Hey Batter, Batter! These Are The Twenty Five Best Hitters In MLB History
Since the early days, a debate has raged on and off the diamond: who is baseball’s greatest hitter? The question itself is difficult to answer. Of the many hitting statistics, which is the key indicator? We’ve compiled a list of the top twenty five hitters of all time based on batting average, total number of hits, RBIs, and home runs. Did your favorite player make the cut?
25. Billy Hamilton
Batting Average: .344
Home Runs: 40
The son of immigrants, Billy Hamilton was born in New Jersey in February, 1866. He claims his ancestry of the Ulster Scots people, or Scotch-Irish ethnic group, which he proudly represented in adulthood. At the time, in the 1880s, Irish players dominated the game, known for their daring and spontaneous style of play. Hamilton certainly fit the mold. Early on, he established himself as a premier hitter in the National League.
During his second season, he hit for a .301 average. From then on, he hit .300 or above every single season. His career average of .344 puts him tied for seventh on the MLB’s all-time list. After his playing career ended, Hamilton served as a coach and scout for several teams. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1961.
24. Rod Carew
Batting Average: .328
Home Runs: 92
Rod Carew led an amazing eighteen-year career that included eleven years with the Minnesota Twins and seven years with the California Angels. His 3,053 hits rank the 27th of all time, and during the course of his career he won seven American League batting titles, second only to the legendary Ty Cobb.
Though Carew’s career is now the stuff of baseball legend, he got his start from humble beginnings. Born on a train in Panama, in what was then just referred to as the “Canal Zone”, Carew was raised by a single mother. He immigrated with his mother and siblings to New York in 1959, and signed with the Minnesota Twins’ organization five years later, for $400 per week.
23. Paul Molitor
Batting Average: .306
Home Runs: 234
Originally drafted into the majors out of high school as a pitcher, Paul Molitor turned down several professional offers to attend college at the University of Minnesota. There, he starred as a shortstop for the Golden Gophers, earning All-American honors his sophomore and junior seasons.
After his junior year in college, Molitor was taken as the third overall pick in the 1977 MLB draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. There, he enjoyed a fourteen-year career that was at first plagued by injuries, but ended in Molitor being recognized as one of the best hitters in franchise history. His thirty-nine game hitting streak in 1987 ranks fifth best all-time, and was the longest since Pete Rose’s forty-four game streak in 1978.
22. Paul Waner
Batting Average: .333
Home Runs: 113
Nicknamed “Big Poison”, Paul Waner played his first fifteen of nineteen seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, before short stints with the Dodgers, Yankees, and Braves. He was the winner of three National League batting titles and became the seventh player ever to join the 3,000 hit club, solidifying his place as one of the best hitters of all time.
To paint a picture of the era Waner grew up in, he was born in Oklahoma Territory, four years before the region became a state. Both he and his younger brother, Lloyd, are members of the MLB Hall of Fame, and Paul once stated that they learned how to hit from hitting corn cobs on their father’s farm. The Waner brothers hold the major league record for total hits by a pair of brothers at 5,611, out-performing the Alou and DiMaggio brothers.
21. Wade Boggs
Batting Average: .328
Home Runs: 118
Over the course of an eighteen-year career, Wade Boogs was a perennial contender for the American League batting title during the 1980s and 1990s. Before he was a pro, Boggs grew up mostly in Tampa, but had also lived with his family in Savannah, Georgia and for a time in Puerto Rico. At Plant High School, he was a dual-sport athlete in baseball and football, earning a scholarship to the University of South Carolina to play football.
After graduation, he was selected as the seventh pick in the MLB draft, which led him to accept an offer from the Boston Red Sox. Boggs batted an insane .349 his rookie season. He is an eight-time Silver Slugger award winner and five-time American league batting champion. In addition to his accolades on the field, it is rumored that Boggs also holds a personal record of consuming 107 beers in one day, a feat that is enshrined in baseball and pop culture folklore.
20. Eddie Collins
Batting Average: .333
Home Runs: 47
Eddie Collins is different from most of his peers playing professional baseball in the pre-1920s era. As a youth, he was extremely focused on academics as well as athletics. He graduated from Columbia University, and signed with the Philadelphia (Athletics) organization in 1906 while he was still a student.
He was a part of an Athletics organization that was known for having a “$100,000 dollar infield”, a quartet of talented players who earned the highest pay checks in the league at that time. He helped the Athletics to four American League pennants and three World Series titles, earning the Chalmers Award (the early equivalent of the MVP) during the 1914 season.
19. Tony Gwynn
Batting Average: .333
Home Runs: 47
“Mr. Padre” Tony Gwynn played twenty seasons for the San Diego Padres between 1982 to 2001. The renowned lefty won eight batting titles during his career, tying him for the most in National League history. He is widely considered to be the best player in Padres history, who was known as much for his defensive skills in addition to being one of the best hitters of all time.
A poor fielder in college, Gwynn put in effort to improving his skills in the pros and won his first Golden Glove award in 1986. He captured his first batting title in just his second season, in 1984, when he helped the Padres advance to their first-ever World Series appearance. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with over a 98% vote by the committee, and had his jersey number 19 retired by the San Diego organization.
18. Ed Delahanty
Batting Average: .346
Home Runs: 101
Born in 1867 in Cleveland, Ohio, Edward “Big Ed” Delahanty was one of the game’s earliest power hitters. He batted over .400 three times, and his career average of .346 puts him tied for the fifth highest in MLB history. Delahanty’s three brothers also played in the majors at a time when Irish players dominated the league.
Delahanty won the National League batting title twice, and was the league’s leader in RBIs on three occasions. Remarkably, he once hit four home runs in a single game. His playing career was cut short by a mysterious death. After being kicked off of a train for raucous behavior, Delahanty was swept over Niagara Falls. For what he accomplished on the field, Delahanty is widely considered to be one of the game’s best hitters of all time.
