Last night I was watching Baseball Tonight on ESPN and happened upon a lively debate over who is the best member of the 600HR club. Between Buck Showalter’s ADD and lack of ability to string together a coherent sentence and Eric “EY” Young’s passionate, fiery and awkward monologue on why Barry Bonds is the best, it left me thinking to myself whom I felt deserved the title. And so, here I go in order of rank:
1. Babe Ruth (.342/714/2217 over 22 seasons)
Imagine for a moment that Tiger Woods and John Daly spawned a child that played baseball. Enter Babe Ruth. Think about it…you have the best player of his craft during that era who also happens to be a complete rogue. Ruth is clearly one of the most accomplished hitters of all time, swatting 2,873 hits, 714 homeruns and an OBP of .474. He even stole 123 bases, never struck out more than 93 times in a season and drew 2,062 career walks.
Not bad, but it all comes into perspective when you consider the guy played Major League Baseball like it was high school. Over the course of five seasons he was the kid everyone buzzed about but never wanted to face. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year . The kid signed to go D-1. The kid who had hundreds of scouts lined up at his games to see him play. The first round draft pick. The “Can’t Miss Kid.” And finally, the best, and perhaps only, six tool player any has ever seen. He could hit for average, power, run a bit (in that era), field, throw and yes, pitch.
Ruth pitched over 133 innings in five seasons before his pitching career phased out and eventually went on a 10 year hiatus. He was 94-46 over his career with a 2.28 ERA and a filthy 1.159 WHIP. And he was an innings eater, too, especially in 1916 and 1917 when he tossed 323.2 and 326.1 IP, respectively. That’s unheard of. Nowadays you’re lucky to hear about guys eclipsing the 200 IP mark. He won over twenty games in each of those two season and pitched a combined 85 games, starting 79 of them.
You have your Micah Owings, Carlos Zambrano and Mike Hampton of old, but none of those guys hit and pitched with the regularity of Ruth. But the best part of Ruth was his Daly-like lifestyle off the field. He boozed, smoked and was a womanizer. John Goodman, the severely overweight father from “Roseanne” and the VO for the Dunkin Donuts commercials – how fitting – was chosen to play him in “The Babe.” That should tell you enough. I’m still convinced that there’s a video of Ruth playing sandlot ball with his buddies shirtless while polishing off the last of a 30-rack. I’m holding out hope that it will end up on YouTube soon enough.
2. Barry Bonds (.298/762/1996 over 22 seasons)
I personally don’t care for Bonds as a human being as his name continues being dragged through the mud with the allegations of steroids, HGH and other performance enhancing drugs. You can argue that said drugs helped provide Bonds with longevity that his otherwise injury prone body could not have sustained. Perhaps that’s why he played significantly more games between 2001 and 2004 than his 90’s counterpart Ken Griffey, Jr. did. But that’s speculation for another debate, another article and another time.
In the meantime, until proven guilty you can’t deny the sheer talent and eye-popping numbers that Bonds put up, especially in the late 80’s and early 90’s when he was that rail-thin son of father Barry, Sr. with the Pirates and then Giants. In fact, go back and look at his statistics each year of his 22-year career. Go ahead and pick out your favorite one. It’s impossible. The guy is the most prolific hitter of all-time. Bonds was a 7-time MVP, 14-time All-Star, 12-time Silver Slugger, 8-time Gold Glove winner, stole 514 career bases including 52 in 1990 and a 40/40 season in 1996. His career OBP is .444, slugging is .607 and has 2558 walks, nearly 400 more than Rickey Henderson in second.
I could go on and on, but an article doesn’t do justice to the ridiculous numbers that Bonds put up. Go to baseballreference.com and have a look for yourself, it’s stupid:
If Bonds pitched, he’d be at the top of the list. And on top of that, he did everything to better his body while Ruth did everything to destroy. Because of that, Ruth gets the nod for being a man’s man.
3. Willie Mays (.302/660/1903 over 22 seasons)
The Say Hey kid was a top shelf five-tool player. A Rookie of the Year, two-time MVP and 20-time All-Star, it’s incredible to think that he missed almost 270 games due to military service. He averaged a homerun every 16.5 at-bats, and over that time could have potentially hit another 59.5 bombs which would land him 3 rd all-time (I did some rough math there, but it’s right). He stole 338 bases, had an OBP of .384 and scored 2,062 runs, as well.
And we all know about his defense with 12 Gold Glove awards and some memorable highlight reel catches to boot, including that famous over the shoulder grab running back to the wall. He had 195 career assists from the OF to go along with his defensive range.
To have done it consistently over such a long stretch of time is a testament to Mays and his ability to stay healthy. For that, he sneaks in at number three.
