitting time between the minors and the majors. Just when he was starting to show some promise, the Twins released him, and he signed a single-season deal with the Red Sox that was guaranteed only if he made the team.

He made the team, but hardly played in the first two months of the season, until he was finally given the chance to be the team's regular DH, and he responded with a .288 average, 31 home runs, and 101 RBI, which got him fifth place in the AL MVP voting and a new contract.

In 2004, he finished second in the league in both home runs and RBI, and he and Manny Ramirez became the first pair of AL teammates in 73 years to bat .300, hit 40 home runs, and reach 100 RBI, the previous pair being Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In that season's playoffs, the Red Sox went down 3-0 to the Yankees, but battled back to win the series behind Ortiz's brilliance, specifically game-winning hits in extra innings in games 4 and 5. He was awarded the ALCS MVP after batting .387 with 11 RBI in the series, and the Red Sox won their first World Series in over 80 years just weeks later.

In 2005 he led the league in RBI's with 148 and set a new career high with 47 home runs, finishing second in the MVP voting to Alex Rodriguez. The next year, he was easily the best batter in the AL, leading the league with 54 home runs, 137 RBI, and 119 walks, but only finished #3 in the MVP voting after the Red Sox missed the playoffs.

He had another great year in 2007, leading the league in walks again and setting his career high with a .332 average. The Red Sox returned to the World Series that year, with Ortiz batting .714 in the ALDS, and they again swept the World Series, this time over the Rockies, earning Big Papi his second championship.

For the next few years he struggled after sustaining a wrist injury and an Achilles injury, and people started to wonder if his career might be over. However, in 2013, he showed some signs of his previous greatness, and the Red Sox reached the World Series again. This time, Ortiz totally dominated the Cardinals, batting .688 with 6 RBI, and he tied the World Series record by reaching base 9 times in a row, all of which earned him the World Series MVP and his third title.

Late in the 2015 season, Ortiz hit his 500th home run, and shortly thereafter announced that he would play one final season before retiring. That final season was a memorable one, as he led the league with 48 doubles and 127 RBI, which was a fitting end to a great career.

Ortiz is one of only 4 players in history with 500 home runs and 600 doubles, along with Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Albert Pujols. He also hit more home runs (38) in his final season than any other player in history, and hold the career record for World Series batting average, at .455. Even with the slow start to his career, he ended up as the best DH ever, and he was absolutely amazing in each of Boston's 3 championship runs during his time there, which makes him an easy choice to be a part of the top 50 players of all time.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #46 - Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux was one of the most dominant pitchers in recent memory, and his run of Cy Youngs in the 1990's was one of the most amazing runs in baseball history.

Maddux reached the Majors in 1986 with the Cubs, and in his final start of the season had the rare opportunity of pitching against his brother Mike, who was also a rookie pitching for the Phillies. Younger brother Greg won the matchup, earning his second career win.

He posted a losing record in 1987, his first full season, but he would not have another losing record for 18 years. He improved steadily over the next several seasons, culminating in his first Cy Young season in 1992, when he recorded a 2.18 ERA and led the league in wins, starts, and innings pitched.

He was unable to negotiate a new contract with the Cubs after that season, so he signed with the Atlanta Braves, and he was even better than expected when he arrived. He led the league in ERA and complete games that season, and won his second straight Cy Young.

During the strike-shortened 1994 season, he led the league in ERA and shutouts again, along with wins and shutouts, and his ERA of 1.56 was the lowest of any pitcher since 1968. That year he finished #5 in the MVP voting and was the unanimous choice for the Cy Young award, his third in a row.

After three straight great seasons, he somehow had his best season in 1995. He finished with a 19-2 record, an ERA of 1.63, 10 complete games, and 3 shutouts, and a second straight unanimous Cy Young, and 4th in a row overall, something that had never been done before and has only been done once since.

That was also the year that Atlanta finally broke through in the playoffs. Maddux had pitched in the NLCS twice before, but 1995 was his first time in the World Series, where he gave up only 4 earned runs over 16 innings as the Braves beat the Indians to take home the championship.

