Passing of the Torch as The Greatest Player in The MLB: From Pujols to Hamilton
Wednesday June.6, 2012
Chuck Booth (Lead Baseball Writer and @chuckbooth3024 on twitter)- While watching Josh Hamilton this year, I started thinking about the best players in the MLB over the last 33 years. I am talking the best player of the game at any point of time. I tracked back to 1979 for this article. I may expand further back in follow up articles. I did rank defense highly when I came up with the players. I did agonize over Mike Schmidt, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken for some of the years given in specific time frames. These gentlemen were given every consideration. In the end, we are talking about the best player in the game though and it is always subject to debate and personal opinion. The criteria had to involve leading the league in several different offensive and/or defensive categories, followed by routinely being in the top 7 in MVP balloting(if not taking home the honor), All-Star Appearances for every year I listed them for and most of them won silver sluggers and/or Gold Gloves as well.
George Brett 1979-1983-George Brett was the best hitter in the game from 1979-1983. He hit for a .320 average and slugged his way to having the Royals as perennial contenders. He led the league in triples (20) and hits in 1979. In 1980, he hit .390 with a .454 OBP, 664 SLG and a 1.118 OBP which led the league. In 1983, Brett led the league in slugging an OPS once again. Brett won the MVP in 1980 and was the runner-up in 1979. In 1985, George Brett would lead the Royals to a World Series. He later won a batting title at age 37 with a .329 average. This was the toughest time frame to judge from 1979-1983. Mike Schmidt was an incredible force at third base with huge power and Jim Rice also put up mammoth numbers, but in the end I chose George Brett because he was more consistent out of 3.
Don Mattingly 1984-1987- It is no secret that my favorite player of all time is Don Mattingly. I loved his swing and the fact the guy could make great contact at any time in the count. In an era where offensive players were not as prolific as others, Mattingly burst onto the scene with the likes of Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield and Willie Randolph in this Yankees lineup. The man had 145 RBI in 1985, the most by a left-handed hitter since Ted Williams in 1949. His 238 hits in 1986 is also a Yankees club record. In his first full year in 1984, he edged out Winfield for the AL batting crown with a .343 average. He also led the league in doubles from 1984-1986. Mattingly’s 388 Total bases in 1986 had been the most in the Majors since Willie Mays back in the 1962 season. Mattingly won the first of 9 gold gloves in 1985. Donnie Baseball also won the AL MVP in 1985 and was boldly robbed in 1986 by the writers voting for Roger Clemens. In 1987, Mattingly hit 6 grand slams and also homered in 8 straight games(including 10 total which was higher than Dale Long and Ken Griffey‘s 8 during their consecutive streaks.) His average year for the 4 year stretch was .337, with 30 HRs, 45 2B and 120 RBI. He also averaged 110 runs and 210 hits. Mattingly only struck out 37 times a year for this span. He was clearly the best ball player in this era.
Kirby Puckett 1988 and 1989- Kirby Puckett had already won the World Series in 1987 when he took over as the best player in the MLB. This was beginning of the Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire steroid era. Players exploded onto the scene but few had the all around game like Kirby Puckett. Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Paul Molitor has stretches of overall play that rivaled Puckett in these years, but there was no denying the big little man. In 1988, Kirby hit .356 with 24 HRs and 121 RBI-while piling up 234 hits to lead the league. Puckett also led the league in total bases that year with 358. In 1989, Puckett would lead the league with a .339 average and the 3rd straight time in hits with 210. Puckett would win another World Series in 1991 and retired as a .318 lifetime hitter.
Rickey Henderson 1990- Henderson has 1406 career stolen bases and swiped 130 bags in 1982, both are still records and likely unbreakable. Henderson leads all time in runs scored with 2295 and leadoff homers with 81. At the time of retiring, Henderson also led in walks before being surpassed by Barry Bonds. However it was 1990 where he had his best year short of the stolen bases. Rickey was the AL MVP while leading the league in runs scored, stolen bases, OBP and OPS. He hit a career best .325 and collected 28 HRs. #24 also led the Athletics back to their 3rd straight World Series Appearance before bowing out to the Cincinnati Reds. Managers simply did not have any answers to keep the man from scoring.
Frank Thomas 1991-1995- In the first 9 years of his career, Frank Thomas drove in a 100 RBI, scored 100 runs and walked 100 times every season. He was the quint-essential ‘patient’ power-slugger. Until Ken Griffey came along with some incredible numbers, Thomas laid claim to the best player in the Major Leagues. From 1991-1995 ‘The Big Hurt” hit .325 with an average of 38 HRs and 113 RBI per season. Thomas won the AL MVP in 1993 and in 1994, and finished in the top 10 in the 3 other years of this reign. He led the league in walks 4 times and OPS on 3 different occasions. One only wonders how many HRs Frank would have hit in 1994, with 50 games left to play he was sitting on 38 HRs and was part of the chase that looked to run down Maris that year with: Matt Williams hitting 43, Griffey JR. 40, Bonds 37 all having a chance to hit 50 HRs before the player strike ended the campaign. Barry Bonds would be the second best player in time frame and Griffey would be the 3rd. One cannot forget that Tony Gwynn was also hitting .394 during that year of 1994…oh what might have been!
