Welcome to another edition of Top Ten! This week, we complete our outfield by revealing our Top Ten Right 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.
Onto the fun stuff, number ten on our list of the best right fielders of all time is:
10. Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson had a larger-than-life personality, but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that he was an outstanding baseball player. He loved the spotlight, and he shone brightest when it was on. Reggie debuted with the Athletics in 1967, the club’s last season in Kansas City. He struggled, though, and was sent back down to the minors. The following year, Jackson was the starting right fielder and clubbed 29 HRs, albeit with a league-leading 171 strikeouts. Reggie led the league in Ks five times in his career, but he offset this with four HR crowns. For Jackson, it was “go big, or go home.”
Reggie made his first of 14 All-Star appearances in 1969 and four seasons later was the AL MVP. He led the league in HRs, runs, RBI, SLG, and OPS that year, and the A’s won the World Series for the second straight season. The prior year, Jackson had to sit out the series after tearing his hamstring in the ALCS. In ’73, though, he was the series MVP after hitting .310 with a home run and six RBI. The A’s three-peated in 1974, giving Reggie his third ring.
The Oakland dynasty began to crumble in 1975, and right before the 1976 season began, the A’s traded Jackson to Baltimore. After the season, Reggie would be a free agent, and Oakland felt they wouldn’t be able to re-sign him. After one season with the Orioles, Jackson joined the Yankees. The New York limelight was perfect for him, and he won two more World Series rings. The legend of “Mr. October” was born during the 1977 series after Jackson slugged five HRs, hit .450, and won his second World Series MVP. Reggie made it to two more World Series with the Yanks, winning one. His lifetime line in the Fall Classic includes 10 HRs, 24 RBI, 21 runs, and a .357 average.
Jackson left the Yankees via free agency in 1982 and played five more productive seasons for the California Angels. He played his last season back in Oakland in 1987. In 1993, Reggie became a first-ballot Hall of Famer and had his number #44 retired by the Yankees. A decade later, the A’s retired his #9.
9. Paul Waner
Paul Waner debuted with the Pirates in 1927 and was the NL MVP the following season. In 1928, he won the batting title after hitting .380 and led the league in hits, triples, and RBI. That season the Pirates made it to the World Series but were swept by the mighty Yankees. It would be the only postseason appearance for Waner.
Waner continued to be an elite hitter for another decade, winning two more batting titles and hitting over .300 for the first 12 seasons of his career. “Big Poison” also topped 200 hits eight times and led the league in runs, doubles, and triples twice. Waner represented the Pirates at the first All-Star game in 1933 and thrice over the next four years.
After the 1940 season, the Pirates released the now 37-year-old Waner, who had struggled with injuries that year. He floated around for multiple teams for the next few seasons and finally retired after the Yankees released him in May 1945. In 1952, the BBWAA voted Big Poison into the Hall of Fame. A half-century later, in 2007, and 42 years after Waner’s death, the Pirates finally retired his #11.
8. Larry Walker
Larry Walker began his career in Montreal when the Expos called him up in August 1989. The following April, he was their starting right fielder. Walker made his first All-Star team and won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 1992. In his final year in Montreal, the strike-shortened 1994, he led the league in doubles and had 19 HRs, 86 RBI, and a .322 average when MLB canceled the season due to the player’s strike.
Walker signed with the Rockies as a free agent when play resumed in 1995. His signing was a massive boon to the franchise, which was still in its infancy. Walker was productive from the get-go but blossomed from 1997 to 1999. In 1997 he was the NL MVP after batting .366 with a league-leading 49 HRs and 130 RBI. He was an All-Star for the first time with Colorado that year and won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger with the team. Ultimately, Walker won seven Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers in his career.
From 1998 to 2001, Walker won three batting titles. He only hit under .300 twice in Colorado, in an injury-shortened 1996 and 2003. In addition, he was the NL leader in OBP, SLG, and OPS twice. Walker began the 2004 season on the DL, and the rebuilding Rockies moved the expensive 37-year-old to St. Louis in early August. He was a big addition to the contending club, and the Cardinals made it to the World Series. Larry hit well in the postseason, especially in the Fall Classic when Walker slugged two HRs with a .357 BA. That was Boston’s year, though, so he did not get a ring.
Larry Walker retired one year later, in 2005, and after ten years on the ballot, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020. The following season, the Rockies made his jersey the second to be retired by the club, taking #33 out of circulation.
7. Roberto Clemente
Roberto Clemente signed with the Dodgers out of Puerto Rico in 1954 but was claimed in the Rule 5 draft by the Pirates later that year. In 1955, the 20-year-old made the roster but had to compete for playing time. Clemente improved each season, and in 1960, he represented the Pirates at both All-Star games (there were two from 1959 to 1962). Clemente became a regular at the midsummer classic, playing in the game 15 times.
Roberto’s all-around skills began to blossom. In 1961 his exceptional defense was recognized when he won his first Gold Glove. He won the award every season after that, amassing 12 trophies in total. “Arriba” also developed into one of the premier hitters in MLB, winning four batting titles between 1961 and 1967. Clemente only hit under .300 once after 1960 and led the NL in hits twice. In 1966, Roberto was the league MVP after hitting .317 with 29 HRs, 105 runs, and 119 RBI.
