Who are the 15 best baseball players of all time? If you look at baseball’s rich and iconic history, dozens of players brought fans to the ballpark or inspired a generation. Baseball would not be the sport we know and love if not for the contributions of players like Babe Ruth and Cy Young. However, are these names the best players ever?
The MLB began in the year 2000 after the National League merged with the American League. Both leagues have a long past, as they began in 1876 and 1901, respectively. That means we have over 100 years of players to consider for the top spots. While the game has changed a lot since the early 1900s, there are several ways to compare players across the ages.
How did we decide which players were the 15 best baseball players of all time? We examined each player’s statistics, the awards they won, plus the impact they left on the sport. While we would love to sing the praises of hundreds of players over the years, there can only be room for 15. If you enjoy this list, make sure you check out the baseball lists we have created so far. You can read about the best MLB ballparks in the league and the greatest pitchers of all time.
15. Cy Young
One of the best pitchers in baseball history was Cy Young. He began baseball professionally in 1890, staying with the Cleveland Spiders in the National League until 1898. From here, he played with the St. Louis Perfectos and the Cardinals before a move to the Boston Americans, now known as the Red Sox. He left the Red Sox in 1908, where he had three more seasons before retiring.
What makes Young such a special player is how effective he was throughout such an extensive career. He was 41 years old during his last season in Boston, where he adapted his pitching to great effect. During his early career, Young had a reputation for being one of the hardest-throwing pitchers, a feat he could not rely on in the later stages of his career. That did not stop Young from setting some unbelievable baseball records, some of which remain to this day.
Young has 511 career wins, 7,356 innings pitched, and 815 starts across his baseball career. He also holds the MLB record for the most complete games and has a 25 and one-third streak of consecutive innings pitched without a hit. The legendary pitcher won one World Series in 1903, the Triple Crown in 1901, and he pitched a perfect game in 1904. During his career, Young pitched three no-hitters, cementing himself in baseball history.
- Position: Pitcher
- Appearances: 916
- Career Strikeouts: 2,803
- Career Batting Average: 210
- Career Earnings: $16,230
14. Johnny Bench
When talking about the best baseball players of all time, it’s easy to just focus on the pitchers and the players going for the home run records. But one player we could not overlook is Johnny Bench. Bench was a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds for his entire career. He started playing professional baseball in 1967 and retired in 1983. He was a key part of the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati team that dominated the NL in the 70s.
Bench was special for his defensive excellence and his offensive prowess. He was the first catcher in MLB history to lead the league in home runs. He also held the record for the most home runs by a catcher. Bench was a 14-time All-Star player, with 13 consecutive appearances. He won the World Series twice and was MVP in the world series once. If that isn't impressive enough, he has ten Gold Glove Awards, three NL RBI Leader Awards, and he is a two-time NL Home Run Leader.
There is little debate over this, but Johnny Bench is one of the best catchers in baseball history. He easily secured a spot on our list of the greatest MLB players ever.
- Position: Catcher
- Appearances: 2,158
- Home Runs: 389
- Career Batting Average: 267
- Career Earnings: $3,497,500
13. Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle is another MLB player that spent his entire career with one franchise. He was an instrumental player in the New York Yankees between 1951 and 1968. Considered by many to be one of the best switch hitters to play the game. His versatility wasn’t just for hitting. Mantle played as a first baseman, center fielder, and right fielder during his career.
Mantle was one of the most effective center fielders in the history of baseball. He is only second to Mike Trout for career On-base plus slugging, for center fielders. Plus, he is the only player to hit 250 home runs from both sides of the plate. Where Mantle truly shines was on the big stage. He helped the New York Yankees win seven World Series, made 16 All-Star appearances and was the AL MVP on three occasions. He was a four-time AL home run leader, a Gold Glove winner, and achieved a triple crown in 1956.
When talking about fantastic ball players like Trout or Mantle, there is always a case to be made. However, you can’t overlook a player with 12 World Series appearances and several records. He has the most World Series home runs, RBIs, total bases, runs, and many more.
