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 3: NOS. 1-25
1. Babe Ruth, RF/LHP
Career: 1914-35, Red Sox, Yankees, Braves
Fun fact: 714 homers, two 20-win seasons
There is no doubt that the Babe was the greatest player who ever lived. That doesn't mean he was the greatest person.
Years ago, I was sitting at a picnic table in the Yankees' clubhouse, waiting to talk to a player, when Pete Sheehy, the ancient clubhouse man, plopped down opposite me. We made small talk until I asked him, "Pete, you knew Ruth -- what was he like?" Pete thought for a moment, and said, "He never flushed the toilet." -- Steve Wulf
2. Willie Mays, CF
Career: 1951-73, Giants, Mets
Fun fact: Played in 24 All-Star Games
Mays, after Babe Ruth, is the greatest player of all time: 660 home runs, 3,283 hits, 1,903 RBIs, 338 stolen bases, 12 Gold Gloves in center field (they weren't awarded before 1957) and he made every All-Star team from 1954-73.
When Mays came to the major leagues in 1951, no one had ever seen anyone like him, and here it is, 61 years later, and he remains the greatest combination of power, speed and defense in baseball history. --Tim Kurkjian
3. Barry Bonds, LF
Career: 1986-2007, Pirates, Giants
Fun fact: Single-season (73) and career (762) home run leader
I don't know for sure what funky vitamins Barry Bonds took or didn't take. I just know the stuff he did on the field still boggles my mind.
Forget 73 homers. In 2004, this guy reached base 376 times, walked 232 times and was intentionally walked 120 times. In one year. And here's my all-time favorite Bonds stat: Even if he'd gotten no hits that year, he still would have had a higher OBP than the player who led the league in hits. --Jayson Stark
4. Ted Williams, LF
Career: Red Sox, 1939-60
Fun fact: .344 hitter; zero 200-hit seasons
The Splendid Splinter carried a bat to class in high school and once proclaimed, "A man has to have goals and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"
He won six batting titles, led his league 12 times in on-base percentage and nine times in slugging percentage. He retired at 41 -- after hitting .316 and slugging .645. Yes, that goal just may have come true. --David Schoenfield
5. Hank Aaron, RF
Career: 1954-76, Braves, Brewers
Fun fact: Most career RBIs (2,297)
He dealt with hate mail, oppressive media scrutiny and the ghost of Babe Ruth en route to setting baseball's career home run record in 1974. Along the way, Aaron "expressed no more agitation than a man brushing aside a housefly," wrote Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite. Amazingly, Aaron never surpassed 47 homers in a season on his way to 755.
He just kept showing up for work each day, quietly and consistently wielding that hammer on the road to greatness. --Jerry Crasnick
6. Ty Cobb, CF
Career: 1905-28, Tigers, Athletics
Fun fact: Highest career average (.366)
While he won't win the Hall of 100 "Good Guy'' award, the Georgia Peach was one of baseball's greatest players, winning 11 batting titles, stealing 897 bases and finishing with a record .366 average.
He was so respected as a player that when Cooperstown elected its first class, Cobb received more votes than Babe Ruth. And he was so disliked as a person that biographer Al Stump said only three people from baseball showed at his funeral. --Jim Caple
7. Roger Clemens, RHP
Career: 1984-2007, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros
Fun fact: Record seven Cy Youngs
The images flash through your mind: the 20 strikeouts against Seattle, the TV shot of him nervously watching the end of Game 6 in the '86 World Series, the meltdown in the 1990 playoffs, another 20-strikeout game, the dominance in Toronto, finally getting a ring, Game 7 in 2001.
Seven Cy Young Awards and ERA titles, 354 wins and then the end. What will you remember? --David Schoenfield
8. Stan Musial, 1B/OF
Career: 1941-63, Cardinals
Fun fact: 1,815 hits both home and road
The Man led the league in batting seven times, hit 475 home runs, scored nearly as many runs (1,949) as he drove in (1,951), won three MVP awards, and made 20 All-Star Games.
Not bad for a guy who started his career as a pitcher (he was 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA for the Cardinals' Class D team in 1940, his final season on the mound). --Jim Caple
9. Mickey Mantle, CF
Career: 1951-68, Yankees
Fun fact: World Series-record 18 homers
Named after Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane, Mantle hit home runs as far as Babe Ruth from both sides of the plate and when young could run like the wind.
