Rickey Henderson

Rickey Henderson ("Rickey Henderson and Fred McGriff-3.jpg" by PFX Photo is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/?ref=openverse.)

When spring rolls around and baseball is in the air, it’s easy to let your mind wander with thoughts about the legends of baseball. In left field, players need to have good reflexes and have the ability to cover the third base line as well as foul territory. Left field is also responsible for backing up third in case of overthrows or errant plays at the base. In the lineup, left fielders are historically either power hitters or contact hitters with speed on the bases. So, just who are the best MLB left fielders of all time? 

Speaking of assembling a roster, a recent study by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management says that Moneyball is played out in MLB. Moneyball is the term given to General Manager Billy Beane’s approach to building MLB rosters with the Oakland A’s in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The team of researchers says the analytics-heavy strategy has lost some appeal after becoming common practice for the other MLB teams. Simply put, Moneyball is no longer a competitive advantage, especially when everyone is practicing it. 

Most MLB fans can rest assured that their favorite team is doing everything they can to field a winning baseball team. However, one study found that fans might not be able to afford tickets to watch their favorite MLB teams like they used to. Money issues are making it difficult for fans to afford tickets, and a staggering 35 percent of fans say they won’t be buying tickets to a game in 2023. A survey of 1,000 MLB fans also took a scientific look at the average worker’s salary in each MLB team’s market and compared it to the cost of attending a game in 2023. Overall, the average American would need to work five hours to attend three games during the 2023 MLB season with fans of the defending 2022 World Series Champions Houston Astros having to work the most to watch a game in person. The research found that Astros fans would need to work a whopping nine hours just to afford tickets to three games in 2023. At least they pay good money to watch a winning MLB team. 

So, who are the greats who have graced left field? StudyFinds did some research, visiting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you the best MLB left fielders in history. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed MLB players across these sites. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!   

Watching The Sunset At Phillies Baseball Game
Phillies baseball stadium (Photo by Bob Jagendorf on Openverse is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

The List: Best MLB Left Fielders of All Time, Per Baseball Experts

1. Barry Bonds (Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants)

Topping the lists of the best MLB left fielders of all time is none other than Barry Bonds. Bonds is also widely considered one of the best MLB players in history, regardless of position. As most of you know, Bonds’ career was full of controversy, but the critics agree, there’s no denying that Barry Bonds is one of the best left fielders of all time. 

“Love him or hate him, by the numbers, there’s no doubt who was the greatest left fielder of all time. Bonds’ WAR is second only to Babe Ruth among hitters and far above any other player on this list. Bonds’ numbers late in his career were ridiculous but tainted. Many will not recognize his accomplishments due to his link to performance-enhancing drugs. But as we’ve stated in other Top Tens, we’re not here to judge. Bonds began his career with Pittsburgh in 1986. He was called up on May 30 and stole 36 bases that season with 16 HRs but hit only .223. He kept getting better and better until breaking out in 1990 when he led the league in SLG and OPS en route to his first MVP, All-Star game, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger. He was just getting started, though. Bonds would repeat these feats several times over the next decade and a half. By the time of his retirement in 2007, Bonds would win seven MVPs, 12 Silver Sluggers, 8 Gold Gloves, and participate in 14 All-Star games,” explains Pitcher List

image of Barry Bonds hitting a home run
Barry Bonds at bat (“File:20060825 Barry Bonds follow through.jpg” by Kevin Rushforth is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

MLB awards two MVPs every season, one award for each league, American and National. Regardless, Bonds won a staggering seven NL MVPs over the course of his career which is a record that might never be broken. “Barry Bonds has stats that don’t even seem real at times. He has the most career home runs, most home runs in a season, highest OBP in a season with .609, which is honestly insane. Bonds won seven MVPs, eight gold gloves, and 12 silver sluggers. He added two batting titles as well, and led the league OPS nine times. Bonds also walked more than any player in the history of the game, and was more feared than anyone with 688 career intentional walks, which is also the most ever. Bonds will also have those that question his place in baseball history, but when you look at the number and his impact, there is no debate as to who the best left fielder of all time is,” writes Baseball Spotlight.

Late in his career, if Bonds wasn’t hitting home runs, he was drawing intentional walks, he was that deadly at the plate. Pitchers simply weren’t going to let Bonds hit his next defining home run off of them. “Arguably the most accomplished individual player in the history of the sport, Bonds won a record seven MVP Awards, and is baseball’s single-season and all-time home run leader. While most remember him hitting home runs at a never-before-seen rate in the second half of his career, Bonds also won eight Gold Glove Awards and stole 514 bases during a peak that needs a new adjective to describe it,” adds Audacy.

2. Ted Williams (Boston Red Sox)

Next up on the list of the best MLB left fielders of all time is legendary Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams. Ted Williams is considered one of the best baseball players in MLB history and possibly the greatest hitter of all time as he was nearly flawless at the plate every season of his career. 

