Welcome to another edition of Top Ten! This week, we shift to the outfield and reveal our best left fielders of all time. If you’re interested in any of the other positions we’ve covered to date, you can find them and a lot of other great content in the archive. Below is some background on how we compiled the list if you are new to this segment.
Several types of WAR formed the core of the evaluation, including ratings from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, which calculate it differently. We rely heavily on WAR as it is difficult to compare players of different eras to each other, given how the game has changed over the years. WAR measures players versus their contemporaries, thus putting players on as level a playing field as possible. We always do our best to balance the rankings between longevity and dominance to get a good cross-section. Therefore, in addition to career WAR, we look at WAR7 (seven best seasons), WAR/162 (Avg WAR per season), and the number of seasons the player was among the WAR leaders in the league.
Traditional offensive stats such as hits, BA, OPS, HRs, RBI, etc., were fused with wOBA, wRC+, and OPS+ to develop an overall offensive rating. We also considered All-Star game appearances, MVP awards, and seasons where the player finished in the top ten in MVP voting, though not as heavily as these awards didn’t exist in the early years. As many outfielders shifted between left, right, and center during their careers, we tried to build the three positions with the Top Thirty outfielders of all time. To do so, we had to move players around a bit, but each was only eligible at an outfield position he played for a significant portion of his career.
Without further ado, here’s our Number Ten left fielder:
10. Pete Rose
Pete Rose played a lot of different positions in his career, including 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF, so he could have made a lot of Top Tens. We decided early on to hold until the outfield and left field was a better fit than right. Rose debuted for the Reds in 1963 and won rookie-of-the-year. In 1965, he led the league in hits for the first time and went to his first All-Star game. He would repeat both feats several times, leading the league in hits seven times and attending 17 All-Star games.
“Charlie Hustle” was durable and one of baseball’s greatest hitters. Part of the reason Rose would eventually break Ty Cobb’s hit record was because of his incredible durability and longevity. He played more games in his career than anyone else by more than an entire season. Of course, he was also a great hitter, winning three batting titles, a Silver Slugger, and an MVP in 1973. In 1978, Rose had a 44-game hitting streak that remains the third-longest in history. Though not known for his defense, Rose also has two Gold Gloves; both won when he was playing primarily right field.
Rose played in six World Series, four with the “Big Red Machine.” His best postseason performance came in 1975 when he was the series MVP after hitting .370 with a .485 OBP in the Reds’ victory over the Red Sox. After the 1978 season, Rose left the Reds via free agency to join the Phillies. With the Phillies, he went to two more World Series, winning his third ring in 1980. After a brief stint in Montreal, Rose was traded back to the Reds in August 1984 and took over as player/manager. He continued in this role through the 1986 season before moving permanently to the bench.
Rose, of course, had his issues as a manager. Eventually, these led to his suspension from the game in 1989 for gambling. The suspension has kept him out of the Hall of Fame, though many hope MLB will eventually lift it. Despite this, the Reds officially retired his #14 in 2016. Only one other player had worn it since he retired, his son, Pete Rose Jr.
9. Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez’s WAR lags a bit as he was not a good fielder. Offensively, however, he’s among the best outfielders ever, with an OPS that ranks fifth all-time. Ramirez debuted as a September call-up in 1993 and did little. However, this didn’t stop him from making the opening day roster in 1994. It was a good call by the Tribe as he finished second in the rookie-of-the-year voting that season, which ended prematurely due to the players’ strike in August.
In 1995, Manny made his first All-Star appearance and won a Silver Slugger. He would repeat both feats several times as a 12-time All-Star and nine-time Silver Slugger. Ramirez never won the MVP award, but he came close in 1999 after slugging 44 HRs and driving in a league-leading 165 runs (he finished third in the voting). The Indians of the late 90s were a contending team, and Ramirez went to the postseason five consecutive years from 1995-99. Twice they made it all the way to the World Series but lost both in 1995 and 1997.
After the 2000 series, Ramirez signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent. He would have an even more successful run in Boston, where he won the batting title in 2002 and led the league in OBP three times. More importantly, Manny was a vital member of the curse-breaking 2004 club. After the incredible comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, Ramirez won World Series MVP after hitting .412/.500/.588 in the sweep of the Cardinals. Manny got a second ring with the Sox in 2007, but his antics were starting to wear thin on the club. He was sent to the Dodgers at the trade deadline the following season.
