Diamond Gems: Best Players of the American League
In Part II of the greatest baseball players in history, I pick up with the older of the two leagues in Major League Baseball, the American League.
Twice the Baltimore Orioles made it to the World Series to play the Pittsburgh Pirates and both times they lost. In 1971 when the Bucs won the series in seven games, the O’s had gone into the championship round sporting four 20 game-winners for that season (Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally). Over the years the Orioles have had solid pitching with a number of standout players. Palmer stands head and shoulders above most of those men and at the plate, Cal Ripken is the name that is most associated with the Baltimore Orioles. Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s long-standing all-time record for consecutive games played and in the process set team records in multiple categories. Frank Robinson was a great Oriole but it’s Ripken all day as Baltimore’s greatest player ever.
Boston Red Sox
With the Boston Red Sox, this is a team that rivals the New York Yankees for the number of outstanding players throughout their history. A common denominator between the Sox and Yanks is the fact that “The Sultan of Swat” the legendary Babe Ruth got his start in Boston but established himself as perhaps the greatest ever in New York wearing pinstripes. But the list is long of great players in Boston led by Ted Williams “The Splendid Splinter.” You also have Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk (“Pudge”), David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Pesky, Joe Cronin, Roger Clemens, Cy Young, and Wade Boggs just to name a few. With Ted Williams being Major League Baseball’s last .400 hitter and he being one of the greatest pure hitters in history, he would edge out Roger Clemens for best Red Sox player in history but both were equally intimidating at the plate and on the mound.
Chicago White Sox
Across town from the Cubs are the “Chisox.” Not as old a club as the Cubbies, but still beginning play in 1901, the White Sox also did not have as many superstars than did their counterparts in Chicago. Among the retired jersey numbers for the White Sox are Nellie Fox, Harold Baines, Luke Appling, Minnie Minosa, Luis Aparicio, Frank Thomas, and Carlton Fisk. Many of the players for the Chisox were outstanding defensive players, but Frank Thomas knew how to hit the cover off a ball. While he only played 13 seasons in Chicago and if not for the infamous 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, it would be an easy choice to say “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is the best ever to sport the Chicago White Sox jersey. Jackson’s career was cut short when he was thrown out of baseball permanently because of that thrown 1919 World Series but he was already considered one of baseball’s best players. Since I’m basing these choices on overall talent, Joe Jackson is the best player ever in Chicago White Sox history.
For a team that is 118 years old, the Cleveland Indians have just two World Series titles to show for it. The last Indians league championship came way back in 1948. Prior to that, they won the title in 1920. While Tris Speaker holds most of the batting records, it was on the mound that we find the greatest Indian ever and his name is Bob Feller. With a nasty fastball, Feller won 266 games and struck out 2,581 batters. Other great Indians worth mention thought are Nap Lajoie, Him Thome, Kenny Lofton, Earl Averill, Herb Score, Addie Joss, and Bob Lemon. But it is Feller that gets the honor in Cleveland.
The big cats from the “Motor City” have had a very successful history led by one of the greatest players ever to suit up for Major League Baseball, Ty Cobb. It would be hard for any other Tiger to surpass his success but there have been many great players to take the field in Detroit. Men like Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Hal Newhouser, Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker, Sam Crawford, Justin Verlander, Mickey Lolich, Dizzy Trout, and Alan Trammel. But it was Cobb that was the “Pete Rose” of his era playing balls to the wall baseball, running the bases hard, hitting any pitch thrown to him, and playing the field not fearing any ball hit at him. He is, in fact, one of the greatest ever and easily the best Tiger to ever play in Detroit.
A long time ago, the Houston Astros were not a very good baseball team. That, and they used to be in the National League. When they were a member of the senior circuit, they did make it to the postseason several times and lost the World Series in 2004. But since coming to the American League, Houston has had major success by winning the World Series once, losing another and making it to the league championship series four times in the last five years. This year, their success was tainted with a cheating scandal, but in considering their best player ever, there are a handful of men to choose from. From their original name of Colt .45s to the Astros, playing indoors in the Astrodome, there have been some great players like Craig Biggio, Nolan Ryan, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, and J.R. Richard. But for me, it would be Craig Biggio as their best player ever.
