Best MLB Players Of All-Time: Top 5 Baseball Legends, According To Experts

The sounds of summer – kids running and laughing, hot dogs sizzling on the grill, and a Major League Baseball (MLB) game playing on the TV. Whether you’re watching on TV or sitting at the ballpark, the sport of baseball is woven into the fabric of life in America. For well over a century, baseball has been synonymous with America. With such a rich history, how do you narrow down the best MLB players of all time?  

Before we dive into the best MLB players of all time, it’s important to look at the ways baseball science and analytics have improved over the years. Wind tunnels were once used to determine the aerodynamics of a baseball. Now, a team of engineers at Washington State University and Delft University of Technology report a new way of determining how far a baseball is hit using lasers and accounting for a baseball’s ‘drag’ and ‘lift’ properties. These scientific advancements could potentially help your favorite MLB player hit the ball further by understanding the physics behind the way a baseball travels through the air. 

Technology to help players recover from injuries sooner is also being developed. A research team recently discovered that the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow requires a new MRI approach to help stave off arm injuries in pitchers. It’s a procedure that revolutionized the sport of baseball, allowing pitchers to perform long after their careers would have been over otherwise. Now, scientists say looking at this problem from an entirely different angle can help find more of these devastating injuries. The team’s findings stress the importance of incorporating the flexed elbow valgus external rotation (FEVER) view into standard MRI elbow protocols. The new approach could result in fewer elbow injuries to your favorite MLB pitchers.  

Study Finds did the research, consulting 10 baseball-oriented and sports websites in an effort to find the best MLB players of all time. Our list is comprised of the five most frequently mentioned MLB players from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your picks for the best MLB players of all time with us in the comments section below! 

Hank Aaron 1955 Topps baseball card
Hank Aaron 1955 Topps baseball card. (Credit: Baseball Collection on Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

The List: Best MLB Players of All Time, Per Experts

1. Babe Ruth

Topping the list of the best MLB players of all time is none other than Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth appeared in the top spot across 70 percent of the lists we referenced, making him the clear choice for the number one spot on our list.”The baseball we watch today is Babe Ruth’s game. Many players make an impact, a few become folk heroes, but nobody changed a sport like Ruth did when he joined the Yankees and transformed baseball into a game of power. No player dominated his era like Ruth,” explains ESPN.

True, Babe Ruth was perhaps the most dominant baseball player of all time, but his game was about more than hitting home runs. “Before transitioning into a full-time outfielder, he tossed 650 innings in 1916 and 1917 combined, earning 47 wins and a 1.88 ERA. Could the greatest hitter in the history of the sport have made this list if he never swung a bat? Luckily for the Yankees, that’s only a fun what-if for a player whose dominance will never be matched,” writes Bleacher Report.

Yes, Babe Ruth was also an accomplished pitcher, something that was unheard of until a couple of seasons ago when Shohei Ohtani came on the scene. Still, Babe Ruth was a pure baseball player, capable of playing a range of positions.”Across 10 seasons as a pitcher, Ruth posted a Cooperstown-worthy 2.28 ERA with 107 complete games, 17 shutouts and he threw pure filth on the mound in the World Series. He was Shohei Ohtani a century ahead of schedule. There’s no doubt that Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player ever,” adds Sportsnaut.

2. Willie Mays

Sliding into the second spot on the list of the best MLB players of all time is Willie Mays. The former San Francisco Giant appeared on a whopping 90 percent of the lists we referenced and was never ranked lower than fifth. Willie Mays could do it all and he was truly a five-tool player — hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding, and throwing.  “Willie Mays played 22 seasons in the majors, and that was after he had to begin his pro career in the Negro Leagues. In that long career, he smashed 660 home runs, batted .302, collected over 3,200 career hits, and amassed 338 stolen bases. He also won 12 straight Gold Gloves and made that unforgettable catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series that may have been the turning point in that series that allowed the Giants to win it all,” explains Franchise Sports.