Clemente played in two World Series, and the Pirates won both. The first championship came in 1960, and the second in 1971. Arriba was the MVP of the ’71 series after hitting .414 with two HRs and four RBI in the seven games. Clemente got his 3,000th hit in his final regular season at-bat on September 30, 1972. The Pirates were headed back to the playoffs that year but lost in the NLCS to the Reds.
Tragically, Roberto Clemente died a few months later in a plane crash while trying to provide relief to Nicaraguans who had suffered through an earthquake a week earlier. People inside and outside of baseball mourned, as Clemente was not just a great baseball player but a wonderful human being. In 1973, the Hall of Fame waived the standard five-year waiting period and inducted Arriba. The Pirates retired #21 that same year.
6. Harry Heilmann
Harry Heilmann may be the most underrated player in the Top Ten. His lifetime .342 average ties him with Babe Ruth for second all-time among qualified right fielders. Heilmann debuted with the Tigers in 1914 but didn’t stick with the club until 1916. Playing next to the great Ty Cobb helped Heilmann become a premier hitter, and after returning from a short stint in WWI, he never hit below .300 for the rest of his career.
In 1921 Heilmann won his first batting title and led the AL in hits. He repeated this accomplishment every other year over the next six seasons, winning four altogether. In 1923 Heilmann, aka “Slug,” eclipsed the .400 mark with a .403 BA and finished third in the MVP voting. Despite Heilmann’s success and the presence of Cobb for most of his tenure with the team, the Tigers never won a pennant while he was with them.
Heilmann likely would have joined the 3,000-hit club had he not been hampered by arthritic wrists late in his career. He was claimed off waivers by the Reds in 1930 but played only one season before retiring due to the pain. He mounted a comeback in 1932 as a player-coach for Cincinnati but retired for good at the end of May. In 1952, the BBWAA inducted Heilmann into the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately, Slug wasn’t there to see it as he passed away the prior year.
5. Al Kaline
Al Kaline was another great right fielder for the Tigers, covering the position for most of his 22 seasons with the club. His longevity with the team earned him the nickname “Mr. Tiger.” Kaline broke in with Detroit straight out of high school in 1953. Two years later, at only 20 years old, Kaline won the batting title with a .340 average. He also made his first All-Star team that year, an honor he would repeat 17 more times.
In 1957, MLB created the Gold Glove award, and Kaline was among the first recipients. Mr. Tiger won the award every season except one from 1957 to 1967, putting ten on his mantle. The Tigers only advanced to the playoffs twice during Kaline’s time, with the highlight being the 1968 World Series. Kaline hit .379 in the series with two HRs and eight RBI in the seven-game victory over the Cardinals.
After a long career, Kaline retired as a lifelong Tiger in 1974. He is the franchise leader in HRs still. In 1980, Kaline joined the Hall of Fame after being voted in by 88% of the BBWAA in his first year of eligibility. That same season, the Tigers made Kaline’s #6 jersey the first to be retired by the franchise.
4. Frank Robinson
Robinson started his career by winning rookie-of-the-year in 1956. He was also an All-Star that season, something he would accomplish 14 times in his career. In his ten years with Cincinnati, Robinson averaged 32 HRs, 104 runs, and 101 RBI per season. He led the NL in SLG/OPS three times, runs twice, and doubles/OBP once. Robinson won a Gold Glove in 1958 and took home his first MVP in 1961. That season was the only time in his tenure in Cincinnati that the Reds made it to the postseason, losing in the World Series to the Yankees.
Robinson, and Reds fans, were shocked when the team traded him to Baltimore in 1965. The club viewed him as a player on the decline, but they were wrong as he played at an extremely high level for several more seasons. Robinson was in Baltimore for six seasons, and they were sensational. All he did in his first season with the Orioles was win the 1966 Triple Crown. His 49 HRs, 122 RBI, and .316 BA paced the AL and earned him his second MVP. The team also won the World Series that season and Robinson was the series MVP. Not a bad debut!
Robinson played in two more World Series for the Orioles and made the All-Star team during five of his six seasons in Baltimore. After the 1971 season, the O’s traded him to the Dodgers, ending his magical run with the franchise. Robinson was so beloved in Baltimore that they retired his number 20 the following season, even though he was still playing.
He bounced around with a few different teams at the end of his career and finally retired in 1976. The BBWAA elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1982 on his first attempt. Several years later, in 1998, Frank’s number 20 was retired again, this time by the Reds.
3. Mel Ott
Like Al Kaline, Mel Ott spent his entire career with one franchise and joined his squad straight from high school. Ott debuted with the New York Giants in 1926, shortly after his 17th birthday, and never played in the minors. Instead, he learned on the job and played sporadically his first few seasons. By 1928 he was the starting right fielder, and he rewarded the Giants by hitting .322 with 18 HRs and 77 RBI. Despite his small stature, the sweet-swinging Ott became one of the NL’s best power hitters. “Master Melvin” led the league in home runs six times, runs twice, and RBI once. Ott also possessed an excellent command of the strike zone, leading the NL in walks six times and OBP four times.