Kansas City Royals
There are plenty of expansion teams in Major League Baseball and the Royals are one of them. They have played on the top level for just 50 years. But there are two World Series titles in that time frame and additional appearance in 1980 that they lost. George Brett owns most of the team’s historical offensive records and many fans will remember him most for the “tine par” incident in a game with the New York Yankees when a home run was taken away from Brett for having too much tar on his bat and then he going ballistic. On the mound, the Royals have had some great pitchers like Dennis Leonard, Dan Quisenberry, and Paul Splittorff then back on offense there was Amos Otis, Fred Patek, and Frank White. For Kansas City, George Brett is considered the greatest Royal ever and for the purposes of this article, I concur.
Los Angeles Angels
One of the dumbest trades in Major League Baseball history benefitted the Angels then known as the California Angels when the transaction took place in 1971. The New York Mets sent pitcher Nolan Ryan west in exchange for three minor leaguers and Jim Fregosi. Ryan would go on to become one of the greatest pitchers ever. Ryan would set the record for baseball with seven no-hitters four of them coming with the Angels. Amazingly, despite winning 324 games and striking out 5,714 batters, Ryan never won the Cy Young Award. Mike Trout may one day be called the greatest Angel ever but with an ongoing career, I’ll stop short of putting him on that mantle just yet. Until he surpasses the greatest of Nolan Ryan, “The Ryan Express” is the #1 Angel.
One name exemplifies the Minnesota Twins…Rod Carew. But, the Twins were not always located in the state of Minnesota. In act, the Twins are one of the oldest franchises in Major League Baseball getting their start in the nation’s capital as the Senators in 1901. If you consider those who played in Washington prior to the move that came in 1960, then we are talking Walter Johnson and men like Sam Rice, and Joe Cronin. But aside from Carew, there was Harmon Killebrew a very underrated home run slugger. Who could forget the hitting skill of Kirby Puckett? But for this pick, it’s Carew one of the purest hitters ever.
New York Yankees
With the men in pinstripes, they represent the most difficult choice for picking just one player as best ever. I mean, this team has won more World Series far and above any of the other 29 clubs in Major League Baseball. The New York Yankees and their 27 World Series victories along with 40 American League pennants have so many superstars and Hall of Famers that it seems impossible to name one man as the greatest ever. Where do you begin? Babe Ruth? Loue Gehrig? Joe DiMaggio?
The Yanks have retired an incredible 22 jersey numbers that include the aforementioned names but also Derek Jeter, Billy Martin, Joe Torre, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, and Reggie Jackson just to name a few. Forget naming the hall of famers because they are far too many (51). The best bet in picking one player as the best Yankee ever would have to come down to statistics. Babe Ruth owns most of the offensive categories. Whitey Ford, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte lead from the mound.
Pressured to pick just one, I’d have to say it is the “Great Bambino.” “The Sultan of Swat.” “The Colossus of Clout.” Babe Ruth. Ruth may just be the greatest baseball player ever and not just for his hitting skills but because he was also an outstanding pitcher before he went offensive full time. Starting as a pitcher and hitter in 1914, from 1915 to 1918, Ruth won 18, 23, 24, and 13 games respectively. In 10 seasons on the mound, Babe Ruth won 94 games and lost just 46, throwing 17 shutouts, saving four games, completing 107, and incredibly giving up just 10 home runs in 1,221 1/3 innings of work. No other player in history can match those stats while also becoming one of the greatest home run hitters ever.
If you also thought Babe Ruth was just about hitting home runs think again. His lifetime batting average was an amazing .342 to go with his 714 home runs, 506 doubles, 2,873 hits, and 136 triples. Ruth even stole 123 bases. So it’s hard to argue against Babe Ruth even though there were other great Yankees players like Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle.
