The Time Is Now
With some big PED-era names facing judgment day next month in the Baseball Hall of Fame voting and with the everlasting cacophony over who belongs in Cooperstown and who doesn't, we decided to take a fresh look at the greats of the game.
Out with conventional wisdom and hidebound opinions; in with a new analysis of which players really are the best of the best.
And so we present the ESPN Hall of 100: the top 100 players of all time. Period. -- Steve Wulf
DAY 2: NOS. 26-75
26. Steve Carlton, LHP
Career: 1965-88, Phillies, Cards, others
Fun fact: Won 27 of Phillies' 59 games in '72
He was combative with the media, but it was opposing hitters who found him most disagreeable, as he used one of the game's greatest sliders to strike out 4,136 hitters, fourth most time.
Said Tim McCarver, his one-time catcher: "When I played for other teams against Steve, I could hear the right handed hitters saying, 'He may have gotten me out but at least he didn't throw me the slider.'"
27. Johnny Bench, C
Career: 1967-83, Reds
Fun fact: Only catcher to lead league in total bases
Most catchers are great hitters or fielders, but Bench was both. He led the league in homers twice, and caught stealing percentage three times, gunning down 43 percent of attempted basestealers in his career.
"I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him with Johnny Bench," said Sparky Anderson, his manager with the Reds.
28. Jimmie Foxx, 1B
Career: 1924-45, Red Sox, A's, others
Fun fact: At least 30 homers and 100 RBIs each season from 1929-40
Though he stood just 6-feet tall, Foxx was a slugger in the true sense of the word, leading the AL in slugging five times, while winning the Triple Crown in 1938.
He was so feared, in fact, that he was the first player (and one of only three in history) to walk six times in a game, and he is one of nine players with three MVP awards. Only Barry Bonds has more.
29. Christy Mathewson
Career: 1900-16, Giants, Reds
Fun fact: 0.97 World Series ERA (11 starts)
Sure, some of his raw numbers were helped by virtue of pitching in the deadball era (career 2.13 ERA), but there is no question that he was the dominant pitcher of his time.
Not only did Mathewson lead the NL in ERA five times, but he paced the circuit in strikeout-walk ratio every season from 1907-14. For context, Greg Maddux's best run in that category was three years.
30. George Brett, 3B
Career: 1973-93, Royals
Fun fact: Won a batting title in three decades
The term "pure hitter" was invented for players like Bret, who is the only third baseman in history with more than 300 homers and 3,000 hits, and he has more career walks (1,096) than strikeouts (908).
When Brett went on the disabled list to open the 1984 season, teammate Dan Quisenberry said: "Our goal is to get as many games rained out as we can the first six to eight weeks that George is out."
31. Cal Ripken Jr., SS/3B
Career: 1981-2001, Orioles
Fun fact: Won '91 AL MVP with 95-loss team
You know about the consecutive-games streak: 2,632. The man just didn't take a day off. But did you know that for five-plus seasons, he didn't take a pitch off? He played through 8,243 straight innings.
But the streaks shouldn't overshadow the caliber of his play. At 6-foot-4 and well over 200 pounds, he redefined the shortstop position by bringing size and power (421 HR, 1,695 RBI) to the middle infield without sacrificing defense.
32. Bob Gibson, RHP
Career: 1959-75, Cardinals
Fun fact: Played for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1957-58
Won at least 20 games in five different seasons with an intimidating power-pitching approach and a willingness to come inside with it. In 1968, Gibson went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA that included a 95-inning stretch in which he allowed only two runs.
Tim McCarver called Gibson the luckiest man in baseball because "he is always pitching when the other team doesn't score any runs."
33. Roberto Clemente, RF
Career: 1955-72, Pirates
Fun fact: First homer was inside-the-parker in his third game
Four batting titles and an MVP trophy. A .317 career batting average over 18 seasons. Twelve All-Star Games. Most Valuable Player in the 1971 World Series. Baseball's career leader in assists by a right fielder.
All accomplished with charisma and style that made him a legend even before his tragic death in a plane crash doing relief work on behalf of survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
34. Ken Griffey Jr., CF
Career: 1989-2010, Mariners, Reds, White Sox
Fun fact: Sixth all-time in homers and extra-base hits
One of the game's most prolific power hitters (630 home runs, 1,836 RBI). Check out these back-to-back power seasons: 56 HR, 147 RBIs in 1997 (AL MVP); and 56 HR, 146 RBIs in 1998.
When Seattle traded him to the Reds for Brett Tomko and others in 2000, Tomko said, "It's like being traded for [Michael] Jordan or something."