“Williams is considered by many to be the greatest hitter ever. In his 19 year career, he had a .344 average, 521 home runs, 1839 RBI, 1798 runs scored, 2654 base hits, 525 doubles, a .482 on base percentage and a .634 slugging percentage. He was selected to the All-Star team every year he played in, starting in left field in 12 of them. He won six batting titles and ten on base percentage titles. He ranks seventh all time in career batting average, first all time in on base percentage, second all time in slugging percentage and second all time in OPS. He won two MVP awards and the Triple Crown Award twice. He had four home run titles and led the league in RBI four times,” writes Bleacher Report

Ted Williams put up some impressive stats over the course of his career, and he’s right up there as one of the best Red Sox players of all time. Today, the Red Sox are one of MLB’s best teams year in and year out, but it wasn’t like that in Ted Williams’ day. Unfortunately, Ted Williams didn’t experience some of the overall success as some of the other all-time greats

“As great as Williams was, his teams generally were not. He only made it to the postseason once, when the Sox lost to the Cardinals in the 1946 World Series. The Kid retired after the 1960 season and joined the Hall of Fame in 1966. Like Musial, he stunningly was a unanimous selection, only receiving 93.4% of the vote. For some reason, the Red Sox took their time before finally retiring his #9 in 1984,” writes Pitcher List

Although Williams didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his skills in the postseason, no one can deny his natural talent and greatness on the diamond. However, like many players of his day, Williams missed several seasons in the prime of his career to serve in World War II. Williams won the Triple Crown and then found himself leaving baseball to serve in the Naval Reserve in 1942 before eventually becoming a Naval Aviator in 1944. There’s no doubt that Williams’ career numbers would have been much, much higher had he not left to defend his country, and baseball enthusiasts maintain that he’d probably own every major hitting record in MLB history. There’s no doubt that Ted Williams is a true American hero and an MLB icon. 

“The greatest pure hitter to ever play the game, Ted Williams defined how to be a hitter for almost a century now. The last man to ever hit .400 in a season, his career numbers could be the highest of any player ever if he didn’t [lose] 5 years to military service… Williams totaled 521 career home runs which could have been over 700 with his career average if you add the five seasons he missed. Williams’ baseball card is loaded with bold text for all the categories he led the league in over his career, and when you talk about the art of hitting, Williams is the first name to be mentioned,” adds Baseball Spotlight

3. Stan Musial (St. Louis Cardinals)

The third spot on the list of the best MLB left fielders of all time belongs to St. Louis Cardinals legend, Stan Musial. Musial played his entire career in St. Louis and he’s one of the most beloved sports figures in the city’s history. Similar to the first two entrants on this list, Musial was a power hitter who dominated the major leagues for decades. 

black and white image of Stan Musial in a batting stance
Stan Musial (“Stan Musial” by Missouri Historical Society is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

“In his 22 year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, he had a .331 average, a .417 on base percentage, 475 home runs, 1951 RBI, 1949 runs scored, 3630 base hits, 725 doubles, 177 triples and 78 stolen bases. He was selected to an amazing 24 All Star teams. He won seven batting titles, six on base percentage titles, six slugging percentage titles and seven OPS titles. He also led the league in RBI twice, runs scored five times and hits six times. He won the MVP award three times and finished second four times. His best season came in 1947 as he had a .376 average, 39 home runs, 131 RBI, 135 runs scored, 230 base hits and seven stolen bases. Finally, he led the Cardinals to the World Series four times, including three championships in the 1940’s,” writes Bleacher Report

Stan Musial’s Cardinals were clearly one of the best MLB teams of the 1940s. Still, Musial was the leader of that team and he let his play do all the talking. St. Louis missed the 1945 World Series after Musial enlisted in the Navy to help fight World War II, along with several other MLB players of the time. Musial returned after the war and picked right back up where he left off with his success at the plate. 

“Stan Musial is the greatest Cardinal of all time. His WAR is ~30 points higher than any other player in team history. Musial wasn’t exclusively a left fielder in his career. He also played a lot of right field, first base, and even a bit of center… In 1942, Musial was league MVP after leading the NL in games, plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS. World War II was diluting the talent in MLB a bit, but this shouldn’t diminish this massive feat. He won two more MVPs after the war in 1946 and 1948 and finished second in the balloting four times. His 1948 season may have been his best. He again led the league in several offensive categories, including a .376 average and 131 RBI. Had he hit one more HR, he would have won the Triple Crown,” explains Pitcher List

Musial was one measly home run away from the Triple Crown title in 1948. That must be hard to digest. Regardless, Musial was really close to winning six MVPs. Overall, Musial smacked 475 home runs, amassed over 3,600 hits, and hit over 1,900 RBIs. At the time of his retirement, Musial held more records than fans realized. 