The catch in Game 1 of the ’54 World Series is one of the most memorable plays in the history of baseball. Mays tracked the ball, turned around and sprinted to dead center field, and then made an amazing over-the-shoulder catch. “Likewise, from 1957 to 1968, Mays won an outfielders record 12 straight golden glove awards. Similarly, he led in the stolen base on three occasions. He was an All-Star for 24 consecutive seasons from 1954 to 1973,” writes Playersbio.

Perhaps no one has ever played the position of Center Field better than Willie Mays. “He is unquestionably the best center fielder ever and if defense is valued highly, the greatest outfielder in MLB history,” adds Sportsnaut.

3. Hank Aaron

The third spot on the list of the best MLB players of all time goes to Henry “Hank” Aaron. Hank Aaron is an American icon who happened to play baseball. Aaron’s the all-time leader in runs batted in (RBI) and his homerun record stood for decades before being broken by Barry Bonds. “When Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career homer record culminated in No. 715 on April 8, 1974, it was an iconic event in American history. And yet, Aaron was not really a home run hitter. He was a great hitter, period, as evidenced by his .305 lifetime average and 3,771 hits. Aaron’s 2,297 RBIs remain the career record, one that is probably safe for a long time to come,” explains ESPN.

These numbers make it easy for fans to remember Hank Aaron as a pure power hitter, but his game consisted of so much more. “But Aaron was also a career .305 hitter with over 3,700 career hits. In fact, he won two batting titles (yet just one MVP) and was also a three-time Gold Glove winner. While he still holds the all-time MLB records for most RBIs, most total bases, and most extra-base hits, Aaron was far more than just a power hitter,” writes Franchise Sports.

Gold gloves, batting titles, career RBI king, 755 home runs, Hank Aaron had one of the most accomplished careers of any baseball, ever. “Until 2007, Hank Aaron held the all-time mark for dingers while sporting a career .305 batting average and 155 OPS+. Of the 19 players with 534 or more long balls, he’s the only one with a strikeout percentage (9.9) below 10.0,” adds Bleacher Report.

4. Barry Bonds

Coming in at the fourth spot on the list of the best MLB players of all time is Barry Bonds. “Barry Bonds is another controversial player because of PEDs, but his hitting prowess stands alone. Bonds is very likely the greatest power hitter of all time. He could have had an above average OPS if he never even got a hit during his time with the Giants because pitchers walked him so much. He was the greatest hitting presence of his era and a deserving top five player,” writes Clutch Points.

“Barry Bonds paid the price for steroid allegations, being kept out of the Hall of Fame and being blackballed from MLB after an age-42 season that saw him hit 28 home runs with a 1.045 OPS. If he isn’t essentially forced to retire, there is no doubt Bonds chases 800 home runs and eclipses the 3,000-hit and 2,000-RBI marks,” explains Sportsnaut.

Most fans forget that Barry Bonds was once a slim, trim, outfielder who could essentially do anything he wanted to on a baseball diamond. And for those of us that witnessed all of Bonds’ career, he didn’t need steroids to become one of the greatest baseball players of his time. “The all-time leader in homers also holds exclusive membership to the 500-homer, 500-steal club. A stout defender during his younger, slimmer years, Bonds has eight Gold Gloves to accompany his seven MVP awards. And yes, he probably had some help, but he was an elite baseball player before transforming into a mountainous slugger,” adds Bleacher Report.

5. Ty Cobb

Rounding out the list of the best MLB players of all time takes us back to the early days of baseball in the 20th century. Ty Cobb was one of the purest hitters the game has ever seen, but he was also one of the dirtiest. Still, Cobb’s hitting ability and tenacity are the two traits that make him one of the best MLB players of all time. “After debuting with a .240 average in 41 games, he never batted below .316 through 23 seasons. Along the way he topped .400 three times and won a dozen batting titles,” explains Bleacher Report.

Cobb may not have been liked by his contemporaries but, luckily, baseball isn’t a popularity contest. Regardless, modern fans have come to appreciate Cobb’s desire to win. “He played a game where you had to outthink the opponent, not outslug. Nearly 100 years since he played his final game, the image of Cobb remains vivid: the sharpened spikes, the aggression, the fiery temperament. Through the years, it became difficult to separate fact from fiction,” writes ESPN.

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