- Position: Center fielder
- Appearances: 2,401
- Home Runs: 536
- Career Batting Average: .298
- Career Earnings: $1,128,000
12. Jackie Robinson
Many players on our list of the best baseball players of all time are inspirational, but Jackie Robinson is the greatest inspiration of them all. His career began in 1945 with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League. He became the first African American player in the MLB, breaking the Baseball color line in 1947. Robinson helped bring an end to racial segregation in professional baseball.
He started strongly when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Robinson made six consecutive All-Star appearances and became the first black player to win the NL MVP Award in 1949. Although he only won one World Series in 1955, he would help the Dodgers make it to six finals. Robinson received one of the greatest honors in baseball, as they retired his jersey number for every team in the major leagues.
There have been plenty of other incredible baseball players that deserve a spot on our list. However, none of them have left as big an impact on American culture as Jackie Robinson. Even after his career in professional baseball was over, he managed more incredible achievements. He was the first black MLB TV analyst and the first black vice president of a major American corporation. Many players on this list deserve some recognition, but perhaps none more so than Robinson.
- Position: Second baseman
- Appearances: 1,416
- Home Runs: 141
- Career Batting Average: .313
- Career Earnings: $296,250
11. Stan Musial
Stan Musial had a lengthy career, even when he missed the 1945 season serving in the Navy. Even with a brief pause in his career, Musial became one of the best hitters in baseball history. His consistency helped him become the joint record holder for most All-Star Game appearances. Musial managed 24 appearances, the same as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, two of the best baseball players ever.
Staying with the St. Louis Cardinals his entire career led to some incredible accomplishments. He won the World Series three times, was a three-time NL MVP, and was a two-time NL RBI Leader. One of his most impressive achievements has to be winning the NL Batting Champion Title on seven occasions. During his career, Musial set a multitude of NL records. He recorded 3,630 hits, 3,026 games played, 10,972 at-bats, and 725 doubles. Musial’s batting average was .331, and he is 32nd on the career home run list with 475.
Musial demanded respect, and that’s exactly what he got from other legendary ball players. Ty Cobb had this to say about him during an interview with Life magazine in 1952:
No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today. He plays as hard when his club is away out in front of a game as he does when they’re just a run or two behind.- Ty Cobb
- Position: Outfielder
- Appearances: 3,026
- Home Runs: 475
- Career Batting Average: .331
- Career Earnings: $980,050
10. Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson was a pitcher for the Washington Senators between 1907 and 1927. He spent his entire playing career with the Senators before becoming the manager between 1929 and 1932. After this, he managed the Cleveland Indians until 1935. Johnson won the World Series in 1924 and was the AL MVP twice. He was a 12-time AL Strikeout Leader and six-time AL Wins Leader. He won the infamous Triple Crown for pitches on three occasions and pitched a no-hitter in 1920. Johnson also holds the current MLB record for 110 career shutouts.
Pitchers like Johnson are few and far between. He won 417 games, the second-most in history after Cy Young who has 511 wins. They remain the only pitchers to have won 400 or more games in baseball history. Ty Cobb spoke well of Walter Johnson in his biography, Cobb. He said:
The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him. Every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ballpark.- Ty Cobb
- Position: Pitcher
- Appearances: 937
- Career Strikeouts: 3,509
- Career Batting Average: .274
- Career Earnings: $219,250
9. Ken Griffey Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr. is a center fielder who started and ended his career with the Seattle Mariners. He joined the Mariners in 1989, where he remained until 1999. At the turn of the century, Griffey Jr. joined the Cincinnati Reds, staying until 2008. After eight years with the Reds, he moved to the Chicago White Sox. To cap off one of the most successful home run-laden careers in baseball history, he returned to the Mariners before retiring in 2010.
Griffey Jr. has 630 home runs to his name, placing him seventh on the MLB career home run leaderboard. He is a ten-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time AL Home Run Leader. He was the AL MVP in 1997 and made 13 All-Star appearances. They inducted Ken Griffey Jr. into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016 with 99.3% of the vote.
- Position: Center fielder
- Appearances: 2,671
- Home Runs: 630
- Career Batting Average: .284
- Career Earnings: $151,703,682
8. Joe DiMaggio
Joe DiMaggio was a center fielder for the New York Yankees. His professional career began in 1936 when he played with the Yankees until 1942. He put his baseball career on pause and enlisted in the US Air Force. DiMaggio was a physical education instructor for the military. He often played in exhibition matches against other Major and Minor League players. He returned to the Yankees in 1946 but retired in 1951.
