Weekly Dime–Top Ten Greatest Hitters of All Time

Top 10 Greatest Hitters of All Time

The phrase, “greatest hitter”, can sound generic for some and specific for others. Some will immediately think of batting titles, career average, or on base percentage. Others might turn to the power numbers with slugging percentage, home runs and RBI at the top of their list. But, to me, a great hitter does all of the above. A master slap hitter can get on base all day and win batting titles but how productive are they driving in runs? A power hitter can homer every third game but how many games is he costing by not getting on base very often? 

My goal for this list was to break free from the generality of “greatest hitter” and buckle down to the specifics of what makes a hitter actually “great”. As subjective as that is, the only way I could narrow this down was by turning to my algorithm; which was formulated by these main ingredients: stats, era in which they played, dominance, durability, consistency, accolades, postseason, and legacy. Each part of the formula has its own weight; for example, stats carries the most in this case. There are so many important offensive stats to weigh and all have been considered and broken down. But, at the end of the day, hitting is an artform. There are those that showcased pure, raw talent; others that crafted a career as creative students of the game with approach and adjustments; and the very few that did both…

Honorable Mention

Albert Pujols, Pete Rose, Miguel Cabrera, Honus Wagner, Mickey Mantle, Mike Trout, Rod Carew, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Wade Boggs, Frank Robinson, Tris Speaker, Jimmie Foxx

These players were all a struggle not to include in the top 10. Pujols, Rose, Cabrera, Mantle, and Wganer being the most painful. Pujols’ second half of his career was hard to ignore. I’m very aware that Rose has the most hits of all time but his lack of power combined with playing 5 seasons too long made it slightly easier. I kept going back and forth with Cabrera but head-to-head with each player, I couldn’t quite squeeze him in. Wagner playing his entire career in the dead-ball era just kept him off. Mantle’s injuries and off field issues shortened his career which really stung not putting one of the most naturally talented hitters of all time in the top 10. Trout will easily make this list some day and probably be at least top 5, but he’s only half way through his already stellar career and the full body of work is still to be determined. 

*Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard, and Willard Brown could’ve all easily made this list but unfortunately we’ll never know due to the segregation of the league and the confusing,  unofficial (“exhibition”) games mixed in. There simply aren’t enough records. If the myths surrounding Gibson and Charleston were even half true, they still would probably be top 10.

10. Tony Gwynn

Reasons For: 8 batting titles, .338 career batting average, 7 Silver Slugger Awards, 3,141 hits

Reasons Against: 135 home runs, 1,138 runs batted in, .847 OPS

Most Impressive Stat: In his entire 20-year career, Gwynn struck out 434 times. That’s an average of 21 strikeouts per season. 150 players have struckout 22 or more times after a month into this season. 

In Summary: “Mr. Padre” was a brilliant artist at the plate who excelled at hitting the ball to the opposite field. His career .338 avg is not only crazy good but sits in the top 25 with hitters that at least played 35+ years before him. As a kid watching Gwynn hit with his approach, adjustments, and that sweet-left-handed swing is forever embedded in my memory as to what a great hitter looks like. 

9. Willie Mays

Reasons For: Career offensive WAR 136.5 (4th all-time), 6,080 total bases (3rd all-time) 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, 2x MVP, 4x home run leader, Batting champion, World Series champion 

Reasons Against: Career .302 average

Most Impressive Stat: Mays is the only player to hit 50+ homers in a season and 20+ triples in a season. 

In Summary: We all know about “The Say Hey Kid” and his overall game, but his consistent offensive numbers over a 23 year career forces his way into the top 10. His 162 game avg after almost a quarter of a century at the plate- .302 avg, 36 hr, 103 RBI

8. Lou Gehrig

Reasons For: 1.0798 career OPS (3rd all-time), .6324 career slugging pct. (3rd all-time), 5x RBI leader, 3x home run leader, 2x MVP, Batting champion, 6x World Series champion, .340 career batting avg.

Reasons Against: Career cut short due to illness

Most Impressive Stat: This RBI machine averaged 150 RBIs per season. Taking into account sabermetrics and the fact that Babe Ruth hit in front of him, Gehrig’s career .340 average proves how clutch and consistent he was with runners on base and a key contributor to six World Series titles while hitting cleanup for arguably the greatest lineup in the history of baseball.

In Summary: The “Iron Horse” played in 2,130 consecutive games which stood for 56 years. Before he was diagnosed with ALS, Gehrig had been a top 5 MVP candidate for seven years in a row. He still had at least 3-4 solid years of crazy offensive numbers to put up. A true legend.