35. Nolan Ryan, RHP
Career: 1966-93, Mets, Angels, Astros, Rangers
Fun fact: Led NL in ERA (2.76) with 8-16 record in 1987
The Ryan Express fastball made him baseball's all-time record-holder in strikeouts (5,714) and no-hitters (seven). Ryan led his league in strikeouts 11 times on his way to 324 career wins.
Former player Dick Sharon once said, "He's baseball's exorcist, scares the devil out of you."
36. Mel Ott, RF/3B
Career: 1926-47, Giants
Fun fact: Retired 65 years ago, but still ranks 12th all time in RBIs
When he retired, Ott was the NL record-holder in home runs (511), RBIs (1,860), runs (1,859) and walks (1,708). He was only 5-foot-9 and 170-pounds, but he led the league in home runs in six different seasons.
The best part of his game might have been his defense. In 1929, he took part in 12 double plays from right field and had 26 outfield assists.
37. Pete Rose, OF/1B
Career: 1963-86, Reds, Phillies, Expos
Fun fact: The Hit King was hitless until his 12th official at-bat
No one in the history of baseball has played more games (3,562) or stepped to the plate more times (15,890) than Rose did over his 24-year career. But the number that really counts is 4,256, his record for hits.
Known as "Charlie Hustle," Rose once said, "I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball."
38. Derek Jeter, SS
Career: 1995-, Yankees
Fun fact: Yankees all-time steals leader
Already 11th on the career hits list (3,304) and 13th in runs scored (1,868), Jeter is only the second player ever to reach at least 3,000 hits, 250 home runs,1,200 RBI and 300 steals. The first: Willie Mays.
At 38 years old in 2012, he put together a .316 batting average and led the American League in hits (216). From Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire: "The guy is baseball in New York."
39. Eddie Mathews, 3B
Career: 1952-68, Braves, Astros, Tigers
Fun fact: Only Brave to play for club in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta
Hit at least 30 home runs in nine straight seasons (1953-61) and came up one home run short of making it 10 straight in 1962. He finished his 17-year career with 512 home runs, and led the NL twice.
The legendary Ty Cobb watched Matthews as a minor leaguer, and said this: "I've only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them."
40. Carl Yastrzemski, LF
Career: 1961-83, Red Sox
Fun fact: Led the AL in outfield assists seven times
A handful of very impressive stats before we get to 1967: Yaz is eighth all-time in RBIs (1,844), hits (3,419) and doubles (646). He was the first AL player with at least 3,000 hits and 400 home runs (452).
Now, about that magical 1967 season. Won the Triple Crown (.326 BA, 44 HR, 121 RBI) and also led AL in hits, runs, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases. Wow.
41. Pedro Martinez, RHP
Career: 1992-2009, Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox
Fun fact: Struck out five of six hitters he faced in '99 All-Star Game
Led his league in ERA five times and strikeouts three times, and won three Cy Young Awards (1997, 1999 and 2000). Sixth all-time in W-L percentage (219-100, .687) and 13th in strikeouts (3,154).
Featured an intimidating inside fastball assessed this way by Jason Giambi: "If you lean over the plate, he'll stick one up your nose."
42. Eddie Collins, 2B
Career: 1906-1930, White Sox, A's
Fun fact: All-time leader in assists (7,630) by a second baseman
A member both of the A's famed "$100,000 Infield" and the 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" (he wasn't implicated in the fix), Collins hit .333 over his 25-year career.
Eighth all-time in stolen bases (741), 10th in hits (3,315) and 12th in both triples (187) and on-base percentage (.424). Over six World Series appearances, he hit .328 (and that counts his .226 with one RBI in 1919.)
43. Brooks Robinson, 3B
Career: 1955-77, Orioles
Fun fact: Hit .303 in nine postseason series, including .429 in 1970 World Series
If not the greatest all-around third baseman ever, Robinson undoubtedly is the greatest defensive third baseman ever: 16 straight Gold Gloves and 11 seasons leading the AL in fielding percentage.
After his tour de force in the 1970 World Series, Sparky Anderson said, "He can throw his glove out there and it will start 10 double plays by itself."
44. Sandy Koufax, LHP
Career: 1955-66, Dodgers
Fun fact: 382 strikeouts in 1965 is most ever by a lefty
They called him "The Left Arm of God," and here's why: Over his final five seasons (he retired at age 30 after 12 years), his ERAs were: 2.54 (in 1962), 1.88, 1.74, 2.04 and 1.73 (in 1966). He led the NL in each of those seasons, and won Cy Young Awards in three of them.