DiMaggio had a sensational career, winning nine World Series, one less than the all-time leader. During his career, he made 13 All-Star appearances and won several awards, such as AL Batting Champion, Home Run Leader, and RBI Leader. DiMaggio’s most famous record, “The Streak”, was a 56-game hitting streak starting in May 1941 and ending in July. Harvard Professor Stephen Jay Gould reflected fondly on “The Streak”, he said:
DiMaggio’s streak is the most extraordinary thing that ever happened in American sports.- Professor Stephen Jay Gould
- Position: Center fielder
- Appearances: 1,736
- Home Runs: 361
- Career Batting Average: .325
- Career Earnings: $632,250
7. Ted Williams
Ted Williams was a left fielder who played his entire professional career with the Boston Red Sox. War interrupted Williams’ stint with the Red Sox. Once during WW2 and again in 1952, when they recalled him for service during the Korean War. Even with the interruptions, Williams had an incredible career, finishing with a batting average of .344.
Williams was a two-time Triple Crown winner and AL MVP. He played in 19 All-Star games and they selected him for both the Major League Baseball All-Century and All-Time teams. Williams achieved the AL Batting Champion title six times and was a four-time AL Home Run Leader. He also holds the MLB record for having a career average of .482 on-base percentage.
Players like Williams weren’t just outstanding baseball players; they were incredible people who lived some truly inspirational lives. Who knows how good this man’s career would have been without two stints in the military? If you would like to read more about Ted Williams, check out his biography page.
- Position: Left fielder
- Appearances: 2,292
- Home Runs: 521
- Career Batting Average: .344
- Career Earnings: $1,092,000
6. Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig was the first baseman for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939. He was the first professional baseball player to have his shirt number retired by a team. Gehrig had an incredible career, playing 2,130 games in a row until he voluntarily took himself out of the lineup. After a noticeable drop in form, they diagnosed Gehrig with ALS, a form of infantile paralysis. The disease, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, forced his retirement at 36 and took his life two years later.
Players and fans alike adore icons who bring as much to the game as Gehrig. He was a six-time winner of the World Series and made seven consecutive All-Star appearances. He was a two-time AL MVP and five-time AL RBI Leader. Gehrig is famous for hitting four home runs in one game in 1932 plus a Triple Crown in 1934. After announcing his early retirement, the Yankees hosted an appreciation day to say thanks and farewell to the baseball legend.
The Postmaster General James Farley led tributes to Gehrig. Farley said:
Your name will live long in baseball and wherever the game is played they will point with pride and satisfaction to your record- Postmaster General James Farley
- Position: First Baseman
- Appearances: 2,164
- Home Runs: 493
- Career Batting Average: .340
- Career Earnings: $421,400
5. Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb was a center fielder for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics. He became a baseball legend, setting 90 MLB records in his extensive career. His last professional game was in 1928, and several of his records still stand today. One such record is his .366 batting average, the best in MLB history. He also holds the record for the combined total of the most runs scored and batted, with 4,065. Cobb also has the MLB career record for stealing home. He remains the youngest player to reach 4,000 hits and score 2,000 runs.
Besides his records, he won a Triple Crown in 1909 and the AL MVP in 1911. He was a six-time AL Stolen Base Lader and a four-time AL RBI Leader. Most impressively, Cobb was a 12-time AL Batting Champion, including nine in a row between 1907 and 1915. His last professional game was in 1928 for the Athletics. When you consider what he achieved in baseball, you can’t leave out Ty Cobb when talking about the greatest baseball players in history.
- Position: Center fielder
- Appearances: 3,034
- Home Runs: 117
- Career Batting Average: .366
- Career Earnings: $491,233
4. Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron was a right fielder who started his career in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves. The Braves moved and changed their name to the Atlanta Braves, where Aaron remained until 1974. After this, he joined the Milwaukee Brewers before retiring in 1976. Aaron is one of the best baseball players of all time, hitting a whopping 755 home runs in his career. They selected Aaron for 25 consecutive All-Star games, one of many of his records. Other records held by Aaron include 6,856 total bases, 2,297 runs batted in, and 1,477 extra-base hits during his career.
