Our picks for 4 greatest living players
As voting for the Franchise Four enters its final phase, we asked some of our columnists who they picked as the four greatest living players.
Willie Mays | Hank Aaron | Sandy Koufax | Pedro Martinez
Mays was perhaps the best all-around player ever in the game. He personified excitement on the field and played an infectious kind of joy that made him a magnetic figure. Aaron is the real all-time home run leader. He withstood death threats and hate mail during his pursuit of Ruth's record, carrying himself with typical dignity and grace. Aaron's game was so much more than home runs. In his prime, he was outstanding in all facets of baseball. At his peak, Koufax was the greatest lefty in the game's history. With a dazzling combination of power and command, there were times when even the best hitters were overmatched against him. One of baseball's most widely respected players. In the midst of the steroid era, Pedro put up numbers that looked like they belonged in the 1960s. He was capable of winning with power or with finesse, and he remains one of the game's most captivating characters.
Barry M. Bloom
Hank Aaron | Barry Bonds | Sandy Koufax | Willie Mays
Aaron is the only player in history to compile more than 700 homers, 3,000 hits, 2,000 runs scored, 2,000 RBIs, while Bonds is the top left-handed hitter in history beyond Babe Ruth and only player with at least 500 homers and 500 steals. Koufax's numbers don't tell the story. But for seven years from 1961-66, he was the best pitcher in the universe. Without Willie, there's no Bobby or Barry. He set the tone for the way the outfield has been played for a generation. Say Hey!
Willie Mays | Hank Aaron | Mike Schmidt (write-in) | Tom Seaver
There have been none better at all facets of the game than "The Say Hey Kid." Aaron is the "true" home run champion. Schmidt is the greatest third baseman of all time. Seaver was the consistent right-hander of our generation, attested by the highest election percentage in Hall of Fame history.
Barry Bonds | Willie Mays | Hank Aaron | Pedro Martinez
Bonds was a three-time MVP Award winner who put up Hall-worthy numbers before he even got to San Francisco. Once there, his stats in a juiced-up era still qualified as outlandish, even by the standards of the day. Mays could possibly be the greatest, living or dead. A two-time MVP Award winner who arguably should have won eight, and he was one of the most accomplished players all-time on both sides of the ball. Some have labeled Aaron a "compiler," but look at what he compiled. The RBI (2,297) and total base (6,856) records still stand, and eight times he finished in the top five of the MVP Award vote, winning it in 1957. Some will say this is sacrilegious, but Pedro's peak years were even better than Koufax's peak years. In 2000, his league-leading ERA was 196 points better than that of second-place finisher Roger Clemens. Pedro simply dominated an era in which the offense was absurdly good.
Hank Aaron | Tom Seaver | Willie Mays | Pedro Martinez
Aaron dominated in every category, not just home runs, and finished his career as one of the most consistent players in history. While 755 homers is his most famous stat, let's not forget the 3,371 hits, 624 doubles and .305 lifetime batting average. Producing a 2.86 career ERA when that career spanned 20 years? Hard to do. Seaver won three Cy Young Awards and compiled 10 200-strikeout seasons. He was still dominating at age 40. Seaver has long been considered one of the greatest pitchers in history. Among the living? The best. This isn't even up for debate: Mays was the best five-tool player in history, and it's really not close: 660 home runs, 523 doubles, 12 Gold Gloves and a .302 lifetime average. It's not easy to be in the conversation as both the greatest hitter and greatest defensive player in history. Mays was both. It's tempting to pick Koufax, who was all but unhittable during his abbreviated career, for the final spot. Martinez, though, was almost as dominant and did it longer. His peak lasted more than a decade, which, for a pitcher, is hard to do. That's probably why it's mostly just Hall of Famer pitchers who can boast dominance and longevity. Martinez won three Cy Young Awards and finished in second two more times.
Hank Aaron | Willie Mays | Barry Bonds | Randy Johnson (write-in)
The first two are no-brainers, and trying to decide which is the greatest living former player would be a great debate all by itself. Bonds is excluded from that conversation only because of his alleged association with PEDs, but he was the most gifted hitter I covered, even before that became an issue. And Johnson, more than any other pitcher I saw, was the guy whose starters would be calculated by hitters weeks in advance to know if they were going to have to face him.