Ott was an All-Star for 12 consecutive seasons from 1934 to 1945 and played nearly every game for over a decade. The Giants went to three World Series with Ott in right field, winning the championship in 1933 but losing to the crosstown Yankees in 1936 and 1937. In his 16 postseason contests, Ott smashed four HRs and drove in ten runs while batting .295.
In 1942, Ott took over as the Giants’ player-manager and continued to manage after he retired from playing in July 1947. Two years after Ott’s retirement, the Giants retired Master Melvin’s #4 jersey. Ott joined the Hall of Fame a couple of years after that, in 1951. Tragically, a car accident took his life in 1958.
2. Hank Aaron
Henry Aaron joined Milwaukee as a 20-year-old rookie in 1954. In 1955, he made his first All-Star game appearance, where he would return for the next 20 years. In addition, Aaron’s trophy closet included three Gold Gloves and the 1957 MVP.
A high level of consistency highlighted Aaron’s remarkable career. “Hammerin’ Hank” led the league in doubles, RBI, SLG, and HRs four times, runs and OPS three times, and hits and batting average twice. Everyone knows about Aaron’s 755 HRs, which he held as the record until Barry Bonds controversially broke it in 2007, but how he got there speaks to his consistency. Henry never hit more than 47 HRs in a season, but he slugged over 30 fifteen times and over 20 for 20 consecutive years. Aaron ranks first on the all-time right fielder’s list in games, plate appearances, hits, HRs, RBI, and runs (tied with our #1).
Hank played in two World Series with Milwaukee, winning the first against the Yankees in 1957 and losing the second to them a year later. Aaron batted .364 in the 14 games and slugged three HRs while driving in nine runs. He would only play in three more postseason games in his career – the 1969 NLCS.
After 21 years in Milwaukee and then Atlanta, Hank was traded back to Milwaukee for his final two seasons. After the 1976 season, at 42 years old, he hung up his cleats, and the club immediately retired his #44. Though he’d only been with the franchise for two seasons, Aaron was a Milwaukee icon. Atlanta followed suit the next year, making Aaron the first player to have his number retired by two franchises. In 1982, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with 97.8% of the vote. How this was not 100% is hard to fathom.
1. Babe Ruth
George Herman “Babe” Ruth is probably the least surprising #1 in all of our Top Tens. The Babe has the highest WAR in MLB history and is generally recognized as the GOAT. He changed the game, and his impact on the sport is immeasurable. Ruth’s story is familiar to most baseball fans, but below is a brief synopsis of his accomplishments.
Most know that the Babe started his MLB career as a pitcher for the Red Sox in 1914. He was an excellent starter, too, winning an ERA title in 1916. It became apparent quickly that his bat was too valuable not to be in the lineup every day, so he began to transition to the outfield in 1918. Following the 1919 season, in which Ruth led the league in most offensive categories, the Sox sold him to the Yankees for $100,000 – which was a lot of money back then! Even so, this turned out to be a bargain for the Yanks.
To say Ruth was dominant is an understatement. Here are the number of times the “Bambino” led the league in various offensive categories:
Among his career records were the 59 HRs he hit in 1921, which stood as the record until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961, and his 714 career HRs, held until Aaron broke it in 1974. Ruth also played in ten World Series and was a seven-time champion. He hit .326 with a .470 OBP in the postseason with 15 HRs, 37 runs, and 33 RBI. The Bambino was also 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA pitching for the Red Sox in 1916 and 1918.
Above all, “The Sultan of Swat” was the first sports superstar, enhanced by his larger-than-life personality. After 22 seasons, the Babe retired in 1935, playing his final 28 games with the Boston Braves. Many of his career marks have been surpassed, but Ruth is still the all-time leader in ISO, SLG, wOBA, and wRC+. A year after his retirement, MLB created the Hall of Fame, and Babe Ruth was one of the original six inductees. The Yankees retired Babe’s #3 in June 1948, just a few months before he passed away.
In two weeks, we go back to the mound for the Top Ten Relievers 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)
Did you consider Mookie Betts?
Yes, in fact, he was real close. With a few more seasons under his belt, he’ll no doubt crack the list.
Just discovered your website, which is outstanding. I have been a baseball fame since growing in NYC when we had three teams. I am particularly obsessed with records of all kinds. One comment on your Babe Ruth discussion of his exploits, you state “Among his career records were the 59 HRs he hit in 1921, which stood as the record until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961.” I am sure you meant 60 HRs he hit in 1927. This does not detract from your scholarship. Believe me, I know it is almost impossible to not have an error creep in once in a while. I look forward to reading more of your work.
Thanks Sal for pointing this out! I will correct it immediately and I appreciate the kind words.
You know Ruth hit 60 in 1927, right?
Yes, sorry, clerical error. Thx for pointing out.