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The Best A-Z Players in MLB History

Updated on May 18, 2013

Player Photos

Joe DiMaggio -- the greatest D player
Joe DiMaggio -- the greatest D player | Source
Babe Ruth -- the greatest R player (and greatest ever)
Babe Ruth -- the greatest R player (and greatest ever) | Source
Willie Mays -- the greatest M player
Willie Mays -- the greatest M player | Source

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 AaronAgree. With 755 home runs, who else could match him? Maybe pitcher Grover Alexander, but I agree with Aaron.

B. Barry BondsDisagree. 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 CobbAgree. 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 DiMaggioAgree. 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 EckersleyAgree. A great starter became a great closer: 197 wins and 390 saves.

F. Bob FellerDisagree. 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 GehrigAgree, 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 HornsbyDisagree. 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 IbanezAgree 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 KoufaxDisagree. 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 LajoieAgree. 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 NiekroAgree. 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 OttAgree. 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 QuisenberryAgree. Few other Q’s have even played, and “Quiz” saved 244 games with a 2.76 ERA.

R. Babe RuthAgree. 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 SchmidtAgree. 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 ThomasAgree. 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 UtleyAgreeby default. No other U name jumps out, and Utley has been one the National League’s best hitters — when healthy — since 2003.

V. Omar VizquelDisagree. 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 WilliamsAgree. 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 OrtizDisagree. 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 YoungAgree. 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 ZitoDisagree. 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.

Sources:

Baseball Reference, Individual Player Pages, baseball-reference.com.

MLB Network Broadcast, MLB Network Countdown: Greatest Players from A to Z, January 13, 2013.

Who is the greatest Major League Baseball player of all time?

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    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 4 years ago from Cape Cod

      Great job on this Ray. I agree with almost every one of your choices. The one I will quibble with is "S". Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves was, in my opinion, the second greatest pitcher of all time. He won more games, just under 400, THAN ANY OTHER SOUTHPAW ever, despite toiling for some bad Braves teams. I think Walter Johnson is number one. Cy Young is probably in the top 20, but a lot of his wins came with the Cleveland Spiders when the pitching mound was several feet closer than the current 60 feet six inches and there were some notoriously bad teams in the National League before the year 1900. Several of them were kicked out of the league right around 1901 when the American league started. So, a lot of Young's wins came against ballclubs that actually were minor league teams.

    • Raymond Bureau profile image
      Author

      Raymond Bureau 4 years ago

      Thank you for the read and comments, Bill. This was one of the funnest articles I have written, and that was one great Countdown show. I also like the debates as you mentioned with Warren Spahn. I cannot argue with that choice, either. I hope to have more up before too long.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      Nice list and I enjoyed your comments agreeing and disagreeing with those choices.

    • Raymond Bureau profile image
      Author

      Raymond Bureau 4 years ago

      I am interested in hearing your choices and those from other readers as well. Thank you for the read.

    • profile image

      Barry Dahl 4 years ago

      Thanks for the post. I was just watching the show on MLB Network - googled it and found your post.

      One correction: although they talked about Zimmerman, their choice for Z was Barry Zito. I can't agree with your choice of Zambrano (achieved so much less than his potential) - but I would have to flip a coin between Zimmerman and Zito. There's really no outstanding Z player (yet).

      I would also disagree with P. Agree with you that Paige is not the choice (for same reasons as you), but I think the jury is still out on Pujols. He certainly is making me question whether he will have a consistently stellar career from start to finish. I think 3 P's are better choices: Kirby Puckett (five 200-hit seasons, great defense), Jim Palmer (eight 20-win seasons), and Gaylord Perry (314 wins, averaged 248 innings over 22 seasons). Take your pick.

    • Raymond Bureau profile image
      Author

      Raymond Bureau 4 years ago

      Hello, Barry.

      Thank you for the correction on Z. I remember that now. For some reason, I kept thinking they stuck with Zimmerman -- he was one of their introductory choices, and I guess I just remembered incorrectly.

      I like your P choices, too, and I appreciate your input. That's what makes topics like this fun to cover. I wish you all the best. Thanks again.

    • jdw7979 profile image

      John David 4 years ago from Middle America

      Great list!! It is too bad Ruth and Rose are in the same bracket, yet Ruth is the correct choice. Pete Rose, next to Cobb may be the best hitter of all time, though Gwynn was a great pure hitter in regards to contact.

    • Raymond Bureau profile image
      Author

      Raymond Bureau 4 years ago

      I had a great time making this list. Thank you for the read, jdw. I'm starting to wonder if I should have stuck with Yaz for Y.

    • profile image

      Jeremy 4 years ago

      I agree on most but I have to address the letter B. Although Johnny Bench was the greatest catcher of all time and shouldered more responsibility because of the position, It's difficult to argue against Bonds as the greatest player of all time. Once the steroid buzz dies down, the statistics and his impact on the game stand alone.

    • Raymond Bureau profile image
      Author

      Raymond Bureau 3 years ago

      Hello, Jeremy. Thank you for the comments and the read. I agree that Bonds was great, and I honestly did not let the steroid controversy affect my decision. However, I went with Bench because of the demands of catching both physically and mentally. The catcher must constantly watch the whole field and know every hitter. If not for Bench, I would go with Bonds.

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