Athlon Sports: Best Hitters in MLB History

CarolinaHawkeye

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Cobb was considered the more well-rounded player, for good reason. Ruth was a tremendous slugger that also hit for a high average, but did not come close to matching Cobb's baserunning or defensive skills.

I think what hurts Cobb's legacy is that he was sort of the Barry Bonds of his day - his talent was undeniable, but wasn't the easiest guy to get along with. He also had a reputation for being a bigot, but that was not unique to him - it was par for the course for most white men of the 1910s and 1920s. Other than being a product of his era, he was not devoid of human decency as he had nothing to do with establishing the color barrier (Cap Anson was the driving force behind that travesty) nor did he fight against it in the 1940s when there were whispers of trying to integrate MLB (Kenesaw Mountain Landis upheld the color barrier and would not budge an inch during his 2-decade tenure as the commish). In fact, he praised Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays as being terrific ballplayers.
FWIW, Cobb's father was an abolitionist preacher in the south and Cobb's reputation as a bigot was a result of character assassination by one sports writer. He once stated that Willie Mays was the best all-around player he ever saw.
 

fezzador

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FWIW, Cobb's father was an abolitionist preacher in the south and Cobb's reputation as a bigot was a result of character assassination by one sports writer. He once stated that Willie Mays was the best all-around player he ever saw.
If I remember correctly, his mother shot his father (claiming self-defense) after mistaking him for an intruder. Losing his father like that lit a fire in Cobb, and said that he played baseball aggressively because his father never got to see him play professionally (something he dreamed of). I think that aggression rubbed some folks the wrong way.
 

fezzador

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Neither would hold a candle to Neifi Perez In todays (post 80s) game
Ehh, I wouldn't go that far.

I don't think Cobb or Ruth would be head-and-shoulders above everyone else if they played say, 70 years later. Just like any other sport, baseball players are bigger, faster, and stronger now than in any other era, but I think some legends from long ago (not all of course) could have been savvy enough to adapt. Players like Cobb and Ruth would not be putting up their pre-WWII numbers, but they may well be All-Star caliber players even in the modern game.
 
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Kinnick.At.Night

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Cool, Ruth was good. Did anyone deny it?

But, if you're going to argue best hitter and say the guy with more of them is no question worse, you're full of it.

And the power means nothing in this case. Cobb's era nobody hit homerruns as it wasn't part of the strategy. Everyone admits that if they did Cobb would easily have 500 plus, he was that good.

And to argue produced more runs in fallacy, based on incomplete data. Cobb scored 1.8 percent of all runs in the league when he played and drove in 2.6 percent of all runs. Ruth scored 2.1 percent of all runs and drove in 2.2 percent. Offensive output was much higher in the 30s than the 10s. Cobb was simply responsible for a higher percentage of runs, which is what we should be talking about.

Ruth, playing ten years earlier, would have done what he did in his own era. Hit home runs at an unprecedented rate. And he’d have hit for high average. “Strategy” be damned. Ruth created his own that revolutionized the game.
 

hawkifann

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There are some fatal flaws with the categories chosen. Certainly, leaving OBP out or factoring in overall XBH/slugging is also an issue. Batting average is flawed to a large extent….but I have the biggest problem with using RBI to help identify who the best hitters are. The RBI has its place, but not here. You’re adding in how well teammates get on base as a measure for how good these guys are - it’s ridiculous.
 

Thunderlips71

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By the mid-1920’s, Ty Cobb had long been eclipsed by Babe Ruth as baseball’s brightest star, and biggest drawing card. The Deadball Era was history. It was now the Roaring ‘20’s, the Jazz Age. New York City was the mecca of everything glamorous, the New York Yankees were the game’s mightiest team, and the Sultan of Swat was America’s favorite sporting hero.