Any wonder Willie Stargell once said this about Koufax? "Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork."
45. Warren Spahn, LHP
Career: 1942-65, Braves, Mets, Giants
Fun fact: Didn't get the first win until age 25
Six straight 20-victory seasons en route to the record (363) for a left-hander. But individual games tell the story: 18 strikeouts in 15-inning game against the Cubs; the famous 16-inning, 1-0 loss to 25-year-old Juan Marichal when Spahn was 42; no-hitters at 39 and 40.
Led the NL in strikeouts four straight years with a fastball that Johnny Mize said "does tricks as it reaches the plate."
46. Al Kaline, RF
Career: 1953-74, Tigers
Fun fact: Hit .340 at age 20 to become youngest batting champ ever
Kaline matched offense (3,007 hits, 399 HRs, 1,583 RBIs) with outstanding defense -- .987 career fielding percentage, including an errorless season in 1971 (part of a 242-game errorless streak from 1970-72).
He hit .379 with two homers against the Cardinals in the '68 World Series. In 1955, the great Ted Williams proclaimed, "In my book, he's the greatest right-handed hitter in the league."
47. Lefty Grove, LHP
Career: 1925-41, A's, Red Sox
Fun fact: Faced Babe Ruth for 10 years, only gave up nine homers to him
Tough to imagine a better four-year stretch than Grove had from 1928-31, when he went 103-23. That includes a 31-4 record with a 2.06 ERA and 27 complete games in 1931. Led AL in ERA nine times, and led the league in strikeouts in each of his first seven seasons.
The man won 300 games (300-141) in 17 years, after he'd won 111 in the minors.
48. Nap Lajoie, 2B
Career: 1896-1916, Phillies, A's, Indians
Fun fact: Said to be first ever walked intentionally with bases loaded (1901)
Lent immediate legitimacy to the fledgling American League when he jumped to the Philadelphia A's from the Phillies in 1901 and hit .426, the modern record. He is 14th in career hits (3,242) and 20th in career batting average (.338).
Led the league in batting average five times, hits four times, doubles five times, RBIs three times, putouts five times, fielding percentage four times, assists three times and double plays five times.
49. Chipper Jones, 3B/LF
Career: 1993-2012, Braves
Fun fact: Record-tying 14 extra-base hits in 14 straight games in 2006
Second perhaps only to Mickey Mantle among switch hitters and one of the greatest third basemen of all time (more career RBI than either Mike Schmidt or George Brett), Jones hit .303 lifetime, and won the NL batting title (.364) in 2008.
One of only 14 players in the history of the game to top .300/.400/.500 in career BA/OBP/slugging percentage (.303/.401/.529).
50. Pete Alexander, RHP
Career: 1911-1930, Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals
Fun fact: Issued no walks in his first 53 innings in 1923
Won 30 or more games in three straight seasons (1915-17) on his way to more career victories (373) than all but two other pitchers. His 90 career shutouts are second all time. Won pitching's triple crown (wins/ERA/strikeouts) three times.
His control was so good that Carl Hubbell said he "could throw a ball through the eye of a needle."
51. Ernie Banks, SS/1B
Career: 1953-71, Cubs
Fun fact: Four straight 40-HR years at SS
Mr. Cub was the first black player to ever suit up for the club, and is beloved for his incredible play (512 career homers) and carefree demeanor.
And although he never got to experience the World Series -- and Chicago finished higher than third only twice in his career -- his "Let's play two" catchphrase suggests the losing never got to him.
52. Jackie Robinson, 2B
Career: 1947-56, Dodgers
Fun fact: Stole home 19 times
His impact as a trailblazer sometimes overshadows how good he was as a player. Segregation prevented him from debuting until the age of 28, yet he still led the NL in wins above replacement five times after breaking the color barrier.
A career .311 hitter, Robinson had gap power, speed and was an integral part of the only Brooklyn team to win the World Series.
53. Rod Carew, 2B/1B
Career: 1967-85, Twins, Angels
Fun fact: Led MLB in OBP in '70s (.408)
It's tough to be a dominant hitter without hitting many home runs, but Carew managed to pull it off by winning seven batting titles and finishing with a .328 career average, the third-highest among players who debuted after World War II.
You hear the term "tough out," and that's the perfect way to describe Carew. As former AL infielder Alan Bannister once said of him: "He's the only guy I know who can go four-for-three."
54. Wade Boggs, 3B
Career: 1982-99, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays
Fun fact: Led AL in OBP five straight years
A creature of habit, Boggs would eat chicken before every game, take the exact same number of ground balls and run sprints at exactly the same time. That discipline served him well at the plate, as Boggs might have had the best batting eye the game has ever seen.