7. Rogers Hornsby

Reasons For: .358 career batting avg (2nd all-time)., 2x Triple Crown winner, 2x MVP, 7x batting champion, 2x home run leader, 4x RBI leader, 1.0103 career OPS

Reasons Against: 301 career home runs

Most Impressive Stat: .424 avg in 1924 (highest single season avg since the live-ball era that has stood for nearly a century.)

In Summary: Hornsby hit for power as well as high averages. Besides the ridiculous .424 season (which I don’t believe will ever be touched; oh, and he hit .421 seven years later) Rogers, playing in the same time period but opposite league as Babe Ruth, had two monster offensive seasons which resulted in arguably the most impressive triple crown numbers ever. 1922- .401, 42 hr, 152 RBI, 1925- .403, 39 hr, 143 RBI

6. Stan Musial

Reasons For: 6,134 total bases (2nd all-time) 3,630 hits (4th all-time), 725 doubles (3rd all-time), career .331 avg., 3x MVP, 7x batting champion, 2x RBI leader, 3x World series champion

Reasons Against: short of 500 home runs with 475 (only thing I could think) 

Most Impressive Stat:  Musial had 2 outrageous seasons where he led all of baseball in 12 of the 15 most important offensive categories in 1946 and 11 of the categories in 1948.

In Summary: “Stan The Man” was a line-drive hitting machine who is in the top 25 of every significant hitting category. Like most players on the list, a player I wish I could’ve seen play.

5. Hank Aaron

Reasons For: 2,297 RBI (1st all-time), 6,856 total bases (1st all-time), 1,477 career extra-base hits (1st all-time), 755 home runs (2nd all-time) 3,771 hits (3rd all-time) 2,174 runs scored (4th all-time)

Reasons Against: Career on-base .373, career OPS .928

Most Impressive Stat:  Aaron’s 6,856 total bases is staggering considering that the highest single season total bases mark was by Ruth with 457. If a player matched that for 15 seasons they would still be a base short of Aaron.

In Summary: “Hammerin’ Hank” is the benchmark for durability and consistency. Having never hit more than 47 homeruns in a season; Aaron had eight 40-homer seasons, fifteen 30-homer seasons, and was the only player to go deep 20+ times in 20 different seasons. 

4. Ty Cobb

Reasons For: career .366 avg (1st all-time), 4,189 hits (2nd all-time) 2,245 career runs (2nd all-time), 12x batting champion, 4x RBI leader, MVP, Triple Crown, home run leader

Reasons Against: Time Period

Most Impressive Stat: 12 batting titles in 13 seasons. If they had MVP voting every year in Cobb’s day, he would have at least a decade’s worth. 

In Summary: “The Georgia Peach” was a pioneer of the game setting 90 MLB records during his career. There are many assumptions regarding Cobb, both good and bad. One good assumption is that many historians believe that had he not played in the dead-ball era that his power numbers would rank near the top. He led the league in OPS+ 11 times, slugging pct 8 times, and was in the top 5 in home runs 7 times. He played in a time period that is literally opposite of the steroid era. 

3. Barry Bonds

Reasons For: 762 career home runs (1st all-time), 73 home runs single season (1st all-time), 2,558 career walks (1st all-time), 7x MVP, 12x Silver Slugger Award, 3x Hank Aaron Award, 2x batting champion, 2x home run leader, career offensive WAR 143.6 (3rd all-time) career OPS 1.0512 (4th all-time)

Reasons Against: Steroids, .298 career batting avg. 

Most Impressive Stat: Besides the roided-connected power numbers, Bond’s 688 career Intentional walks is 373 more than Pujols who ranks 2nd with 315.

In Summary: Without PEDS, Bonds was well on his way to this list based on the offensive numbers. From 1990 to ‘97, Bonds was a top five MVP candidate 7 times winning 3 of them. 

2. Ted Williams

Reasons For: career on base pct .482 (1st all-time), career OPS 1.1155 (2nd all-time), career batting avg .344, 2x MVP, 2x Triple Crown, 6x batting champion, 4x home run leader, 4x RBI leader

Reasons Against: career interrupted by military service missing 3 prime seasons

Most Impressive Stat: In 19 seasons Williams’ on base percentage dipped under .400 once.