If the Bambino was single-handedly responsible for ushering in baseball’s brave new world, then The Georgia Peach was the symbol of scrappy “inside baseball,” the way your granddaddy used to play it. But now, folks came out to the old ballpark to see titanic three-run homers, not well-placed bunts, slap singles, and 1-0 pitching duels. Had the game passed Cobb by?

The greatest player of the Deadball Era disdained the new power game, and clung stubbornly to the old ways. From 1920-1924, while the increase of home runs was redefining baseball strategy, Cobb averaged only seven homers per season for the Detroit Tigers. This was a negligible increase over his 15 seasons prior, when he’d averaged a mere four.
Home runs were simply not part of Cobb’s game. By 1925, now 38 years old and player-manager for the Tigers, Cobb may have lost a step or two, but he was still a magician with the bat in his hands.

His baseball team, however, had limped out of the gate. A 4-14 start had the fans groaning. That is where the Tigers’ record stood on the morning of May 5, 1925. That day, and the next, Ty Cobb put on the finest offensive display in his great career. And he did it with power.

Detroit was in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, to take on the Browns. The game of the 5th, a Tuesday, Cobb batted six times, with six hits. He also scored four runs and batted in five. But the big surprise was his three home runs. His other extra-base hit that day was a double, giving him 16 total bases, establishing a new modern major league record (the mark has since been tied, and broken, by several players; Shawn Green now holds the big league mark with 19). His three bombs tied him with four other players for the most in a modern-day game (One of the other players was Babe Ruth himself, a fact which must have tickled Cobb to no end.). Incidentally, the Tigers won the game, 14-8.

But Cobb’s hitting spree was far from over. In the next day’s game, also in St. Louis, he went 3-for-6, with two runs scored and six RBIs. He also clouted two more home runs. His five homers in two consecutive games was something that had never been done before, not even by the Bambino. It is a mark that has not been eclipsed to this day, although it has been equaled by 28 players.

Cobb’s two-day output reads thus: nine hits in 12 at-bats (.750), six runs, one double, five homers, 11 RBIs, 25 total bases. His nine hits were made consecutively. On the negative side of the ledger, he was caught stealing once. The Tigers also won the second game by a score of 11-4.

Of course, the footnote to the tale is that, just prior to the first game, Cobb was sitting in the dugout with a reporter and pointed out, “I’ll show you something today. I’m going for home runs for the first time in my career.” Whether the story is apocryphal or not, it makes for a great legend. It also proves that Cobb could indeed hit the long ball when he felt like it.

The next day, however, having proved his point, Cobb went right back to his old style. He did not hit another home run until June 2. He finished with 12 homers in 1925, equaling his career-high. But for at least two days in the middle of the new Home Run Era, Ty Cobb was just as powerful as the great Babe Ruth.



Lute, can you confirm he said that?
There’s a good chance Lute was sitting next to Cobb
 

SSG T

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Ruth is the greatest ever. It’s not debatable. Ted Williams is second. After that, it’s highly debatable. You folks arguing for Barry Bonds to be rated this high are looney. He wasn’t a career .300 hitter even after his historic BALCO seasons.

4th all time in OBP, 5th in SLG hitting against FAR better pitching than anyone ahead of him.
 

SSG T

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There are some fatal flaws with the categories chosen. Certainly, leaving OBP out or factoring in overall XBH/slugging is also an issue. Batting average is flawed to a large extent….but I have the biggest problem with using RBI to help identify who the best hitters are. The RBI has its place, but not here. You’re adding in how well teammates get on base as a measure for how good these guys are - it’s ridiculous.

RBI is almost entirely about opportunity. Come to the plate more with runners on base, especially in scoring position, and you're going to have more RBI. Even if you're a crappy hitter.

BA is OK, but leave out the fact that good hitters will walk, a lot. Both because pitchers try to pitch around them and because they have better understanding of the strike zone and don't swing at bad pitches (Vlad Guerrero being the obvious exception).
 

Menace Sockeyes

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Nope. Sub .300 hitter with bad knees and struck out a ton...Musial had over 30% more total bases and stuck out less than 40 times per season. Mantle more like 115...