He won three MVP Awards and could have won a few more. He drank too much and his knees went bad, but there's still only one Mick. "All I had was natural ability," he once said, and there's no doubt Mantle was born to play baseball. --David Schoenfield
10. Honus Wagner, SS
Career: 1897-1917, Pirates
Fun fact: Eight-time batting champion
The Flying Dutchman -- who is the greatest shortstop ever -- was an eight-time batting champion who hit .328 for his career. Wagner was so good that he actually took the Pirates to the World Series. (Really, you can look it up.)
And if you happen to have his T206 baseball card, you're advised to not clip it to the spokes of your bicycle to make a whirring sound. --Jim Caple
11. Lou Gehrig, 1B
Career: 1923-39, Yankees
Fun fact: Record 23 grand slams
The real disconnect between Lou Gehrig and Gary Cooper, the actor who portrayed him in "Pride of the Yankees," was that Cooper didn't act like a native New Yorker.
Raised in Yorkville, educated at Columbia, Gehrig was a true New York Yankee. You often hear people imitate Gehrig's farewell speech, but they're really imitating Cooper's. If you listen to the original clip of the speech -- one that Gehrig only agreed to give at the last minute -- you'll hear his New York accent. --Steve Wulf
12. Walter Johnson, RHP
Career: 1907-27, Senators
Fun fact: 36 wins, 1.14 ERA in 1913
Some say Johnson possessed the fastest fastball of all time. Some say he was the merely the first to throw hard every pitch.
He won 417 games and in 1913 went 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA and 11 shutouts, remarkable even for dead-ball standards. But his greatest moment came in 1924. At age 36, the Senators finally reached the World Series. After losing twice, he entered Game 7 in the ninth and pitched four scoreless innings to get the win.
13. Greg Maddux, RHP
Career: 1986-2008, Cubs, Braves, others
Fun fact: Won four consecutive Cy Youngs
Bud Black, who had the good fortune to manage Greg Maddux and David Wells in San Diego, observed that the two pitchers had a common philosophy. "They believe in strikes," Black said, "and they believe in them often."
Combine an encyclopedic knowledge of hitters with a natural fearlessness and a repeatable delivery, and you have a four-time Cy Young recipient and 355-game winner who will sail into Cooperstown on his first try. --Jerry Crasnick
14. Rickey Henderson, LF
Career: 1979-2003, A's, Yankees, 7 others
Fun fact: All-time leader in runs, steals
Rickey once missed a game because of frostbite in August, finished the home run trot that gave him the career record for runs by sliding into home plate and allegedly didn't cash a $100,000 paycheck so that he could frame it instead.
If you did all that and scored more runs and stole more bases than anyone else, you would refer to yourself in the third person, too. --Jim Caple
15. Rogers Hornsby, 2B
Career: 1915-37, Cardinals, Cubs, others
Fun fact: Led NL in BA/OBP/SLG each year from 1920-25
Ron Santo would tell this story: The Cubs would line up their prospects every spring, and Hornsby (a batting instructor) would deliver his verdict: "You're not going to make it."
When Hornsby got to Billy Williams, he said, "You'll be a major leaguer." Great, thought Santo, I'm next to the guy he likes. Then Hornsby told Santo, "You'll be a major leaguer." After them, he resumed his death sentences. The Hall of Famer had picked out two Hall of Famers. --Steve Wulf
16. Mike Schmidt, 3B
Career: 1972-89, Phillies
Fun fact: Led NL in homers eight times
When Schmidt retired in 1989, he'd led his league in homers more times than any man except Babe Ruth. He'd also accumulated more 35-homer seasons than anyone except the Babe. And he'd won more Gold Gloves than any third baseman but Brooks Robinson.
Time has eroded the historical texture of some of those feats. But one thing hasn't changed: Mike Schmidt was the greatest all-around third baseman who ever played. --Jayson Stark
17. Cy Young, RHP
Career: 1890-1911, Spiders, Americans
Fun fact: 94 wins more than anyone else
No pitcher was more renowned for taking the ball than Denton True Young. The man called "Cy" logged a record 7,356 innings over 22 seasons with the Cleveland Spiders, Boston Americans and three other teams.
