Who are the best hitters in MLB history?

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Dominant pitching has been the story of the 2021 MLB season. The league has already seen five no-hitters (six including Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-no as part of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on April 25). Between 100 mile per hour heaters, specialty relievers and some historic hurlers, pitching has taken over as the superior side on the diamond.The rise in incredible pitching has come at a cost to hitters, even some of the game’s greatest. Albert Pujols was released by the Los Angeles Angels in the final year of a 10-year contract. Miguel Cabrera has struggled, too. Pujols has found new life across the City of Angels, hitting an RBI single out of the cleanup spot in his Dodgers debut on May 17.Pujols has the chance to build on his historic résumé, and he insists he has plenty of gas left in the tank at 41 years old. Where does he rank among the game’s greatest hitters, and just how high can he ascend? Here’s a look at the top 20 batters in big league history.

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1/20

Trout is a generational five-tool player who can make spectacular catches thanks to his athleticism and blazing speed. But don’t let his all-around excellence detract from just how phenomenal he is as a sheer hitter.

As it stands, Trout is 20th all-time in on-base percentage (.419), ninth in slugging percentage (.583) and eighth in OPS (1.002), and he is the active leader in all three categories. He doesn’t turn 30 years old until Aug. 7 and already has 310 homers, 816 RBIs and eight Silver Slugger Awards. Based on the ages in which some of the other players on this list retired, Trout has plenty of time to rise even higher on this list.

2/20

Griffey knew how to hit, and he knew how to do it in style.

He flaunted one of the prettiest swings in baseball history and used it to launch 630 home runs, good for seventh in big league history. He reached 11 straight All-Star Games following his rookie season, playing in his first Midsummer Classic at just 20 years old. In that 11-year stretch, he also had seven seasons where he won Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers.

The second half of Griffey’s career was hampered by injuries at the turn of the century. Had he stayed healthy, it’s within reason to wonder if he could have reached the home run heights of Ruth, Aaron and perhaps even Bonds.

3/20

Robinson is one of the last players to claim the Triple Crown, hitting 49 homers and 122 RBIs with a .316 batting average with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. He topped off the season with a World Series MVP honor after leading the O’s to a four-game sweep over the Dodgers.

Robinson put together a consistent and outstanding career, making 14 All-Star Game appearances and winning two regular-season MVPs across 21 seasons. He stands 21st in career RBIs with 1,812 and is still in the top 10 for home runs with a whopping 586.

4/20

Foxx was the first AL player to accomplish the Triple Crown, leading the league with 48 homers, 163 RBIs and a .356 batting average with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1933. Somehow, none of those numbers were career highs for the slugger in their respective categories.

Foxx set career bests in home runs and batting average the season prior with 58 long balls and a .364 clip at the plate on his way to winning the first of three MVP awards in his illustrious career. He batted in 175 runners in 1938, which still stands as the fourth-highest total ever for a season.

His 20-year career ended in 1945 and he still remains 10th in MLB history with 1,922 RBIs and 19th with 534 home runs.

5/20

Rose may not be enshrined in Cooperstown, but there’s no questioning his prowess at the plate.

The Cincinnati Reds legend is MLB’s all-time hits leader with 4,256, passing Cobb’s 4,189 in September of 1985. He’s also baseball’s career leader in games played, plate appearances and at-bats.

Rose picked up plenty of hardware in his 24-year career, too, winning NL Rookie of the Year, three batting titles, an MVP, a Silver Slugger Award, three World Series titles and a World Series MVP.

Yet, Rose received a lifetime ban from MLB after betting on baseball and the Reds while managing the team, and he is still ineligible to get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

6/20

The new co-owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves knows a thing or two about baseball, too.

The former Seattle Mariner, Texas Ranger and New York Yankee ranks fourth all-time with 696 home runs and 2,086 RBIs across his 22-year big league career. A-Rod began his career as an 18-year-old -- the first player to reach the majors at age 18 in over a decade -- and finished second in AL MVP voting at age 21. He also held the record for the two richest contracts in MLB history, breaking his $252 million deal with the Rangers in 2001 by opting out of it in 2007 and signing a $275 million deal with the Yankees.