The final two months of the 2008 season were incredible for Ramirez, and left field at Dodger Stadium was dubbed “MannyWood.” However, some doubt was cast on his accomplishments the following season when he tested positive for a banned substance, and the league suspended him for 50 games. He was still productive upon his return, but the shine was off, and Ramirez sputtered around for a few more years with the Dodgers, White Sox, and Rays before testing positive again and retiring five games into the 2011 season. How much of Ramirez’s incredible career was influenced by performance-enhancing drugs is impossible to know, but it may keep him out of the Hall of Fame. “Manny being Manny” was an endearing moniker for most of his career, but it returned to haunt him in his twilight.
8. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson was one of the greatest hitters in the game’s history. He is also one of the most controversial figures. Some view Jackson as a cheater and others a victim for his role in the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919. For those unfamiliar, eight men from the White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series, Jackson among them. Supporters of Shoeless Joe’s will point out that he hit .375 with a HR and six RBI in the 1919 World Series – hardly the numbers of someone on the take. Yet it was Jackson’s own testimony that did him in – one that he would later retract. Whatever the case, no one can doubt his production on the field and wonder what he might have accomplished had his career not been cut short.
Jackson began his career in 1908 when the Athletics purchased his contract from the Carolina Association. Philadelphia was a big change for Jackson, who grew up in the country, and he managed only five games with the A’s that season. He struggled again the following year before Connie Mack traded him to Cleveland, figuring the small-town Jackson would never make it in Philly.
Jackson thrived in Cleveland, leading the league in OBP during his first full season with the club in 1911. He followed that up by leading the league in hits the next two years and finished second in the MVP voting in 1913. In 1915 he was traded to the White Sox mid-season as Cleveland was teetering financially and had to generate cash.
Shoeless Joe’s tenure with the White Sox was not long, but it was memorable. Jackson played only 648 games with the club before the Black Sox Scandal ended his career, but he did take away a legitimate world championship in 1917 when the Sox defeated the Giants in the World Series. He was only 33 when MLB banned him for life, eliminating him from Hall of Fame consideration. The best you’ll get from him if you visit Cooperstown are a few photographs and a pair of his cleats.
7. Al Simmons
Al Simmons often gets overlooked, but he was an integral part of the Athletics teams that went to three straight World Series from 1929-1931. Simmons broke in with the club in 1924 and led the league in hits and total bases in his second season. He won two batting titles in Philadelphia in 1930 and 1931 and put up impressive numbers in all three World Series (two of which the A’s won). In those three series, Simmons slugged six HRs, scored 14 runs, and drove in 17 with a .333 average.
In 1933, the A’s began a rebuild and traded Simmons to the White Sox. Simmons was an All-Star with Chicago in the first three All-Star games from 1933-35, but the Sox weren’t contenders and moved him to Detroit after the 1935 season. He had a good season with Detroit, but it was his last as a premier player. Simmons bounced around for the rest of his career, eventually retiring in 1944. He would likely have retired earlier, but World War II was taking a lot of the young talent out of the major leagues, so Simmons hung on, trying to get to 3,000 hits (he fell just short). It took a few tries, but in 1953 Simmons was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
6. Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson is arguably the greatest lead-off hitter in the sport’s history. One thing is for sure – he’s the greatest base stealer. He stole 468 more bases than #2 on the all-time list, Lou Brock. Rickey was more than just fast, though. He also had a tremendous eye and plenty of power. In addition to the stolen bases, he’s the all-time leader in runs scored and unintentional walks. In his career, Henderson led the league in SBs 12 times, walks four times, runs five times, and OBP/OPS once.
Henderson debuted with the A’s halfway through the 1979 season and stole 33 bases in 89 games. The following season he made his first of ten All-Star appearances, and in 1981 he won his first of three Silver Sluggers and his only Gold Glove. Despite his production, the struggling A’s traded him to the Yankees after the 1984 season. He continued to run wild in New York, but the Yankees weren’t winning either. So in 1989, they traded him back to Oakland, which was now a contending club. The A’s won the World Series that year, and Henderson was the MVP of the ALCS with a .400 batting average, eight SBs and runs, two HRs, and five RBI. He was even better in the four-game series sweep of the Giants, batting .474 with a .524 OBP.
