The Best A-Z Players in MLB History
On January 13, 2013, MLB Network aired an episode of MLB Network Countdown that listed the best players from A to Z in Major League history. The rules said that the player had to have played in the Major Leagues, and his last name must begin with the letter. I watched my recording of the episode on January 20.
This was MLB Network’s best Countdown show I have seen so far – and they have had some good ones. Even my wife watched this one with nearly as much interest as I did. The only baseball she likes to watch is our son’s games.
I agree with many of MLB Network’s picks and disagree with others. Here is the list with MLB Network’s choices first and whether or not I agree. Where I disagree, I put my choice next.
A. Hank Aaron – Agree. With 755 home runs, who else could match him? Maybe pitcher Grover Alexander, but I agree with Aaron.
B. Barry Bonds – Disagree. I choose Johnny Bench, the best catcher in history. As powerful as Bonds was, Bench had to deal with a whole lot more behind the plate.
C. Ty Cobb – Agree. He was the best pure hitter until Pete Rose came along. Cobb hit .366 and probably could have hit more home runs if he wanted.
D. Joe DiMaggio – Agree. He didn’t become a Yankee legend for no reason. Too bad injuries and military service shortened his career. Thank you for your service, Joe.
E. Dennis Eckersley – Agree. A great starter became a great closer: 197 wins and 390 saves.
F. Bob Feller — Disagree. I choose Jimmie Foxx. He was one of the most feared and powerful hitters the game ever knew. Feller was fabulous, but I go with Double X.
G. Lou Gehrig – Agree, but Ken Griffey, Jr. is a very close 2nd. There is no telling what Gehrig could have done if he had played as long as most of the other Yankee legends.
H. Rogers Hornsby — Disagree. I choose Rickey Henderson for his super speed, power, on-base average, runs, and defense. I never saw Hornsby, but Rickey was just fun to watch.
I. Raul Ibanez – Agree by default. I cannot think of any other impact player for I. If I could fudge, I would say Ichiro because we know him by that single (first) name, but it breaks the rules.
J. Walter Johnson – Tough to disagree mainly because I am a huge Derek Jeter fan. Jeter continues to make the biggest impact on the biggest stages. I agreewith the Big Train, who won 417 games with a 2.17 ERA.
K. Sandy Koufax – Disagree. I choose Harmon Killebrew. Koufax was great for the last five or six years of his career, but Killebrew hit so well for nearly 20 years.
L. Nap Lajoie – Agree. I almost went with Barry Larkin, but Lajoie hit .338 for 21 years in the dead ball era.
M. Willie Mays – I agree, but my first thought was Mickey Mantle. There is an abundance of M players: Mays, Mantle, Maddux, Martinez, Musial, Molitor, Murray, Matthews, McCovey, Morgan. Mays was the best of the bunch: 660 HR.
N. Phil Niekro – Agree. Knucksie won over 300 games for four teams with mostly that knuckle ball. He averaged 233 innings per year, topping 300 four times.
O. Mel Ott – Agree. David Ortiz is not far behind, though. Ott never played in the Minors, and he hit 511 home runs from 1926-1947.
P. Satchell Paige – Disagree. I choose Albert Pujols. Paige was the greatest pitcher ever, but his Major League career does not warrant his choice – not his fault. The Majors missed out big time. Pujols has been the best all around hitter since 2001 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Q. Dan Quisenberry – Agree. Few other Q’s have even played, and “Quiz” saved 244 games with a 2.76 ERA.
R. Babe Ruth – Agree. Even with so many R’s (Ryan, Rose, 3 Robinsons, Rivera, Ripken, Rodriguez, etc.) Babe Ruth is an easy choice. He hit and pitched as well as or better than anyone else ever has: 714 HR, 94 wins.
S. Mike Schmidt – Agree. Tough to go against Seaver and Sosa, but Schmidt was an all-time great with both the glove and bat: 548 HR, 3 MVP’s, and 9 Gold Gloves.
T. Frank Thomas – Agree. I first thought of Jim Thome and his 612 home runs, but the Big Hurt has a better average, the same All-Star appearances, and two MVP awards.
U. Chase Utley – Agreeby default. No other U name jumps out, and Utley has been one the National League’s best hitters — when healthy — since 2003.
V. Omar Vizquel – Disagree. I choose Fernando Valenzuela. Vizquel is very steady and can still play, but Valenzuela dominated N.L. hitters throughout the 1980s. Justin Verlander will overtake him in short order, though.
W. Ted Williams – Agree. No one else even comes close. Williams hit 521 home runs, batted .344, and was on base at .482. He may have challenged 700 home runs if not for military service in his prime. Honus Wagner is third – there is no second.
X. David Ortiz – Disagree. Since no Major Leaguer ever had an X last name, they chose Ortiz because he had changed his name from David Arias. They used X to indicate the change. That is a far stretch. I would have skipped this letter or defaulted to first name (Xavier Nady?).
Y. Cy Young – Agree. I first thought of Carl Yastrzemski, but when a player gets an annual award named after him, how can I disagree? Young won 511 games – enough said.
Z. Barry Zito – Disagree. I choose Carlos Zambrano. For most of his Cubs’ career, Zambrano was among the league leaders in wins. He could also hit as well as many position players. Zimmerman is about to pass him, but for now, I choose Big Z.
NOTE: Thank you, Barry (see comments below) for the correction on Barry Zito as MLB Network's choice for Z (not Zimmerman). I originally had Ryan Zimmerman there. I still Choose Carlos Zambrano.
Comments – especially of disagreements — welcome.
Baseball Reference, Individual Player Pages, baseball-reference.com.
MLB Network Broadcast, MLB Network Countdown: Greatest Players from A to Z, January 13, 2013.