Rodriguez missed a year of action after being suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season for his involvement in MLB’s Biogenesis scandal. He collected 42 more home runs and 117 more RBIs over the next two seasons in New York before retiring, adding even more to his historic stats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7/20

MLB’s doubles king gets a spot on the list.

Speaker’s 792 two-baggers are 46 more than anyone else in league history. Doubles weren’t just a niche, either. He also ranks top 10 in career batting average (.345, sixth in MLB history) and hits (3,515, fifth in MLB history).

His lone MVP season came in 1912, when he hit .383 with a league-leading 10 home runs.

8/20

DiMaggio accomplished perhaps the greatest hitting feat in MLB history.

The New York Yankees center fielder got a hit in 56 consecutive games from May 15 to July 16 during the 1941 season, far and away the longest hitting streak of all time. Only Rose has amassed a 40-plus-game hitting streak over the last 80 years, and his streak still ended 12 games shy of DiMaggio’s record.

His career accomplishments extend much farther than the hitting streak, too. He won three MVP awards, two batting titles and nine World Series titles. He also earned an All-Star appearance in each of his 13 MLB seasons even though his career was halted by a three-year military service hiatus from 1943 to 1945.

9/20

Don’t let his release from the Angels fool you -- “The Machine'' is a generational hitter. His 667 homers rank fifth all-time and his 2,113 RBIs rank third all-time. It speaks to his longevity, too, since he only led the big leagues in home runs twice in his career and RBIs once. He has 12 seasons with 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs, which is tied for second all-time.

Now on the other side of Los Angeles, Pujols has a chance to increase his career numbers wearing Dodger blue.

 

 

 

 

10/20

Musial is one of the most prolific outfield hitters in MLB history.

The St. Louis Cardinals legend won three MVP awards in his first seven seasons and was named an All-Star in each of his final 20 seasons. Finishing out his career at 41 years old, he totaled 475 home runs and 1,951 RBIs.

Musial is another player whose career was halted by military service. He didn’t miss a beat, though, returning to win the 1946 NL MVP while leading the majors in games, runs, hits, doubles, triples, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases.

11/20

The face of the world’s most coveted vintage sports card wasn’t too shabby at the plate.

Wagner was one of the first baseball players to ever reach 3,000 hits, ending his career with 3,420. He also collected 101 home runs and 1,732 RBIs in his career and led the league in batting average eight times from 1900 to 1911. He is still top-10 all-time in triples (third) and stolen bases (10th).

His modern legacy is still in the sports card world. A T206 Honus Wagner card sold for $3.25 million in October of 2020.

12/20

Only one player finished his career with a higher batting than Hornsby, who ended with a .358 figure. Hornsby led the league in batting average seven times in his career, including six consecutive years from 1920-1925 with the Cardinals. His .424 average in 1924 is the second-highest single-season output since 1900 -- and the only higher mark came in 1901 from Nap Lajoie.

Hornsby stretched his career out 23 years, compiling 301 homers and 1,584 RBIs. Those numbers don’t stack up with more modern sluggers, but he possessed an all-time ability to hit for contact.

13/20

Gehrig was the best player on perhaps the most dominant team in MLB history -- even better than Babe Ruth.

The first baseman won MVP in 1927, the same year the “Murderer’s Row” Yankees went 110-44 en route to their first of back-to-back World Series titles. He picked up 47 homers, 173 RBIs and a .373 batting average. He surpassed that RBI mark in 1931 by driving in 185 runs, a number that is the second-highest single-season total in league history. His 1,995 career RBIs remain the seventh-most all-time. Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive games played from June 1, 1925, to April 30, 1939, also stood as a record for 59 years.

The slugger capped off his career at age 36 with his famous “luckiest man on the face of the earth” at Yankee Stadium in 1939, and he died of ALS just two years later.

