Before Ronald Acuña Jr., Christian Yelich, or even Mike Trout, there was Pablo Sanchez.
Known for his backward cap, big smile and eye-popping abilities, Sanchez starred in the “Backyard Baseball” video game series and has become a legend over the years. His elite skills in nearly every facet of the game made him a virtual lock to be the first player picked when gamers selected their teams.
In the 22 years since Backyard Baseball debuted, the pint-sized superstar has grown in video-gaming lore. Even now, the mention of his name brings a nostalgic smile to those who remember playing.
Sanchez joins players like Jon Dowd, the fictional replacement player for Barry Bonds in “MVP Baseball 2005'' (after Bonds withdrew from MLBPA's licensing agreement) and Ken Griffey Jr. in “Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball” as one of the best characters across the baseball video game landscape.
Through the years, there have been a handful of players who have captivated fans in similar fashion with their elite skills, unbelievable physical gifts and high-level baseball acumen that made them nearly unstoppable on the field. In other words, cheat-code players.
With that in mind, we looked at MLB’s ultimate cheat-code players of the past six decades:
2010s: Mike Trout, CF
Key stats: 72.8 bWAR leads all active players, 172 career wRC+, three-time American League MVP Award winner, eight-time All-Star
Shocker, right? Trout is well on his way to becoming the best player of this generation. The three-time AL MVP Award winner has been a model of consistency, finishing in the top two in MVP balloting in seven of the past eight years.
The Angels superstar also became just the sixth player in MLB history to reach the 250-homer plateau before age 28, joining Jimmie Foxx, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez.
Trout led the 2010s in Wins Above Replacement, and it wasn’t close. He slashed .305/.419/.581 with 285 homers, 200 stolen bases and a ridiculous 172 wRC+. You could probably make a safe assumption that he's on his way to representing the 2020s on this list as well.
Honorable mention: Mookie Betts
2000s: Alex Rodriguez, SS/3B
Key stats: Ranks fourth in MLB history with 696 career home runs, one of four players in the 40-40 club, 14-time All-Star, three-time AL MVP, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, 141 career wRC+
After Rodriguez hit .358 as a 20-year-old with the Mariners in 1996 and finished second in AL MVP Award voting, it was clear that this shortstop was unlike any the game had seen before.
Rodriguez took the slick-fielding defense and speed of the shortstop position and combined it with the offensive production of a corner outfielder, becoming a force that would take the league by storm during the late ‘90s with Seattle. He carried that into the early and mid-2000s with the Rangers and Yankees.
Though Albert Pujols had a higher bWAR (55.7) than Rodriguez’s 54.5 during the 2000s, A-Rod’s dynamic abilities on the basepaths gives him the slight advantage. Rodriguez swiped 179 bases to go along with his 435 home runs from 2000-09. He is one of just eight players in MLB history with 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.
Honorable mention: Pujols
1990s: Barry Bonds, LF
Key stats: Only player in MLB history with 500 homers and stolen bases each, 762 career home runs (most all-time), seven-time National League MVP Award winner (most all-time), second member of 40-40 club, 173 career wRC+
Bonds was not only one of the most feared sluggers of a generation, but also one of its most complete players. Bonds’ plate discipline combined with an uncanny feel for the zone created a juggernaut that can be mentioned in the same sentence as any of baseball’s greatest hitters.
While most hitters look to control the strike zone, Bonds dominated it and in doing so dared pitchers to beat him over the plate. When they tried, they often failed.
Bonds slashed .302/.434/.602 from 1990-99, slugging 361 home runs and swiping 343 bases. He also won three of his MLB-record seven NL MVP Awards to go along with seven Gold Glove Awards. Bonds led all players with 61.6 bWAR during the decade.
Honorable mention: Ken Griffey Jr., Craig Biggio
1980s: Rickey Henderson, LF
Key stats: Most stolen bases in MLB history (1,406), three 100-stolen base seasons, most leadoff home runs in MLB history (81), 1990 AL MVP Award winner, 132 career wRC+, 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee
There’s walking the walk, there’s talking the talk and then there was Henderson's combination of the two. Whether it was the wide turn on a no-doubt homer or the pop of the chain rounding first, when Henderson walked on the field, he knew he was the best player.
Henderson’s flair and style could only be matched by his otherworldly talent, which produced an MLB-leading 52.3 bWAR, two top-five finishes in the MVP Award vote, a Gold Glove Award and 838 stolen bases from 1980-89. His blinding speed and underrated power created a dynamic presence in the leadoff spot that has yet to be duplicated.
Henderson broke Lou Brock’s then-record 938 stolen bases in 1,615 games before going on to lay claim to the title of “greatest leadoff hitter of all-time.” His 1,406 career stolen bases remain an MLB record.
Honorable mention: Robin Yount, Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy
1970s: Joe Morgan, 2B
Key stats: NL MVP Award winner, five-time Gold Glove Award winner, 10-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, 135 career wRC+, 1990 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee
Finding a second baseman who could hit for power and had elite speed was unheard of before Joe Morgan came on the scene. His offensive profile not only made him one of the biggest stars in the '70s, but it also paved the way for other power-speed second baseman like Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Alfonso Soriano and Ryne Sandberg.
Morgan, who was traded from the Astros to the Reds in 1971, had an on-base percentage above .400 in nine different seasons -- with a career-high .466 on-base percentage in '75. Morgan’s .404 OBP trailed only Rod Carew’s .408 clip.
Morgan became the seventh player in MLB history to win back-to-back MVP Awards (1975 and ’76). He had another two top-five finishes, and he remains the only second baseman in the Modern Era (since 1901) to lead a decade in WAR (47.2 bWAR from 1970-79).
Honorable mention: Carew, Reggie Jackson
1960s: Willie Mays, CF
Key stats: Two-time NL MVP Award winner, 1951 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, 12-time Gold Glove Award Winner, 154 career wRC+, 1979 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee
Willie Mays had it all -- offensively, defensively, on the bases and between the ears. There was nothing on a baseball field he couldn’t do, and his list of accolades proves it. His 60.9 bWAR in the 1960s was the best in the game.
Mays was named an All-Star every year during the decade, and he won nine Gold Glove Awards. Over those 10 years, he amassed 1,635 hits, 1,003 RBIs, 350 homers, 1,050 runs scored and 126 stolen bases. He was a top-5 finisher in the MVP vote five times during the ‘60s and won the honor in 1965.
Despite the change in eras, offensive environments, addition of advanced metrics and other factors, Mays' numbers still stand the test of time.
Honorable mention: Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle
Russell Dorsey is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @Russ_Dorsey1.