In 1996 his ERA "ballooned" to 2.72, and he finished 5th in the Cy Young voting, breaking his winning streak at 4. The Braves returned to the World Series, and Maddux had his best postseason up to then, giving up only 7 runs in 37 innings, but the Braves fell to the Yankees in the championship round.

He pitched several more good seasons for Atlanta, even leading the league in ERA again in 1998, but nowhere near the level he was at during his Cy Young peak. He set a league record with 17 straight seasons of at least 15 wins, and is only of only 4 pitcher to record an ERA lower than 1.65 since 1920, and the only one to do it twice.

Maddux is #8 all-time in games won, trailing only Warren Spahn in the live-ball era, and is the only pitcher in history with more than 300 wins, 3000 strikeouts, and fewer than 1000 walks (999 to be exact). His playoff record of 11-14 was somewhat lacking, but he was great in 3 World Series seasons, and reached a level of dominance rarely seen during his Cy Young streak, and there is no doubt he belongs here among the top 50 players of all time.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #47 - Red Ruffing

Red Ruffing

Red Ruffing was one of the best pitchers for the Yankees during their dynasty of the 1930's, and his repeated strong performance in the World Series is what really propelled him into his spot on this list.

Ruffing started his career in 1924 with the Red Sox, but he was not a very good pitcher during his 6.5 seasons in Boston, compiling a 39-96 record and a 4.61 ERA, while twice leading the league in both losses and runs allowed.

Ruffing was traded to the Yankees early in the 1930 season, because the Yankees new manager believed that he could change Ruffing's delivery to make him a good pitcher, and he was correct. By 1932, Ruffing led the league in strikeouts, while posting a 3.09 ERA and an 18-7 record. That year the Yankees reached the World Series, where Ruffing set the tone with 10 strikeouts in a Game 1 win in an eventual sweep of the Cubs.

The Yankees had a streak of 4 straight World Series titles from 1936 to 1939, with Ruffing winning at least 20 regular season games each season. In those final 3 Series, Ruffing pitched 4 games, all complete, with 23 strikeouts and only 5 runs allowed while winning all 4 starts. While those teams were stacked with stars, Ruffing was a huge part of each of those championships.

The Yankees missed the World Series in 1940, but returned in 1941, and Ruffing was very good again, giving up just one run in a Game 1 win over the Dodgers. He won Game 1 again in 1942 against the Cardinals, but the Yankees lost the next 3, and he was unable to stop their momentum in game 5 as the Yankees finally went down.

Ruffing was drafted into the Army before the 1943 season, despite being 37 years old and missing 4 toes from a childhood farming accident. He was released from the military when he turned 40, and returned to the Yankees, but played sparingly over the next few years before retiring.

Ruffing was not a dominant regular season pitcher, but he was a solid starter for a full decade, and set the tone for 5 World Series wins with Game 1 victories. When he retired, he held the Yankee record for most wins, and still is the top Yankee winner among right-handed pitchers. Ruffing was elected to the Hall of Fame in his final year of eligibility, and it was deserved after his contributions to 6 champs, and that is why he is here among the greatest players of all time.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #48 - Charlie Gehringer

Charlie Gehringer

Charlie Gehringer was nicknamed the Mechanical Man, partly due to his quiet demeanor, and partly due to his remarkable consistency over a long period of time. His manager/teammate Mickey Cochrane joked, "Charlie says 'hello' on Opening Day, 'goodbye' on Closing Day, and in between hits .350"

He made brief appearances with the Tigers in 1924 and 1925, and finally won the starting second base job in 1926, which he wouldn't give up for 15 years. That would be one of only 3 full seasons in his career where he wouldn't hit .300.

He really broke out in 1929, when he led the league in several offensive categories, including runs, hits, doubles, triples, and stolen bases. Then in 1932, he began a string of 7 consecutive seasons finishing among the top 10 in MVP voting.