Rickey had his best season the following year and was the AL MVP. That season he hit .325 with a league-leading .439 OBP, 1.016 OPS, 65 SBs, and 119 runs. For good measure, he hit 28 HRs – his career high. The A’s again advanced to the World Series but lost to the Reds and their “Nasty Boys” bullpen. This was a turning point for Oakland, and a few years later, Henderson was traded again – this time to the Blue Jays at the deadline in 1993. Rickey won his second ring with Toronto that season.
The mercurial Henderson resigned with Oakland as a free agent after the series, but his best days were now behind him. He continued to play, however, bouncing around to several teams before finally retiring after the 2003 season. Rickey was a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2009 and had his number 24 retired by the A’s that same year. He was honored further by the club in 2017 when the team christened the Coliseum as “Rickey Henderson Field.”
5. Carl Yastrzemski
Carl Yastrzemski is the first of two Red Sox legends to grace the Top Ten Left Fielders. Only one other player has a higher WAR with the Red Sox than Yaz, and he also happened to play left field (more on him in a bit).
Yastrzemski broke in with the Red Sox in 1961 and stayed with them until he retired after 23 seasons in 1983. He played in a total of 3,308 games for Boston, 800 more than anyone else. But it wasn’t just longevity that made Yaz a Red Sox icon; he was great too. In his 23 seasons, Yaz made 18 all-star game appearances, which is an incredible testament to his durability and consistency. Other awards included seven gold gloves and three batting titles, but his crowning glory came in 1967. That year, Yastrzemski not only won the MVP but the coveted triple crown when he hit .326 with 44 HRs and 121 RBI. This feat was not accomplished again until Miguel Cabrera pulled it off in 2012.
In addition to the awards, Yaz was the AL leader in various categories over his long career. In addition to his three batting titles, he led in OBP five times, OPS four times, runs/doubles/SLG three times, BBs/hits twice, and HRs/RBI once. Yaz went to two World Series with the Sox – in his magical 1967 season and again in 1975. He produced in both of them despite the Red Sox losses, hitting .352 with three HRs and nine RBI in the 14 games.
Five years after his retirement, the BBWAA voted Yaz into the Hall of Fame in 1989. It was his first year of eligibility, and he garnered 95% of the vote. The Red Sox followed suit by retiring his #8 that same year.
4. Ed Delahanty
Ed Delahanty was one of the 19th century’s best hitters. “Big Ed” could do it all – he could run, hit, hit for power, and play excellent defense. In his 16-year career, Delahanty led the league in SLG/OPS/doubles five times, RBI three times, batting average/HRs/OBP twice, and triples/stolen bases once. He was an offensive machine.
Delahanty began his career in Philadelphia in 1888 but struggled at first. In 1890, he jumped to the Cleveland Infants of the Player’s League but returned after the league failed the following year. In 1892 his career took off, and he began his run of dominance. Big Ed hit over .400 three different times – in 1894, 1895, and 1899. He also dominated in the field, accumulating 238 assists in his career. He was one of the game’s first five-tool players long before the term was introduced.
Despite his ability, his teams never won a pennant. Perhaps frustrated, he jumped to the upstart American League in 1902, joining the Washington Senators. He tried to jump back to the NL in 1903 with the New York Giants but was blocked. An agreement between the leagues forbade it, and he returned to Washington, where he played his final season. His life was unraveling at this point with gambling debts and a drinking problem. One night a drunken Delahanty either jumped or fell off a bridge over the Niagara River after being thrown off a train, ending his life.
It was a tragic end for Big Ed, who surely would be better known if he’d played more years. The Hall of Fame recognized his talent in 1945, inducting him 42 years after his death.
3. Stan Musial
Stan Musial is the greatest Cardinal of all time. His WAR is ~30 points higher than any other player in team history. Musial wasn’t exclusively a left fielder in his career. He also played a lot of right field, first base, and even a bit of center. We slotted him here, though, as the depth at the position wasn’t as great, and we wanted to give “Stan the Man” his due as one of the greatest ever.
Musial broke into the majors late in 1941 and was the Cardinals’ starting left fielder the following year. St. Louis won the World Series that year and would return three of the next four seasons, winning twice more. The only year they missed during this run was 1945 – the season Musial missed after he enlisted in the Navy.
In 1942, Musial was league MVP after leading the NL in games, plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS. World War II was diluting the talent in MLB a bit, but this shouldn’t diminish this massive feat. He won two more MVPs after the war in 1946 and 1948 and finished second in the balloting four times. His 1948 season may have been his best. He again led the league in several offensive categories, including a .376 average and 131 RBI. Had he hit one more HR, he would have won the Triple Crown.