Ken Griffey Jr. 1996-1999- Right in the middle of the whole McGwire and Sosa HR chase on a yearly basis, there was Ken Griffey Jr. doing it the right way, compiling 209 HRs and 567 RBI over this 4 year stretch. “The Kid” racked up another 4 gold gloves to make 9 by the age of 29. At 398 HRs before turning 30, Griffey signed a 9 year/90 million dollar contract with the Cincinnati Reds. The only reason why I didn’t have him ahead of Thomas, or Bonds for that matter for the earlier part of the decade, was that his average was a little lower then these gentlemen. But for this time frame, Griffey was by far the best all-around player. Only a beefed up Barry Bonds would usurp him for the role of best player for the next 5 years after 1999.
Barry Bonds 2000-2004– Steroids aside, I am giving Alex Rodriguez and Bonds the benefit of the doubt in that they would have been hall of fame players with or without the drugs. Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa might have just been the next coming of Dave Kingman if you wiped out the steroid use. Their career averages are all pretty low, so without the homers they would not have been celebrated as much as they were before their fall from grace. From 2000-2004 Bonds offensive tear might have been the greatest stretch of all-time. Yes the steroids will always taint the numbers, but 260 HRs in 5 seasons and an OBP of .534 in that time, holy cow! Bonds average was .345 in these years with 175 walks per year. in 2004, Bonds walked 232 times and only struck out 45 times. His OBP was a record .609 as was his OPS at 1.412. During the 2001 record of 73 HRs, Bonds was walked 163 times. That year he eclipsed Babe Ruth’s all time one year slugging percentage by putting up a .863 clip compared to the “Bambino’s” .847 in 1920. Even though he did steroids, these are still unbelievable numbers.
Alex Rodriguez 2005-2007- Blocked by the career of Barry Bonds, A-rod finally took over as the best player in the game from the 2005 to 2007 seasons. In these 3 years Rodriguez averaged 42 HRs and 136 RBI for the Bronx Bombers. Despite not leading the club to any World Series Titles, Rodriguez won AL MVP’s in both 2005 and 2007. All of us can not also forget that for the first 14 years of the mans career, he hit 30 HRs and drove in 100 RBI every year. A-Rod led the league in HRs, Runs, SLG and OPS for 2005 and 2007. He led the league with 156 RBI In 2007. A-Rod still has 124 HRs to catch Barry Bonds for all-time homerun lead. I am not sure he will get there even with being signed till the end of 2017. He is lucky he finally hit in the 2009 playoffs en route to the Yankees World Series Title, otherwise the Yankees fans would have utter disdain for the man by now.
Albert Pujols 2008-2011– Albert Pujols has been in the top 10 for MVP voting ever since he entered into the Major Leagues in 2001. Other than 1 year when he scored 99 runs, and last year when he only drove in 99 RBI, he has hit 30 HRs, drove in 100 RBI and scored 100 runs during every baseball year. In 2009, Pujols finally won his first Hank Aaron award with 47 HRs. He then won it again in 2010 with 42 round-trippers. Albert slugged .653 in 2008 and .658 in 2009 to lead that category in back to back years. The Cardinals rode the big slugger to World Series wins in 2006 and 2011. Pujols hit .357 in 2008, .327 in 2009 and .312 in 2010. 2011 marked the 1st year he failed to hit .300 in his career with a .299 average. Despite a slow decline as seen in the last stat, the Angels gave Pujols a 10 year-254 million dollar contract. The torch was passed to Hamilton from the time the World Series had ended.
Josh Hamilton 2012-? With flashes of brilliance in 2008 and his 2010 AL MVP season, Hamilton just needs to stay healthy and play up to his potential in order to maintain his hold of the greatest player in the game currently. There are great comparisons to Mickey Mantle based on the raw talent being equaled out by some inner demons. Will Josh challenge for a triple crown this year? One would hope that he may challenge Roger Maris and the 62 HR mark. If he hits 62, this would spark a debate amongst the purists in the game. A lot of writers are just jumping at the chance to wipe out Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire record totals that were achieved in the steroid era. They could really use somebody to break Maris’s 61 HRs first. Maybe this player will be Hamilton. Maybe Veterans like Joey Votto, Matt Kemp or Miguel Cabrera will take the reigns or…. maybe Mike Trout will challenge him.
***Thank you to our Baseball Writer- Douglas “Chuck” Booth for preparing today’s feature on MLB reports. To learn more about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames” and Chuck Booth, you can follow Chuck on Twitter (@ChuckBooth3024) and you can also follow Chuck’s website for his Guinness Book of World Record Bid to see all 30 MLB Park in 23 days click here or on the 30 MLB Parks in 23 days GWR tracker at the Reports click here. To Purchase or read about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames Book, ” please click here ***
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Posted on June 6, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged al mvp, albert pujols, all-star game, athletics, barry bonds, cal ripken jr, cardinals, chicago white sox, Chuck Booth. fastest 30 ballgames, cincinnati reds, dale long, dave winfield, don mattingly, frank thomas, george brett, giants, hall of fame, Hank Aaron award, jim rice, joey votto, jose canseco, josh hamilton, ken griffey jr, kirby puckett, mariners, mark mcgwire, matt kemp, matt williams, mickey mantle, miguel cabrera, mike schmidt, Mike Trout, nl mvp, paul molitor, rickey henderson, roger clemens, roger maris, royals, sammy sosa, ted williams, tony gwynn, travis hafner, twins, wade boggs, willie mays, willie randolph, yankees. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.