Willie Mays | Hank Aaron | Frank Robinson (write-in) | Sandy Koufax
Mays' greatness is not just about those 660 home runs. He also made one of the iconic defensive plays ever and was a superior baserunner. Mays' 156.2 career WAR is right behind Ruth and Barry Bonds, but his game was more complete than either of them. Aaron's 755 career home runs makes it easy to forget that, like Mays, he was a complete player. He was a tremendous baserunner and a very good defensive player. Aaron's game simply had no holes. Once when he had an injured wrist, Robinson bunted for a hit, stole second and scored on a single. That play defined him to teammates. Robinson had great individual numbers -- 586 homers, 528 doubles, 1,812 RBIs, 204 stolen bases -- but he had a burning desire to win that impacted every teammate and some managers. Koufax was historically great for only a short period time, but he was historically great. He was 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA and a 0.926 WHIP during the 1962-66 seasons. Koufax averaged 275 innings and 289 strikeouts. Seaver, Bob Gibson and Clemens were all greater for a longer period of time, but we may never see anyone dominate a sport the way Koufax did for those five seasons.
Hank Aaron | Barry Bonds | Rickey Henderson | Willie Mays
How do you think we'll treat Barry Bonds in 2048, 34 years from now, when he's 84, the age Mays is right now? Here's a bet: We will treat him a lot more like we treat Mays right now. Future Us is going to judge Current Us very badly on how we've considered Barry Bonds. Aaron, Bonds and Mays are all obvious picks: Henderson gets the fourth spot because he was not only great, he was endlessly entertaining to watch, a strutting example of just how cool baseball can be sometimes. And all told: I still think he has a comeback left in him.
Hank Aaron | Willie Mays | Frank Robinson (write-in) | Sandy Koufax
Aaron remains the legitimate all-time home run leader with 755. He proved he was more than just a slugger, with three Gold Gloves, and he was faster than folks think. While Lou Brock was successful stealing 69 percent of the time as the premier baserunner of that era, Aaron was at 70 percent. Nobody had the ability more than Mays to terrorize opponents while thrilling fans at the same time. He was the epitome of a five-tool player. It boggles the mind to think how many home runs Mays would have accumulated overall if not for all of those home games in windy and chilly Candlestick Park. Robinson is the most underrated of baseball's greatest players. For one, he is among the all-time elites for two franchises -- the Reds and the Orioles. For another, Robinson was one of those rarities as a prolific slugger with a high lifetime batting average. Koufax's name is synonymous with pitching excellent. At times, he was unhittable -- literally -- with four no-nos, including a perfect game. Koufax also was huge in the clutch.
Hank Aaron | Johnny Bench | Sandy Koufax | Willie Mays
Neither Aaron nor Mays requires explanation, other than to say Mays is No. 1. Not easy for a Mickey Mantle devotee/defender to acknowledge that. Koufax, for his relatively brief run of ultra dominance, wins a place on this ballot, as does Bench for being the best ever at his position and such a force in the Big Red Machine. And I hate not voting for Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Frank Robinson, Greg Maddux, Rickey Henderson and, oh yes, that three-time MVP catcher, Mr. Berra. Ten World Series rings as a catcher. How can he be excluded?
Willie Mays | Johnny Bench | Hank Aaron | Rickey Henderson
Mays is the center fielder against whom all others are compared, and none have met his level of excellence in the field, on the bases and at the plate. The greatest catcher in NL history, Bench is arguably the greatest at the position in Major League history. An excellent receiver and a Hall of Fame middle-of-the-lineup bat. Aaron disarmed opposing efforts to slow him down. Power at the plate. Power in the field. Power as a person. The most disruptive player in the game, Henderson was a leadoff hitter with the ability to break a game open with a home run or stolen base. He had no fear but created fears in the opposition.
Hank Aaron | Sandy Koufax | Willie Mays | Pete Rose (write-in)
You've got to play the game with a passion to be great, and all of these guys did. While Rose had his faults, he was just like Aaron, Mays and Koufax in giving everything he had to win. He could hit a little, too.
Willie Mays | Hank Aaron | Sandy Koufax | Nolan Ryan (write-in)
Mays is the closest we've come to the perfect baseball player. In his prime, he did everything -- all five tools -- better than anyone with the possible exception of Mickey Mantle. Played every inning as if it was his last. Aaron exuded the grace and elegance of DiMaggio. He showed immense courage in the face of hatred in his pursuit of Ruth's 714. I was in the park, a young beat reporter, the night Aaron hit No. 715, and it was an unmatched thrill. Mays was the greatest player; Koufax was the greatest pitcher. Sandy was poetry in motion. A testament to his greatness is how many pitchers behind him held him in complete awe. Koufax needed only two pitches. The Express lasted 27 seasons, throwing mid-90s at 44 when he had his seventh no-hitter, three more than anyone else. His 5,714 Ks are 839 more than runner-up Randy Johnson. Had 245-pitch games. Ryan's 324 wins could have reached 400 with decent offenses and bullpens.