Reggie Jackson is one of a few players that has had his jersey number retired by two teams. The A’s will not allow anyone else to wear number 9 which was what “Mr. October” put on his back during his days in Oakland. When the Athletics won the World Series for three straight seasons from 1972-1974, they were a colorful bunch led by their outrageous owner Charles Finley. This is an owner who tried to introduce orange baseballs into the game for a better vision of the ball. But as for his baseball team, they sported all kinds of facial hair and long hair and the infamous “handlebar” mustache of Rollie Fingers. During that short reign over baseball in the early 1970s, the A’s had great players like Reggie Jackson, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Fingers, Vida Blue, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, and Joe Rudi. As for their best player ever, we need to go back in history when the team was in Philadelphia. There was a man playing for the team named Jimmie Foxx and during his era, he was one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Rickey Henderson given his athleticism is a close second. But Foxx owns many of the offensive leader categories. He is also a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Mariners are all about Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki perhaps their best players in history. But let’s not forget the hitting of Edgar Martinez. Having been in the league since just 1977, the Mariners have never tasted a World Series and in 2001 they won an incredible 116 games only to lose in the American League championship series in five games to the New York Yankees. That was the last time Seattle was in the postseason and they haven’t won the division again since ending in second place just three times in that time period. It’s a tough call to name the best ever between Martinez, Griffey, and Suzuki the Japanese import that is the only one of the trio not to have his jersey number retired in Seattle. Of all the teams reviewed in this article, this is the one time where I just can point a finger on one man. So for me, it’s a three-way tie between Martinez, Griffey, and Suzuki. They were all that good.
Tampa Bay Rays
There are a lot of young teams in baseball the Rays included. Just 21 years in the American League and they have already been to a World Series where they lost in 2008 and to the players four more times since. Without any doubt or argument, their best player in the short history of the team has been Evan Longoria.
These days in the nation’s capital we have baseball again and it is a team called the Nationals. But from 1972 until 2005 the city of Washington D.C. was left without a professional baseball team as the original Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and an expansion team was granted to Washington retaining the name “Senators.” But that team would leave town as well in 1972 this time to Texas and became the still existing Rangers. Confused? It is confusing. Regardless, the old Senators who are now the Rangers had a man named Nolan Ryan throwing fastballs off the mound for them and one Adrian Beltre smacking the ball around from home plate. Rafael Palmeiro was one of the greatest Rangers ever but his career is marred by steroid allegations. When in Washington there was a big man hitting the baseball named Frank Howard. Between Palmeiro and Michael Young, they hold most of the offensive records but then there is another player named Alex Rodriguez who slugged the ball for Texas. But given he only played three seasons in Texas nullifies Rodriguez for contention here. Nolan Ryan retired as a Ranger and since he was at the tail end of his 27-year career in Texas makes him ineligible for my vote on this team. That leaves Young or Palmeiro and it is the latter that had the better numbers and career so the one name Rafael walks away with the honor of greatest Ranger ever.
Toronto Blue Jays
Yet another expansion team in the American League and they are north of the border in Canada. We once had the Montreal Expos who became the current Washington Nationals but for the ‘Jays, the won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993 beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the ‘93 series in dramatic fashion. Who can forget Joe Carter winning the series for Toronto in 1993 with a walk-off home run against Mitch Williams? Does that make Carter the greatest player in Bluejay's history? It would be hard to exclude Carlos Delgado and his 336 home runs, or Tony Fernandez, Roy Halladay, Jose Batista, Edwin Encarnación, Juan Guzman, Fred McGriff, and Roberto Alomar. I boil it down to one man, Carlos Delgado who smacked 343 round-trippers in 12 years with Toronto while hitting a cool .282 and knocking in 1,058 RBIs. 343 doubles and 1,413 hits later make Delgado the choice here for greatest Blue Jay in history.