Willie Mays speed and defense makes him the best of the lot and he lost 2 seasons to the military as well...
I won't speak historically (and hate to admit this to you, because Cardinals fans are insufferable), but if there's one player in my lifetime that I want in his prime up to bat with the game on the line against a great pitcher, it's Albert Pujols. He has to be mentioned. Saw him steal multiple would-be wins from the Brewers live.
 

joelbc1

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you can’t always get what you want!
Teddy Ballgame was the best *batter* in MLB history, and not necessarily the best hitter. He has the highest OBP in MLB history (and that fact cannot be understated), but if you take a look at his historic 1941 season for example, it was absolutely a terrific. However, his .406 average was "only" across 456 at bats as a significant percentage of his plate appearances ended up as walks. There is nothing wrong with the ability of drawing walks, but lots of walks eats up potential base hits.

If he was a little less picky at the plate, he might have gotten 3,000 hits even without taking the missed wartime seasons into consideration (granted his lifetime average might have been closer to .324 than .344 if he swung the bat a bit more). He averaged nearly 150 walks per season which explains his nearly .500 career OBP.
"less picky" would have damaged his ability to hit the ball......now "less stubborn" would be more appropriate....Can you imagine if he would have hit just a couple of shots towards the SS/3rd base side of the infield vs. "the Boudreau shift"? But Teddy insisted on pulling the ball and finding a hole in the defense....He always worked with hitters and wanted them to become "pull hitters" to reach their optimum...
 

joelbc1

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you can’t always get what you want!
Teddy Ballgame was the best *batter* in MLB history, and not necessarily the best hitter. He has the highest OBP in MLB history (and that fact cannot be understated), but if you take a look at his historic 1941 season for example, it was absolutely a terrific. However, his .406 average was "only" across 456 at bats as a significant percentage of his plate appearances ended up as walks. There is nothing wrong with the ability of drawing walks, but lots of walks eats up potential base hits.

If he was a little less picky at the plate, he might have gotten 3,000 hits even without taking the missed wartime seasons into consideration (granted his lifetime average might have been closer to .324 than .344 if he swung the bat a bit more). He averaged nearly 150 walks per season which explains his nearly .500 career OBP.
Teddy was a very disciplined hitter....and hence the walks. By swinging at "bad" pitches, he feared losing his plate discipline....Losing plate discipline would lead him to become just another hitter. Ted always strove to be "the best hitter in baseball".....Hence, he was stubborn, temperamental and "set in his ways".....and he often seemed to not be concerned with "the team" as compared to "his swing"....He was a piece of work.
 

hawkifann

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RBI is almost entirely about opportunity. Come to the plate more with runners on base, especially in scoring position, and you're going to have more RBI. Even if you're a crappy hitter.

BA is OK, but leave out the fact that good hitters will walk, a lot. Both because pitchers try to pitch around them and because they have better understanding of the strike zone and don't swing at bad pitches (Vlad Guerrero being the obvious exception).
Yep, both stats do tell you something, but as 40% of a set of data to determine the best hitter of all time....yikes. If I was trying to measure "clutch", RBI would be a component, but again only within certain contexts.
 

hawkifann

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"less picky" would have damaged his ability to hit the ball......now "less stubborn" would be more appropriate....Can you imagine if he would have hit just a couple of shots towards the SS/3rd base side of the infield vs. "the Boudreau shift"? But Teddy insisted on pulling the ball and finding a hole in the defense....He always worked with hitters and wanted them to become "pull hitters" to reach their optimum...
Remember, too, that it's not just the shift. If I have a lefty up and I'm going to shift hard, I'm not feeding him a bunch of pitches middle-away. I'm going to be trying to pound the inside half of the plate because I want the ball going where my defense is. As Teddy lays out in his great book, it's not just as simple as slapping the ball the other way a few times.
 