Aaron enjoyed a lot of success on the field, including one World Series and one NL MVP. He was a three-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time NL Home Run Leader. Aaron is one of four players to have 17 or more seasons with at least 150 hits. They inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 with 97.8% of the vote.
- Position: Right fielder
- Appearances: 3,298
- Home Runs: 755
- Career Batting Average: .305
- Career Earnings: $2,138,500
3. Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players ever. He started his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986 and joined the San Francisco Giants in 1993. He retired in 2007 after an astonishing career that included 767 home runs. Bonds was officially a left fielder but earned a reputation as a fantastic all-around player.
Bonds broke many records during his incredible career. He has the most home runs in a single season, 73, and holds the MLB record for career home runs. He also holds the record of being the only player in MLB history to have over 500 runs and 500 stolen bases. The baseball legend won 7 NL MVP Awards and made 14 All-Star appearances. He won eight Gold Glove Awards and was a twelve-time recipient of the Silver Slugger Award. Bonds was a two-time NL Batting Champion and Home Run Leader but has not yet made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Position: Left fielder
- Appearances: 2,986
- Home Runs: 762
- Career Batting Average: .298
- Career Earnings: $188,245,322
2. Willie Mays
Willie Mays is a baseball icon. He is undoubtedly one of the best baseball players of all time, even with a pause in his career for military service in the Korean War. Mays had a career batting average of .302 and achieved 660 home runs. He started his professional career in 1951 with the New York Giants, who moved and changed their name in 1958 to the San Francisco Giants. After his two stints with the Giants, he moved to the New York Mets in 1972 and retired the year after.
They selected Mays for 24 consecutive All-Star games and won the 1954 World Series. He was a two-time NL MVP and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in his first season. The center field won 12 Gold Glove Awards and was a four-time NL Home Run and Stolen Base Leader. They voted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 with 94.7% of the vote.
Mays was a record-setter and a headline grabber, finishing his career with 7,095 putouts, the most from an outfielder. He also has the most extra-inning home runs in MLB history. Willie Mays is perhaps most famous for “The Catch”, an over-the-shoulder catch while running backward to meet a fly ball during the World Series.
- Position: Center fielder
- Appearances: 3,005
- Home Runs: 660
- Career Batting Average: .301
- Career Earnings: $1,825,000
1. Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth is the best baseball player of all time. He began his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1914. After the Red Sox, he signed with the New York Yankees in 1920 and stayed there until 1934. In 1935, he played for the Boston Braves before retiring from an iconic and legendary playing career.
Ruth gained a reputation for being a pitcher who could hit home runs. He opted for a position change to play outfield and, in 1919, broke the MLB single-season home run record. The move to the Yankees proved successful, winning four World Series and changing baseball forever. His ability to hit home runs brought fans to the ballpark, increasing baseball’s popularity tremendously.
Babe Ruth was a seven-time World Series champion, and they selected him to play on two All-Star teams. He was a 12-time AL Home Run Leader and won other awards, such as AL MVP and AL RBI Leader, on six occasions.
One of Ruth’s most iconic moments came in the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. They tied the third game of the series at 4-4 when Ruth stepped up to the plate. The count was at two balls and one strike when Ruth made a gesture toward center field. After another strike, Ruth repeated the gesture and launched the ball over 440 feet down centerfield for an outrageous home run. Some say this is Babe Ruth’s called shot, others believe it was just blind luck. Whether you believe it, Ruth is undeniably the best baseball player of all time.
- Position: Outfielder
- Appearances: 2,504
- Home Runs: 714
- Career Batting Average: .342
- Career Earnings: $856,850
Best Baseball Players Honorable Mentions
As with any list that involves the top players of each sport, a few unlucky individuals narrowly miss out on a spot at the top. Below is our mini-list of outstanding baseball players who did not feature.
- Mike Trout
- Jimmie Foxx
- Alex Rodriguez
- Sandy Koufax
- Mel Ott
- Nolan Ryan
- Bob Gibson
- Rogers Hornsby
- "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
- Honus Wagner
- Roger Clemens