In addition to the MVPs, Musial went to 24 All-Star games and won seven batting titles. Few players in history accomplished more offensively. His Cardinals’ teams did not reach another postseason after 1946, though. But Stan the Man kept playing and putting up numbers until he retired after the 1963 season. The Cardinals immediately retired his #6, the first time they had bestowed that honor on a player. Musial’s induction to the Hall of Fame came at the first possible opportunity with his election in 1969 on 93.2% of the ballots.
2. Ted Williams
As Musial was the greatest Cardinal, Ted Williams is the best player to ever play for the Red Sox. “The Splendid Splinter” is another on the short list of the greatest players of all time. Many consider him the greatest hitter ever, and his credentials make a great case. His offensive accomplishments were incredible and would’ve been even greater had he not lost three years serving as a Marine in World War II and most of two more during the Korean War.
Over his 19-year career, Williams led the league in runs and batting average six times, HRs and RBI four times, walks eight times, and OBP an astounding twelve times. He has the highest OBP in MLB history at .482. You can add to this two MVPs, nineteen all-star games, and two Triple Crowns. He first accomplished this in 1942, hitting .356 with 36 HRs and 137. He repeated the feat in 1947 with a .343 average, 32 HRs, and 114 RBI. “The Kid” was also the last player to hit over .400 in a season, which he accomplished in 1941. That was arguably Williams’ best, as he finished the year with a .406 average, .553 OBP, 37 HRs, and 120 RBI.
As great as Williams was, his teams generally were not. He only made it to the postseason once, when the Sox lost to the Cardinals in the 1946 World Series. The Kid retired after the 1960 season and joined the Hall of Fame in 1966. Like Musial, he stunningly was a unanimous selection, only receiving 93.4% of the vote. For some reason, the Red Sox took their time before finally retiring his #9 in 1984.
1. Barry Bonds
Love him or hate him, by the numbers, there’s no doubt who was the greatest left fielder of all time. Bonds’ WAR is second only to Babe Ruth among hitters and far above any other player on this list. Bonds’ numbers late in his career were ridiculous but tainted. Many will not recognize his accomplishments due to his link to performance-enhancing drugs. But as we’ve stated in other Top Tens, we’re not here to judge.
Bonds began his career with Pittsburgh in 1986. He was called up on May 30 and stole 36 bases that season with 16 HRs but hit only .223. He kept getting better and better until breaking out in 1990 when he led the league in SLG and OPS en route to his first MVP, All-Star game, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger. He was just getting started, though. Bonds would repeat these feats several times over the next decade and a half. By the time of his retirement in 2007, Bonds would win seven MVPs, 12 Silver Sluggers, 8 Gold Gloves, and participate in 14 All-Star games.
The Pirates made the playoffs three straight years in the early 1990s but never broke through to the World Series. After the third appearance in 1992, Bonds left the small-market team for the Giants as a free agent. Bonds continued to produce excellent numbers but started to be over-shadowed by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s home run chase. In 2001, just a few years after McGwire broke the single-season HR record, Bonds broke it again with 73. Bonds also led the league in walks that year with 177. Nobody wanted to pitch to him. This pattern would continue for the next several years as Bonds led the NL in walks and OBP every year except one until he retired in 2007. The one year he didn’t was 2005 – a year in which he hardly played due to knee surgery.
The Giants made four visits to the playoffs with Bonds, including the 2002 World Series. Bonds played well in the series, hitting .471 with four HRs and six RBI, but the Giants lost. Bonds retired without a championship ring.
Bonds’ link to steroids started in 2003 when federal agents raided the Bay Area Lab Cooperative (BALCO). Bonds denied “knowingly” taking steroids, but there was plenty of evidence against him. He eventually broke Hank Aaron’s all-time HR mark, but the controversy dampened the accomplishment. To this day, many don’t consider him the home run king. The Hall of Fame has also eluded him to this point, with many voters withholding their votes. However, this past year, he was named on 66% of the ballots – his highest total to date. So, there’s a good chance he will eventually achieve induction.
We’ll shift up the middle in two weeks and reveal our Top Ten Center Fielders of All-Time. If you enjoyed this article, check out our All-Franchise Starting Lineup in the between weeks. You can find both and tons of other great content in the We Love Baseball section.
Photo by Ben Gorman/Unsplash | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)