“Analyzing his MLB statistics, he has set a record of 0.331 batting average with 3630 hits, 475 home runs, and 1951 RBIs. In his baseball career, he played 24 All-Star games starting from 1943 to 1963. He won the world series championship thrice, NL’s most valuable player thrice, the NL batting champion seven times, and NL RBI leader twice. He held 17 major league records, 29 national league records, and nine All-Star game records at the time of his retirement. He was a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted in 1969,” adds MLB Run

4. Rickey Henderson (Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays)

Diving into the fourth spot on the list of the best MLB left fielders of all time is perhaps the greatest baserunner in baseball history, Rickey Henderson. Rickey Henderson is also widely considered the best lead-off hitter and base stealer in the history of MLB. 

image of Rickey Henderson later in life playing baseball
Rickey Henderson jogging on the field (“Rickey Henderson-16.jpg” by PFX Photo is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

“Henderson is the greatest lead-off hitters of all time without a doubt. In his extremely long 25 year career, he had a .279 average, a .401 on base percentage, 297 home runs, 1115 RBI, 2295 runs scored, 3055 base hits, 510 doubles, 66 triples and an unheard of 1406 stolen bases. He is the all time leader in both total runs and stolen bases. He was selected to the All-Star team 10 times, starting in left field in four of them. His best season came in 1990 as he won his only MVP award. In that season, he had a .325 average, a .439 on base percentage, 28 home runs, 61 RBI, 119 runs scored and 65 stolen bases,” explains Bleacher Report

Needless to say, Henderson holds the MLB record for stolen bases with a staggering 1,406 stolen bases over his career. Rickey Henderson is the only player to retire with more than 1,000 stolen bases for a career as the next closest player to Henderson is Lou Brock with 938. Rickey has nearly 400 more steals than his next closest competitor – truly remarkable. 

“One thing is for sure – he’s the greatest base stealer. He stole 468 more bases than #2 on the all-time list, Lou Brock. Rickey was more than just fast, though. He also had a tremendous eye and plenty of power. In addition to the stolen bases, he’s the all-time leader in runs scored and unintentional walks. In his career, Henderson led the league in SBs 12 times, walks four times, runs five times, and OBP/OPS once,” writes Pitcher List

Rickey Henderson is the greatest lead-off hitter in MLB history because he figured out ways to get on base, and from there, he’d usually swoop into scoring position by stealing second, or third. In the blink of an eye, Henderson’s A’s would have a runner in scoring position with Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in the lineup behind him. But, Henderson wouldn’t always wait for the ‘power hitters’ to start lighting up the scoreboard. Rickey Henderson has 297 career home runs, and most all of them came from the lead-off spot in the lineup. 

“The most devastating baserunner of all time, Henderson has the most stolen bases of all time, in a season, and led the league a total of 12 times in stolen bases. Henderson also has the most runs scored in the history of the game with 2,295. Henderson is considered by way to be the greatest lead-off hitter of all time, and has the most home runs at the lead-off position in MLB history. Henderson won two world series, an MVP, a gold glove, and three silver sluggers. There will never be a player with the speed and aggression on the bases ever again like Rickey and that is only part of the reason he ranks this high. His longevity is one of the greatest ever by any MLB player, playing a total of 25 seasons in the big leagues,” adds Baseball Spotlight

5. Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox)

Rounding out the list of the best MLB left fielders of all time is another Red Sox legend, Carl Yastrzemski (Ya-Strem-Ski). Yastrzemski played the most games as a Red Sox player ever with over 3,300 starts, and he was a staple in the Boston lineup for over two decades. 

Carl Yastrzemski
Carl Yastrzemski (“Yastrzemski Carl 2272.82_Bat_NBL” by Bush 41 Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

“Yastrzemski broke in with the Red Sox in 1961 and stayed with them until he retired after 23 seasons in 1983. He played in a total of 3,308 games for Boston, 800 more than anyone else. But it wasn’t just longevity that made Yaz a Red Sox icon; he was great too. In his 23 seasons, Yaz made 18 all-star game appearances, which is an incredible testament to his durability and consistency. Other awards included seven gold gloves and three batting titles, but his crowning glory came in 1967. That year, Yastrzemski not only won the MVP but the coveted triple crown when he hit .326 with 44 HRs and 121 RBI,” explains Pitcher List

Yastrzemski was the last MLB player to win the Triple Crown until Miguel Cabrera accomplished the feat in 2012, nearly 50 years after the Red Sox legend. On top of his plate vision and hitting ability, Yastrzemski was also a high-end defensive fielder. 

“Yastrzemski was one of the most all-round players ever. In his long 23 year career, he had a .285 average, 452 home runs, 1844 RBI, 1816 runs scored, 3419 base hits, 646 doubles, 168 stolen bases and a .379 on base percentage. He was selected to an amazing 18 All Star teams, starting in left field in three of them. He won three batting titles and five on base percentage titles. He was also one of the best defensive outfielders ever as he won seven Gold Glove awards,” writes Bleacher Report

Yastrzemski took the place of Ted Williams, so the all-time left fielder had some pretty big shoes to fill when he first stepped into Fenway Park in 1961. Yastrzemski handled the pressure like a professional and his career was off and running right away. 

“Carl Yastrezemski was one of the greatest defensive left fielders of all time totaling seven gold gloves during his career. Yaz also added an MVP in 1967 where he also won the Triple Crown, as well as leading the league in hits, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS. The Yaz won three batting titles and also led the league in doubles three times as well. Yaz had the ever difficult task of replacing Ted Williams as the Red Sox’s left fielder and he did everything he could to fill those shoes, and deserves a spot on this list,” adds Baseball Spotlight

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