He had what was probably his best season in 1934, leading the league with 214 hits and 135 runs to go along with 127 RBI and a .356 average. He lost out on the MVP vote to teammate Mickey Cochrane, and the Tigers reached the World Series, where Gehringer batted .379, but the Tigers lost to the Cardinals in 7 games.

In 1935 he was nearly as good, reaching 200 hits for the third year in a row, and leading the Tigers back to the World Series, where they beat the Cubs in 6 games behind Gehringer's .375 average and 4 RBI.

He was still great for a couple more years, reaching career highs of 144 runs, 227 hits, and 60 doubles in 1936, then winning the MVP in 1937 after winning the batting title with a .371 average while surpassing 200 hits for the 5th year in a row. His stats started to drop off after that, but he was still a good player for a couple more years before being benched.

Gehringer finished his career with a .320 average, and hit over .300 in 13 seasons. He also reached 200 hits and 40 doubles 7 times each, and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting 7 times in a row. He was great in his first two World Series appearances, and was the biggest reason for their win in 1935, and though his name isn't well-known today, he cannot be left off the list of the greatest players of all time.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #49 - Gary Sheffield

Gary Sheffield

Gary Sheffield was a great player for 8 different teams over the course of 22 seasons, and the reason for so many changes in scenery appears to have been his bad habit of bashing his management and teammates.

Sheffield first played in the Majors in 1988, when he was called up by the Milwaukee Brewers during the final month of the season. He hit a home run in his first at-bat, but overall did not play very well in his first couple seasons. His average improved to .294 in 1990, but he ended the season with a .194 average and a ticket out of town due to his claims of racism by the manager in moving him to third base.

He was traded to the Padres before the 1992 season, and contended for the Triple Crown, falling short by 2 home runs and 9 RBI, but he did win the batting title, making him the only Padre not named Tony Gwynn to achieve that. He also had the opportunity to bat against his uncle, Dwight Gooden, in a game that May, quite a rare occurrence.

He didn't start off very well the next season, and was traded to the Marlins midway through the season. He missed a lot of time over the next two seasons, but when he was healthy again in 1996, he had one of his best seasons, with 42 home runs, 120 RBI, and 142 walks. The next year, Florida advanced clear to the World Series, with Sheffield walking 20 times in 16 postseason games and knocking in 5 runs in the Marlins' championship round.

He was traded to the Dodgers early the next season because the Marlins knew they couldn't afford a contract extension. With LA, he had 3 straight very solid seasons, getting at least 100 RBI, 90 walks, and 30 runs each year while always batting over .300. After just over 3 years with the team, he began publicly criticizing the team's management, and was traded to Atlanta before the 2002 season.

In 2003 with the Braves, he had his best overall season, setting career highs with a .330 average, 126 runs, 190 hits, 37 doubles, and 132 RBI, to go along with 39 home runs. He was easily the best player in the league that year, but only came in #3 in the MVP voting, most likely because he was not well-liked.

He signed with the Yankees after that season, and had two more All-Star level seasons where he was also on the MVP radar, but a wrist injury cut his 2006 season short, and he was traded to the Tigers after the season. He would spend two seasons as the team's DH before they decided to move on. He signed with the Mets, where he was able to hit his 500th home run, and he also became the third player ever to hit a home run as a teen and a 40-year old, after Ty Cobb and Rusty Staub.

Sheffield has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for 4 years, but is nowhere near the number of votes needed for election, and many feel that his personality is hurting his chances, despite his solid career numbers. He was the best player on a World Series champion, and the best player in the league one year, and hit 500 homers, which is still quite rare. Whether he makes it or not, he still definitely belongs on this list of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #50 - Al Kaline

Al Kaline

Al Kaline was a perennial MVP contender who played for the Detroit Tigers for 22 seasons, and is one of the greatest players in that franchise's history.