As George Brett said in 1988 about Boggs: "A woman will be elected president before Wade Boggs is called out on strikes. I guarantee that."
55. Reggie Jackson, OF
Career: 1967-87, A's, Yankees, others
Fun fact: World Series MVP for two teams
He talked the talk and walked the walk, and relished his ability to rile people up with his brashness. "Fans don't boo nobodies," he famously quipped.
Jackson shined when it mattered most, hitting 18 homers in 77 postseason games, and his 563 career jacks were 30 more than anyone hit while he was active.
56. Yogi Berra, C
Career: 1946-65, Yankees, Mets
Fun fact: Was a 15-time All-Star
He was the backbone of many great Yankees teams (a 10-time World Series winner) during his 18-year run in the Bronx, and was the American League MVP in three of those seasons (1951, '54 and '55).
Widely known for his quotes (called "Yogi-isms") over the years, many of which didn't involve baseball: "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." "I usually take a two-hour nap, from one o'clock to four."
57. Willie McCovey, 1B
Career: 1959-80, Giants, Padres, A's
Fun fact: 18th all time with 521 home runs
Nicknamed "Stretch" because of how he towered over other players during his era, McCovey was the National League MVP in 1969 as he led the league in homers (45) and RBIs (126). That season, he also drew 121 walks while striking out only 66 times.
Called "the scariest hitter in baseball" by Bob Gibson, he hit 231 home runs at Candlestick Park, the most hit in that stadium by any player in history.
58. Robin Yount, SS/CF
Career: 1974-93, Brewers
Fun fact: Began big league career at age 18
Played his entire 20-year career with the Brewers. He was one of three players to win an MVP award at two positions -- 1982 while as a shortstop and 1989 as a center fielder.
Ranks 18th on the all-time hits list (3,142); he collected more hits in the 1980s (1,731) than any other player. His 210 hits in 1982 led the American League.
59. Bob Feller, RHP
Career: 1936-56, Indians
Fun fact: Pitched 279 complete games
He had six 20-win seasons, and finished 15 of his 18 seasons in the majors with an ERA under 4.00. "Rapid Robert" also led the American League in innings pitched five times, including in 1946 when he tossed 371 1/3 innings, and in strikeouts seven times.
Was a member of the Indians' last team to win a World Series (1948).
60. Ozzie Smith, SS
Career: 1978-96, Padres, Cardinals
Fun fact: 13-time Gold Glove winner
Nicknamed the "Wizard of Oz" for his defensive brilliance, he had a .978 career fielding percentage in his 19-year career. Was a 15-time All-Star, and won a World Series with the Cardinals in his first season with the team in 1982.
Had 100 or more hits in his first 16 years in the majors, including a career-high 182 in 1987.
61. Tony Gwynn, OF
Career: 1982-2001, Padres
Fun fact: Eight-time NL batting champion
Mr. Padre played his entire big league career in San Diego, totaling 20 years. He collected 200 or more hits in five seasons, and led the National League in hits seven times. He also had a career .338 batting average, and is currently 19th on the career hits list (3,141).
He struck out only 434 times in 9,288 at-bats, and even had 56 stolen bases in 1987.
62. Ferguson Jenkins, RHP
Career: 1965-83, Phillies, Cubs, others
Fun fact: NL Cy Young winner in 1971
He won 20 or more games seven times, including six years in a row from 1967 to 1972. He's also the fifth-winningest pitcher in Cubs history (167 wins), and first in games started (347). Had a career 3.34 ERA, and led the National League in strikeout/walk ratio five times.
"Fergie" is currently 12th all-time with 3,192 strikeouts.
63. Hank Greenberg, 1B/OF
Career: 1930-47, Tigers, Pirates
Fun fact: Two-time AL MVP
He knocked in 100 or more runs seven times, and drove in 150 or more three times. Greenberg also led the American League in home runs four times, including 58 bombs in 1938.
Was a member of two World Series championship teams with the Tigers in 1935 and '45.
64. Harmon Killebrew, 3B
Career: 1954-65, Senators, Twins, Royals
Fun fact: Led AL in home runs six times
Killebrew hit 40 or more homers in a season eight times, and drove in 100 or more runs in a season nine times. He also was an 11-time All-Star.
"Killer" had his best season in 1969, when he hit 49 home runs, knocked in 140 runs and was named the AL MVP. He finished his career wth 573 homers, which is currently 11th on the all-time list.
