This is a list I compiled based upon overall offensive and defensive ability. It is by no means 100% accurate, and I am sure I am missing a key few players. I also tried to include such attributes as World Series appearances, Gold Gloves, Hall of Fame records, and how I perceived them against other peers at their positions. For example David Cone appears on this list, because he was considered a mercenary in the late 80’s and early 90’s who would your team get to and win the big game, though I doubt he is ever going to the Hall of Fame. I also tried to keep the player at the position they were primarily known for, so Stargell is at 1B, Carew at 2B, and Rose at 3B, rather than other positions they played during their careers.
Here is my list in no particular order, mainly as I remember them with no significance put to where their place is on this list.
C – Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter
1B – Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, Eddie Murray, Willie Stargell, Keith Hernandez
2B – Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Rod Carew
3B – Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Pete Rose
SS – Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez
LF – Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Carl Yastrzemski, Tim Raines
CF – Ken Griffey Jr, Kirby Puckett, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount
RF – Reggie Jackson, Daryl Strawberry, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa
RHP – Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris
LHP – Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton
CL – Rollie Fingers, Lee Smith, Goose Gossage, Mariano Rivera
If you notice I have left off DH’s (Molitor, Winfield, Edgar Martinez, etc.) since I believe if you cannot play the field after a certain point in your career, you are not really a baseball player regardless of what statistics you accumulate over your career. I also have included some players who have been linked with steroids (IRod, McGwire, Bonds, and Gonzalez) simply because they were not illegal until the 2005 season. Whether these guys were doing steroids or not, they were still considered the top players in the game at the time and should be considered for this list. If there needs to be an asterisk or a little syringe icon next to their names in the record books that is another debate for another time.
Here is a breakout of the teams they played the majority of the careers for and how many of them played for that team during their “peak.” For instance Roberto Alomar played for a butt-load of teams (Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Mets, White Sox, and Devil Rays) during his career, but he is remembered for being with the Toronto, Baltimore and Cleveland, so I have listed him 3 those teams. It is interesting to note that only 14 out of 50 players (Bench, Thomas, Stargell, Sandberg, Biggio, Schmidt, Brett, Ripken, Jeter, Yaz, Puckett, Yount, Palmer, and Rivera) on this list played their entire career for the same team.
NY Yankees – 7 (Jackson, Jeter, Rivera, Gossage, Henderson, Rivera, Cone)
NY Mets – 6 (Piazza, Carter, Hernandez, Strawberry, Cone, Gooden)
Cincinnati Reds - 5 (Bench, Morgan, Rose, Griffey Jr. Seaver)
St. Louis Cardinals – 5 (McGwire, Hernandez, Smith, Carlton, Smith)
Baltimore Orioles – 4 (Murray, Alomar Ripken, Palmer)
Boston Red Sox – 4 (Fisk, Yaz, Boggs, Ramirez, Clemens, Martinez)
Oakland A’s – 4 (McGwire, Jackson, Henderson, Fingers)
Texas Rangers – 4 (IRod, A Rod, Gonzalez, Ryan)
Toronto Blue Jays – 4 (Alomar, Henderson, Cone, Morris)
California Angels – 3 (Carew, Ryan, Jackson)
Chicago Cubs – 3 (Sandberg, Maddux, Sosa)
Chicago White Sox - 3 (Fisk, Thomas, Raines)
Montreal Expos – 3 (Carter, Martinez, Raines)
Philadelphia Phillies – 3 (Rose, Schmidt, Carlton)
Seattle Mariners – 3 (A Rod, Griffey Jr. Johnson)
Cleveland Indians – 2 (Alomar, Ramirez)
Pittsburgh Pirates – 2 (Stargell, Bonds
Houston Astros – 2 (Biggio, Ryan, Clemens)
Minnesota Twins – 2 (Carew, Puckett)
Milwaukee Brewers – 2 (Fingers, Yount)
Atlanta Braves – 1 (Maddux)
Arizona Diamondbacks – 1 (Johnson)
Detroit Tigers – 1 (Morris)
Kansas City Royals – 1 (Brett)
Los Angeles Dodger – 1 (Piazza)
San Francisco Giants – 1 (Bonds)
It is interesting to note—as a Yankee fan—that they are the most represented team. But to be fair, they have also had the most success over the same period. I also have not included A-Rod and Randy Johnson in the Yankees roster, since they really made their names on other teams. A Rod seems to be able to make the transition to being a “real” Yankee in his second season. Johnson could still make the list by picking up his game and pitching the way he has in the past and driving them into the playoffs before his contract expires, but it seems like he might be like an aging Guy LaFluer playing his final days in a New York Rangers uniform, trying his best, but ultimately nothing but a shell of his former self. Or at least not the intimidating strike out artist he was with the Mariners and Diamondbacks.
The other teams represented at the top also had strong runs during this time period, so it does not seem out of balance to me. I was questioning whether to include Gooden and Strawberry in this list, but they were so strong good and dominant when they came up that it is hard to ignore their overall contribution. I think everyone else speaks for themselves under the criteria I have provided.
Here are some future considerations, who could make this list assuming they keep on their current trajectory. This list is noticeably missing relief pitchers, and that is because it is very rare that a closer comes along and is consistent and considered a leader for more than a few years. Eric Gagne could be represented here if he is able to recover from his injury this year and pick up where he left off, otherwise he will be just tossed onto the scrap heap of other closers whose lights shown brightly and then were quickly extinguished. Granted, that could happen to any of the players listed below, especially considering how young many of them are. Let’s check back in a few years and see how well I did.
C – Joe Mauer (Twins), Victor Martinez (Indians)
1B – Albert Pujols (Cardinals), Lance Berkman (Astrons)
2B – Alfonso Soriano (Yankees/Rangers), Chase Utley (Phillies), Brian Roberts (Orioles)
SS – Jhonny Peralta (Indians), Jose Reyes (Mets), Bobby Crosby (A’s)
3B – Scott Rolen (Phillies/Cardinals), Chipper Jones (Braves), David Wright (Mets), Morgan Ensberg (Astros)
OF – Vlad Guerrero (Expos/Angels) Jason Bay (Pirates) Adam Dunn (Reds), Andruw Jones (Braves), Carlos Beltran (Royals/Astros/Mets), Vernon Wells (Blue Jays)
P – Oliver Perez (Padres/Pirates), Roy Halladay (Blue Jays), Tim Hudson (A’s/Braves), Barry Zito (A’s), Mark Mulder (A’s/Cardinals), Johan Santana (Twins), Jake Peavy (Padres)