Kaline joined the Tigers in 1953 straight out of high school, never having played a game in the minor leagues. In his third season, he led the league with 200 hits and a .340 average, becoming the youngest player ever to win a batting title at 20 years of age. That season he also became the 4th player ever to hit 2 home runs in the same inning and the youngest ever to hit 3 in a game.

That started a streak of 7 straight seasons of at least 150 hits and 13 straight selections to the All-Star team. Through all that time, he never played a playoff game, but in 1968, his first season not on the All-Star roster since he was a teenager, the Tigers won the pennant and faced the Cardinals in the World Series. Kaline had a great World Series, batting .379 with 8 RBI as the Tigers won in 7 games.

Kaline nearly died on the baseball field in 1970, when he had a collision with a teammate in the outfield chasing down a fly ball. He collapsed on the warning track after he collision, and teammate Willie Horton rushed over to check on him and realized that his airway was blocked and he was turning blue, so he reached in and cleared it out and saved his life.

In 1974, Kaline reached the 3000 hit plateau, the 12th player to reach that mark, and retired just weeks later at the conclusion of the season. He ended up with 399 home runs, having reached 25 in a season 7 times without ever reaching 30, which goes to show how consistent he was for so long. He finished with a .297 batting average, having surpassed .300 nine times, stretching from ages 20 to 37.

Kaline was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, the 10th player so honored. He is the Tigers all-time leader in games played, walks, and home runs, and played extremely well in his only World Series appearance. He was a model of consistency for over 2 decades, and as a result is the player opening up the top 50 on the all-time greatest players list.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #51 - Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran is the most recent retiree on this list, having left the game after finally winning the World Series last year, a fitting close to a great 20-year career.

Beltran joined the Kansas City Royals near the end of the 1998 season, so he was still officially a rookie in 1999, when he batted .293 with 108 RBI to win the Rookie of the Year award. He missed a good chunk of the following season, and slumped so badly he lost his starting job, but won it back before the 2001 season.

During his entire career, Beltran only led the league in a category once, games played in 2002, when he didn't miss a game. Even though he wasn't dominant in the regular season, he was one of the better players in the league for several years, and he always played well in the playoffs, earning him the nickname Senor Octubre.

He was traded to the Houston Astros halfway through the 2004 season, where he was able to have his first and best playoff performance. Though the Astros failed to reach the World Series, Beltran tied Barry Bonds' playoff record with 8 home runs in a single postseason, which was incredible for only playing 12 games. He hit home runs in 5 straight games, a postseason record at the time, and hit a gamewinner in Game 4 of the NLCS.

Beltran signed with the Mets following that season, which is where he would spend the most time in his career. He had his best year there in 2006, setting career highs in runs, home runs, walks, and RBI, and he finished #4 in the MVP voting, his highest career finish. In that year's NLCS, he was great again, batting .296 with 3 home runs, but it wasn't enough to reach the World Series yet again.

He was traded again just before his contract expired, this time to San Francisco, and again he was a short-term rental. He left to sign with the Cardinals after the season, and in 2013 was finally able to reach the World Series, only to lose to the Red Sox in 6 games, even after he robbed David Ortiz of a grand slam in game 1.

He left for the Yankees immediately after losing the World Series, but only played one postseason game in 2.5 years there, before being traded again just before his contract expired, joining the Rangers for the end of the 2016 season, but Texas came up short in the playoffs, so Beltran decided to go back to Houston for one final shot at a title.

He played mostly as a DH in 2017, and had the lowest batting average of his career, but the Astros were great, making it clear to the World Series. Beltran did not play much in the playoffs, getting only 3 hits in the 2 early playoff series, then batting 0 for 3 in the World Series, but he was able to go out a champion, even if he wasn't really a contributor.

Beltran was a very good all-around player, one of 5 in history to reach 400 home runs and 300 steals, and one of only 4 who also reached 2500 hits and 1000 walks, along with Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. Beltran was always better in the playoffs, playing well enough that he should have won a couple of titles in his prime, but there is still no doubt that he belongs with the greatest players of all time.