ANYCHawk

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I'd give the edge to Cobb as a pure hitter in part, at least, because he was facing legal spitters and scuffers and cut balls during the bulk of his career and still got hits. But the term "Ruthian" is part of baseball lexicon for a reason...the Babe was a freak of nature.
But that idea only came into play in the 1960s, mainly with the Marris chase. Until then it was Cobb.

Again, nobody denying Babe was great. But, you can make an argument for other guys. Thats the only point I'm making you can just say its ruth then everybody else because that thinking only came into play 30 years after he stopped.
 

GOHOX69

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How can you people compare eras? It's absurd and laughable. That's true is almost all sports. Which sports become worse?
 

joelbc1

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you can’t always get what you want!
Mantle not top ten in any category...
On the other hand James...talk to those who played against the Mick and they will tell you stats mean very little. The guy was a baseball marvel...and he played the vast part of his career on one leg. Mantle’s strength, his speed and his baseball instincts place him far above most of the others mentioned in this thread. Mantle was the best player on the last dynasty team in the MLB.
 

fezzador

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On the other hand James...talk to those who played against the Mick and they will tell you stats mean very little. The guy was a baseball marvel...and he played the vast part of his career on one leg. Mantle’s strength, his speed and his baseball instincts place him far above most of the others mentioned in this thread. Mantle was the best player on the last dynasty team in the MLB.
His stats do not tell the whole story. Mantle had battled injuries and the bottle for much of his professional career, and he still put together a legendary resume. It's commonly said that Mantle - as great as he was - still didn't fully realize his potential.

Even his finest season - 1961 - he wasn't completely healthy. The M&M Boys were both gunning for the Babe's single season record and even at 85%, the Mick still hit an incredible 54 home runs. Had he been 100%, there's no reason why he couldn't have hit 60+. He had two more notable seasons (1962 and 1964), but outside of those 2 seasons he was starting a slow, steady decline and was done with baseball before he turned 37. He had the raw, physical tools to not only beat the Babe's single season record, but career home run record as well.
 

Kinnick.At.Night

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His stats do not tell the whole story. Mantle had battled injuries and the bottle for much of his professional career, and he still put together a legendary resume. It's commonly said that Mantle - as great as he was - still didn't fully realize his potential.

Even his finest season - 1961 - he wasn't completely healthy. The M&M Boys were both gunning for the Babe's single season record and even at 85%, the Mick still hit an incredible 54 home runs. Had he been 100%, there's no reason why he couldn't have hit 60+. He had two more notable seasons (1962 and 1964), but outside of those 2 seasons he was starting a slow, steady decline and was done with baseball before he turned 37. He had the raw, physical tools to not only beat the Babe's single season record, but career home run record as well.
Mickey Mantle played his entire career hung over and lacking sleep with a torn ACL in his right knee. He could move the knee out of joint with his hands. I heard Billy Martin talking about it once. In terms of pure, all around talent, Mantle is probably equal to anyone in history.
 

joelbc1

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you can’t always get what you want!
Ruth, playing ten years earlier, would have done what he did in his own era. Hit home runs at an unprecedented rate. And he’d have hit for high average. “Strategy” be damned. Ruth created his own that revolutionized the game.
Ruth was a transitional ball player as no other was or will be (I dare say). Baseball was NEVER the same after Babe Ruth.
 

tarheelbybirth

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But that idea only came into play in the 1960s, mainly with the Marris chase. Until then it was Cobb.

Again, nobody denying Babe was great. But, you can make an argument for other guys. Thats the only point I'm making you can just say its ruth then everybody else because that thinking only came into play 30 years after he stopped.
Ruth had far eclipsed Cobb in his own lifetime. Cobb played the game better than anyone alive. Ruth changed the game and played that game better than anyone since...and became a legend while still playing.
 

LuteHawk

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In the Modern Era (since 1950)....It would be Ted Williams,
Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays on Mt. Rushmore.
Those 4 hitters are among the best to have played MLB.
 
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