Oh yeah, Young also won 511 games in the majors. A century after his final pitch, that number is equal parts unapproachable and unthinkable. --Jerry Crasnick
18. Alex Rodriguez, SS/3B
Career: 1994-, Mariners, Rangers, Yankees
Fun fact: Only SS with a 50-homer season
The numbers: 647 home runs (fifth), 1,950 RBIs (seventh), 1,898 runs scored (10th), 111.4 WAR (12th among position players).
His story isn't so simple as the numbers, of course, so I'll choose to remember 1996, his first full season, when he was a 20-year-old hitting .358 and spraying doubles and home runs all over the Kingdome and he had the potential to become one of the best there ever was. He got there, but at what price? --David Schoenfield
19. Albert Pujols, 1B
Career: 2001-, Cardinals, Angels
Fun fact: Only Hall of 100 member who debuted this century
No player in history had a first 10 seasons comparable to those of Pujols, who hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of those years.
He's on his way to becoming one of the five greatest hitters ever, surpassing Lou Gehrig as the greatest first baseman of all time, and hitting 700 homers. He needs just one more MVP to join Barry Bonds as the only player with more than three. --Tim Kurkjian
20. Joe Morgan, 2B
Career: 1963-84, Astros, Reds, others
Fun fact: Led NL OBP four times
The 1964 Houston Colt .45s lost 96 games, but they did have two Hall of Fame second basemen. The one going was Nellie Fox, and the one coming was Joe Morgan.
In fact, it was Fox who first suggested to Morgan that he flap his right arm like a chicken in his batting stance to keep his elbows high -- a temporary reminder that Morgan used until his retirement in 1984. And now they're in the same wing of Cooperstown: Morgan was inducted in 1990, Fox in 1997. --Steve Wulf
21. Joe DiMaggio, CF
Career: 1936-51, Yankees
Fun fact: 361 home runs, 369 strikeouts
The Yankee Clipper was married to Marilyn Monroe and immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." He transcended baseball and became part of popular culture in a way that only Babe Ruth, Ali and a select few other elite athletes experience.
"If you said to God, 'Create someone who was what a baseball player should be,' God would have created Joe DiMaggio," Tommy Lasorda once said. "And He did." --Jerry Crasnick
22. Frank Robinson, OF
Career: 1956-76, Reds, Orioles, others
Fun fact: Only player to win MVP in both leagues
He might be the most underrated superstar of all time, and one of the most ferocious competitors ever to play the game.
He nearly reached 3,000 hits and 600 homers, he won a Triple Crown and, above all else, stands this quote from a former teammate, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson: "When Frank came to Baltimore [in 1966], he taught us all how to win.'' --Tim Kurkjian
23. Randy Johnson, LHP
Career: 1988-2009, M's, D-backs, others
Fun fact: Averaged 354 K's 1999-2002
The Big Unit led the league in strikeouts nine times, struck out 20 batters in one game, won five Cy Young awards, threw two no-hitters (including a perfect game), won back-to-back World Series games and finished with 303 victories.
His stuff was so nasty some batters literally feared him (remember Larry Walker and John Kruk in the All-Star Games?) -- while birds had even better reason to do so. --Jim Caple
24. Tom Seaver, RHP
Career: 1967-86, Mets, Reds, others
Fun fact: 2.47 ERA over first 10 seasons
What does it take to get the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in history? Well, it takes a fierce competitive streak.
Seaver, whose 98.84 percent in 1992 bests the likes of Mays and Ruth, was so miffed at losing the 1971 Cy Young Award (despite 20 wins and a 1.76 ERA) that he named his housecat after the winner: Ferguson Jenkins. (Jenkins snuck into the Hall in 1991 with 75.4 percent, the second-lowest percentage in history.) --Steve Wulf
25. Tris Speaker, CF
Career: 1907-28, Red Sox, Indians, others
Fun fact: Most doubles (792) in history
Best I can tell, there hasn't been a player like Tris Speaker since well, Tris Speaker. One of the greatest center fielders of all time.
He gapped 50 doubles five times (most ever). And he ripped off nine straight seasons with OBPs of .400-plus. The only other men since 1900 to do that: Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Barry Bonds. I'm not sure who those other guys are. But I'm sure Tris Speaker is one of the most underrated players in history. --Jayson Stark