In Summary: “Teddy Ballgame” was that perfect mixture of talent and high baseball IQ. Yes, I’m a fan of the long ball. (who isn’t?) Yes, I really enjoy watching the line-drive-gap-hitter spray the ball all over the ballpark. (grew up a Royals fan watching George Brett who will forever be my favorite baseball player) Yes, love watching a great contact hitter work the count and then eventually reach base. (there’s an art to that too) Ted Williams was all of those things. He had power, patience, and that sweet, left-handed swing. Had he not missed 5 years for admirably serving our country, (3 of which were in the heart of his prime) “The Splendid Splinter”, might’ve added a couple of more batting titles, possibly another Triple Crown or MVP, and probably would’ve landed anywhere around 675 to 700 home runs.

1. Babe Ruth

Reasons For: 155.0 offensive WAR (1st all-time), 1.164 OPS (1st all-time), 206 OPS+ (1st all-time), .690 slugging (first all-time), career RBIs 2,214 (2nd all-time), career home runs 714 (3rd all-time), career walks 2,062 (3rd all-time), career runs scored 2,174 (4th all-time), 12x home run leader, 5x RBI leader, MVP, batting champion, 7x World Series champion, .342 career avg.

Reasons Against: None

Most Impressive Stat: In 1918 Ruth tied for the league lead in home runs with 11. In 1919 he broke the home run record with 29. (no one had hit more than 24 in a season in the league’s history) Then, In 1920 Ruth hit 54 home runs. More than his entire league combined. Ruth went on to top his own record two more times. 

In Summary: “The Bambino” was not only the most dominant hitter of his time and arguably the reason the ball went from “dead” to “live”, but he’s the greatest hitter ever. Here’s why… Ruth hit for high averages, clearly had stupid power, got on base at a crazy rate, and he scored runs at an insane pace. What puts him at the top using my algorithm are stats, (speaks for themselves) dominance, (see above) postseason, (7 World Series) and legacy. (He’s Babe Ruth-”The Sultan of Swat”!) One could make the argument that since baseball was America’s first love and Babe Ruth was it’s first, and possibly most, beloved superstar, and the fact that Ruth single handedly brought people to the ballpark in droves and the reason for gigantic stadiums and our obsession with larger-than-life athletes, stats, and dominance that he’s THE pioneer of sports; which all started with what he could do with a bat.

Final Word: One of the major debates is how good would Babe be with the evolution of the sport? The pitching? The modern-day athlete, physicality, and level of competition? Obviously there is no way to prove exactly how he would do, but one could imagine that he’d follow protocol and the regime as much as he could in order to play baseball for a living. If he somehow was able to stay out of trouble, stay in shape, and adjust to modern flamethrowers… look out. I will leave you with this- 

Babe Ruth still has the longest recorded home run in MLB history at 575 feet in 1921. (some even estimated it at 587) The trusted and respected baseball historian, William Jenkinson, once wrote- “In 1921 alone, which was Ruth’s best tape measure season, he hit at least one 500 foot home run in all eight American League cities. Despite the scarcity of film on Ruth, we can still make definitive evaluations of the approximate landing points of all of his 714 career home runs. Amazingly, many of those records remain unequaled, which is to say that Ruth is a true athletic anachronism. In virtually every other field of endeavor in which physical performance can be measured, there are no Ruthian equivalents.” 

* A special shout out to my Uncle Tom Hodge who I love talking baseball with and who I consider a baseball encyclopedia. I value your perspective, knowledge and insight on the game, and life itself; all of which I will forever treasure. Thank you, Hombre


  • Ryan_Hughes

    Passionate storyteller and lifelong Royals, Chiefs, and Mizzou Tiger fan. Graduate of Chicago's Second City Conservatory and selected writer for the CBS Diversity Showcase. A member of the sketch comedy group, "Genuine Jerks". Founder of Planet H Productions located in Southwest Missouri.

4 thoughts on “Weekly Dime–Top Ten Greatest Hitters of All Time

  1. I might have overlooked it but, I didn’t see Ichiro Susaki on this list. He’s one of the most consistent hitters since Tony Gwynn. He’s a first ballot HOF.

    1. Love Ichiro but his lack of power and ability to drive in runs really stands out. Only 780 career RBI and .757 OPS. Great lead off man but poor power numbers hurts his case for me.

  2. I’m still going to say Ted Williams takes number one. The only thing Babe had on him was home runs. And, if it hadn’t been for his service in WWII and Korea, he’d hold so many more records.

    1. Williams’ career avg was .344. Ruth’s was .342. Ruth hit for high averages plus power.

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