 

 

14/20

Mantle was great at all things baseball, but perhaps the two aspects he excelled best were hitting and winning.

The Yankees outfielder finished his historic career with 536 homers, 1,509 RBIs and a .298 batting average. He trails only Ruth in the home run category in Yankees history.

He also earned three MVP awards, 20 All-Star Game appearances and the Triple Crown in 1956. His 52 home runs that year are the most ever in a Triple Crown season, and he capped the year off by winning one of his seven World Series titles.

15/20

Ty Cobb put up “Road to the Show” numbers in his career.

He is MLB’s all-time leader in batting average (.362), second all-time in hits (4,189), second all-time in runs (2,245). He’s also top-five all-time in triples (second), doubles (fourth), stolen bases (fourth), at-bats (fifth) and on-base percentage (seventh). The man knew how to fill up the stat sheet.

Just look at his 1911 season. He led the entire league in runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, stolen bases, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases.

It can be tough to conceptualize baseball from 100 years ago -- Cobb’s career ended the same year that sliced bread was invented -- but his stats stand the test of time.

16/20

The late Hank Aaron held the title of home run king for 33 years.

Hammerin’ Hank passed Babe Ruth on April 8, 1974, with his 715th career homer and finished his career with 755. He remains the RBI king, though, totaling 2,297 across his 23 MLB seasons.

The baseball icon put together perhaps the most durable career in the sport’s history, too. He is third all-time in games played (3,298) and second in at-bats (12,364) across his 23 seasons. He also holds a record with his 25 All-Star Game appearances. (The league held the Midsummer Classic twice a year from 1959 to 1962. Still, Aaron also holds the record for most on an All-Star roster at 21.)

17/20

Nobody was better at getting on base than Teddy Ballgame.

Williams is MLB’s all-time leader in on-base percentage at .482, meaning he reached on just under half of his plate appearances. He is also the last player to reach a .400 batting average in a season, hitting .406 in the 1941 campaign.

On top of that, Williams picked up power stats, as well. He’s tied for 20th all-time in homers with 521 and is 15th all-time in RBIs with 1,839. He finished with those numbers while missing three seasons from 1943 to 1945 due to military service. To tally the stats he did while forfeiting three years of his prime adds to his case as the greatest hitter who ever lived.

18/20

Mays made his most iconic play in center field with “The Catch,” but his work at the plate is tough to top. He ranks sixth all-time in home runs with 660 and 11th all-time in hits with 3,283 across his 22-year MLB career. He missed the 1953 season for military service, so those numbers had the chance to be even higher.

The San Francisco Giants legend recently celebrated his 90th birthday and remains one of MLB’s greatest all-around baseball players.

19/20

Bonds was one of the faces of MLB’s steroid era, but his numbers and ability are objectively historic.

MLB’s home run king surpassed Aaron on Aug. 7, 2007, with his 756th career long ball and finished his career with 762. He also ranks third in runs scored with 2,227 and sixth in RBIs with 1,996. His 162.7 career wins above replacement -- more than an entire season’s worth of games -- are the highest of anybody who was strictly a position player.

Bonds is also the most dangerous hitter of all-time when it comes to not swinging in the batter’s box. He is No. 1 all-time in walks drawn at 2,558, 368 more than the No. 2 player in Rickey Henderson. Crazy enough, the difference is even greater between Bonds and the No. 2 player in intentional walks drawn. Bonds was intentionally walked 688 times, a whopping 375 more than Pujols’ 313. Some of those occasions even happened with the bases loaded, giving him a free RBI without lifting the bat off his shoulder.

20/20

Ruth held the all-time home run record for nearly 40 years before Aaron surpassed him in 1975. He now sits third in homers with 714, second in all-time RBIs with 2,214 and 10th in batting average at .342. Oh, and he also compiled 94 wins with a 2.28 ERA on the mound for his career with the Red Sox and Yankees.

The Great Bambino’s overall value cannot be understated. He ranks No. 1 all-time in WAR, which in turn makes him the single most valuable baseball player in history.

Max Molski contributed to this story. 

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