65. Eddie Murray, 1B
Career: 1977-97, Orioles, Dodgers, others
Fun fact: AL Rookie of the Year in 1977
He's one of only four players in history to have 3,000 career hits and 500 home runs, and he's the only switch-hitter to achieve both milestones. He also collected 100 or more hits in each of his first 20 years in the majors.
An eight-time All-Star, "Steady Eddie" won a World Series with the Orioles in 1983.
66. Gaylord Perry, RHP
Career: 1962-85, Giants, Indians, others
Fun fact: Won a Cy Young in both leagues
He was widely known for doctoring baseballs throughout his career, which led former manager Gene Mauch to say: "He should be in the Hall of Fame with a tube of K-Y Jelly attached to his plaque."
Despite his checkered reputation, he finished his career with 314 wins, 3,534 strikeouts and a 3.11 ERA.
67. Mariano Rivera, RHP
Career: 1995-, Yankees
Fun fact: 0.70 ERA in 96 playoff games
He's the all-time leader in saves (608), and has posted a sub-2.00 ERA in eight of the last 10 seasons. A 12-time All-Star, he's also allowed only two home runs in 141 innings pitched in the postseason.
Said Derek Jeter of his longtime teammate: "The most mentally tough person I've ever played with."
68. Jeff Bagwell, 1B
Career: 1991-2005, Astros
Fun fact: Scored over 100 runs nine times
Acquired from the Red Sox in August 1990 for relief pitcher Larry Andersen in what turned out to be a complete steal of a deal for the Astros, Bagwell went on to finish his 15-year career with eight 100-RBI seasons and nine 30-homer years.
Drew more than 100 walks in seven consecutive seasons from 1996-2002.
69. Frank Thomas, 1B/DH
Career: 1990-2008, White Sox, A's, Jays
Fun fact: Two-time American League MVP
Known for his imposing figure, the "Big Hurt" drove in and scored more than 100 runs and drew better than 100 walks in each of his first eight full seasons in the majors. He also led the American League in OPS in three of his first four full seasons.
Finished his career with 521 home runs (currently tied for 18th all-time) and a .419 on-base percentage (19th all-time).
70. Juan Marichal, RHP
Career: 1960-75, Giants, Red Sox, Dodgers
Fun fact: Pitched 244 complete games
Widely known for his high leg kick, he had six 20-win seasons and 52 shutouts, and averaged fewer than two walks per nine innings in his career. He also posted an ERA better than 3.00 in nine of his first 12 seasons in the majors.
He was a nine-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1965 Midsummer Classic.
71. Ivan Rodriguez, C
Career: 1991-2011, Rangers, Tigers, others
Fun fact: AL MVP in 1999
Began his career with Texas at the age of 19. He was a 14-time All-Star and a 13-time Gold Glove winner. Played 21 seasons in the majors and finished with a 46 percent caught-stealing rate.
"Pudge" played parts of 13 seasons with the Rangers but won a World Series while a member of the 2003 Marlins.
72. Bert Blyleven, RHP
Career: 1970-92, Twins, Pirates, others
Fun fact: Two-time World Series winner
Pitched 22 seasons in the majors, winning 287 games. He also compiled a 3.31 ERA and had 3,701 strikeouts, which is currently fifth all time.
Accumulated 200 or more innings in 10 of his first 11 seasons in the majors, and led the American League in innings pitched in 1985 and '86.
73. Roberto Alomar, 2B
Career: 1988-2004, Jays, Orioles, others
Fun fact: 10-time Gold Glove winner
Had 100 or more hits in each of his first 16 seasons in the majors and finished his career with an even .300 batting average. Was a key member of the Blue Jays' back-to-back World Series-winning teams in 1992 and '93.
A 12-time All-Star and the MVP of the '98 Midsummer Classic.
74. Barry Larkin, SS
Career: 1986-2004, Reds
Fun fact: NL MVP in 1995
Born and bred in Cincinnati, he played his entire career with the Reds. Won a World Series in 1990, batting .353 in Cincinnati's four-game sweep of Oakland. A 12-time All-Star, he finished his career with a .975 fielding percentage.
He collected 2,340 hits, scored 1,329 runs and had a .371 on-base percentage in 2,180 career games.
75. John Smoltz, RHP
Career: 1988-2009, Braves, Red Sox, Cards
Fun fact: NL Cy Young winner in 1996
The only pitcher in history to have at least 200 wins (213) and 150 saves (154), Smoltz had 200 or more strikeouts in five seasons and finished his 21-year career with a 3.33 ERA.
Was an eight-time All-Star, and in his own words described how great a competitor he was: "I take the mound with the focus that we can't lose. I've had that feeling for a long time."