4. Ken Griffey, Jr. (.289/600/1730 over 20 seasons and counting)
Like everyone else on the face of the planet, I can only wish that Griffey never got hurt. For his first twelve big league seasons he was like a comic book super hero, an invincible character who could do all and never be destroyed. Some of his highlights were almost mythical, Roy Hobbes like in “The Natural.” Then in his second season in Cincinnati he became mortal, and it wore on for four long seasons. I’m convinced that if healthy, Griffey would be chasing Bonds’ homerun record and relieving us all of that stigma attached to it. But nonetheless, he currently stands with some impressive numbers…
Griffey is a former Rookie of the Year, MVP and 13-time All-Star. He’s won 7 Silver Sluggers and 10 Gold Gloves as probably the best defensive player in the 90’s. His career numbers a bit diluted due to the injuries that forced him to miss substantial time, but even still he has serious presence across the board in career ranks. He has arguably the best homerun swing in the history of the game, and his numbers are a testament to that. When he hit his prime, Griffey slugged 249 bombs over a five year span (’96-’00). His 2,615 hits, 1,730 RBI, .550 Slugging and 1,575 runs scored are an impressive body of work. Again, this all while missing significant chunks of time over a six year span. And let’s not forget his memorable moments in the Home Run Derby, particularly his three victories in ’94, ’98 and ’99.
5. Hank Aaron (.305/755/2297 over 23 seasons)
Perhaps the most underappreciated member of this historic fraternity, Hank Aaron seems to always be a forgotten man when discussing the most prolific players in the history of baseball. Not only did he hold baseball’s most sacred hitting record for 33 years, he still stands top-5 in games, at-bats, plate appearance, runs scored, hits, total bases, home runs and RBI. That can be attributed to two things: Aaron was a hell of a player and he played for a heck of a long time. You can argue that if Griffey remained healthy throughout his entire career, he could put up career numbers that finished in the ballpark of where the likes of Bonds, Mays and Aaron stand.
But I rank Aaron 5th here because he didn’t possess that defensive element in his game that could define him as a complete player like Griffey and Bonds. He took home three consecutive Gold Gloves early in his career (’58, ’59, ’60) but was never snagged another one in his remaining 17 years in the league. Griffey and Bonds certainly saw their defensive skills decline towards the tail ends of their respective careers, but sustained stud status on a longer period of time – try an entire decade.
My other reason for ranking Aaron 5 th is a detraction as much as it is an indication of his longevity in the game. The guy has ridiculous number, sure, because he was a ridiculous hitter. But lest we forget, he also sits 3rd in career games played, 2nd in career at-bats and 3rd in career plate appearances. While I’d be remiss to fault a guy for remaining healthy and productive for 23 years in major league baseball, you have to consider his career numbers are a result of his longevity just as much as his skill as a hitter. Barry Sanders ranks 3rd all-time in NFL rushing yards behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. Smith played 15 seasons while Payton lasted 13. As for Barry? We all remember him hanging them up prematurely after only 10 seasons in the league. Had he stuck it out a couple more years, he would easily be the leading rusher today. You can probably make the same argument for Curtis Martin while you’re at it. So while skill has everything to do with it, so does longevity and thus, opportunity.
6. Samuel Sosa (.273/608/1667 over 18 seasons)
Easily the ugly sister of this group, Sosa comes in with the worst batting average, lowest RBI total and will have the lowest homerun total when Griffey passes him sometime this season. Slammin’ Sammy was the affable, loveable guy that everyone couldn’t help but root for in ’98 during his pursuit of Roger Maris with Mark McGwire. Sosa averaged 58.4 homeruns from ’98 to ’02 and was an RBI machine, cranking out as much as 158 in ’98 and 160 in ’01. He was ridiculous. But he never had much of a penchant for hitting for average or hitting to contact. It was all or nothing for Sosa, which is a large reason why he finished with such a lower career average and struck out 2,306 times, 2nd all time to Reggie Jackson.
He did swipe 234 bases, but most of those came before his inflated days in Chicago and for a guy of his hitting prowess, he certainly didn’t draw many walks. His most came in ’01 when he drew 116, but over his 18 year career, he only averaged 51.6 a season. That’s terribly low. Not to say that a power hitter like Sosa should have had great plate discipline, but you’d think guys would opt to pitch around due to fear. Instead, it was a matter of going right at him with fastballs. If he beats you, he beats you, but you have just as good a chance to strike him out as he does hitting a homerun.
To top it off, Sosa was more of a liability in the outfield than an alcoholic in a bar. Quite possibly one of the worst outfielders I’ve ever seen, playing in the National League was the only reason he didn’t DH. Fans loved cheering him when he ran out to right, but that was probably the only way he could receive applause out there.
I don’t want to sound like I’m entirely bashing Sosa here. He was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for almost a decade. But let’s face it, he was a power hitter only and not anywhere near the complete hitter, or player that any of these other men were. He was a seven time All-Star and completely adored by fans, but much like Bonds, the aura of steroids and performance enhancing drugs will forever linger and most likely resonate when discussion of Sosa and baseball transpire.
So that does it. If I was drafting these legendary members of the 600 HR club, above is how I’d expect them to fly off the board. While ranking certainly exemplify preference and opinion of superiority, I think John Kruk had it right last night when he said, “Let’s face it, whether you’re drafting 1 st or 6 th, you’re getting a hell of a ball player.”
Hope you enjoyed, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on where each of these great players stands amongst one another.
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