17. Roberto Clemente
Batting Average: .317
Home Runs: 240
Roberto Clemente was a fifteen-time All Star for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the National League batting leader four times. Over the course of his career, he won two World Series championships, one in 1960 and the other in 1971, the latter coinciding with a World Series MVP award.
Clemente grew up the youngest of seven siblings working alongside his father in the sugarcane fields in Puerto Rico. He was a track and field star before turning his attention to baseball. Tragically, he passed away in an airplane crash en route to deliver aid packages to Nicaragua in 1972 after the country was ravaged by an earthquake. He is the Pirates all-time leader in hits and total bases, and is certifiably one of the best hitters of all time.
16. Nap Lajoie
Batting Average: .339
Home Runs: 82
Napoleon Lajoie, also known as Larry Lajoie, but best known as Nat, was a French-American baseball player and coach during the beginning of the 20th century. He was one of several dozens of players who left the National League to join the rival American League, eventually signing with the Cleveland Bronchos, who shortly changed their names to the Cleveland Naps, on account of Lajoie’s stellar play.
At that time, Lajoie was the most famous player in the league, and Cleveland would keep their name until Lajoie’s departure, changing it to the Indians. In his prime, he endured an inter-league hitting rivalry with another one of the best hitters of all time, Ty Cobb. During his career, Lajoie was a five-time AL batting champion, and three-time RBI leader.
15. Derek Jeter
Batting Average: .310
Home Runs: 260
A rarity during the modern era of baseball, Derek Jeter played his entire career with just one team, the New York Yankees. His baseball résumé is impeccable: the 14-time All-Star, 5-time World Champion, and two-time Hank Aaron Award winner has now transitioned to the business side of baseball, serving as the current CEO and part owner of the Miami Marlins.
Jeter grew up in a house where personal responsibility was of the utmost importance. His father, a former collegiate shortstop himself, later earned a PhD, and his mother was a substance abuse counselor. When he was a child, his parents made him sign a contract every year outlining acceptable and unacceptable behavior. That experience would come in handy when Jeter signed his first contract, fresh out of high school, for $800,000.
14. Ichiro Suzuki
Batting Average: .311
Home Runs: 117
Ichiro Suzuki was born in the small town of Toyoyama, Japan. When he was seven, he started playing baseball and told his father that he wanted to get better. The two began a routine of daily training that would persist through Ichiro’s adolescence. Showing dedication to the sport at a young age, he wrote the Japanese word for concentration, “shūchū”, on the inside of his little league glove as a reminder, and motivation to achieve success.
Reflecting on their training sessions together, an adult Ichiro once said that the lessons bordered on hazing. They nonetheless paid dividends when he turned pro at age eighteen in Japan. In 2000, the Seattle Mariners won the right to negotiate with him eventually signing the thirty-year-old for $14 million, over three years.
13. Lou Gehrig
Batting Average: .340
Home Runs: 493
Henry Louis Gehrig, born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig, was born in Yorkville, Manhattan, in 1903. At birth, he weighed a whopping fourteen pounds! He would come to be known for his toughness earning the nickname “Iron Horse”, a characteristic that he developed on the football field at Columbia University. One summer, an MLB coach advised Gehrig to play in a summer baseball league under an assumed name so as not to jeopardize his athletic scholarship at Columbia.
Eventually, Gehrig was found out, and he was banned for one year from collegiate sports. He would eventually return to the football field and the baseball diamond for Columbia, where he earned the attention of Yankees scouts. Upon seeing him launch a 450-plus foot home run during batting practice, he signed his first contract. He played in 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees, until sidelining himself and eventually being diagnosed with ALS, or what is now commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
12. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
Batting Average: .356
Home Runs: 54
Born dirt poor in Pickens, South Carolina, Jackson began working at the age of six in textile mills in order to support his family. In a mill league game, his feet hurt so bad from blisters, that he went to the plate in his socks. After eventually landing a single, one of the fans yelled, “You shoeless son of a gun, you!” upon seeing Jackson running to first in his socks. From then on, the nickname stuck.
In another mill league game, Jackson threw a fastball so hard that he broke a hitter’s arm. From then on, he was moved to the outfield because no one wanted to hit off of him. His ability to hit the ball is well-documented; it’s lesser known to what extent he was involved in the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Jackson was banned from the league after the event. He is still considered to be one of the best hitters of all time.
11. Honus Wagner
Batting Average: .329
Home Runs: 101
Known as “The Flying Dutchman” thanks to his German heritage, Hans “Honus” Wagner is considered by many to be the best shortstop of all time. To get an idea of how great a player he was, and how well-regarded he was by his fans and peers, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its first five members. He received the second-highest number of votes behind Ty Cobb, and tied with Babe Ruth.
In fact, Ty Cobb himself called Wagner “maybe the greatest star to ever take the diamond”. He was an eight-time National League batting champion and five time RBI leader. Adding to his lore is the famous T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, one of the most rare on the planet, and valued into the millions of dollars. A non-smoker, Wagner revoked his permission to have his card featured inside a pack of cigarettes, making the T206 Honus Wagner a highly coveted item by serious collectors.
10. Pete Rose
Batting Average: .303
Home Runs: 160
Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits is an all-time MLB record and one that many believe will not be broken any time soon. He also owns all-time best records for the number of times on base, the most singles, and the most plate appearances. His career statistics solidify him as one of the best to ever play the game, and certainly one of the best hitters of all time; but more recently, Rose’s name has been marred by controversy.
After years of public denial, in 2004, Rose finally admitted that he had gambled on baseball games during his time as both a player and manager. As a consequence, Rose has been permanently banned from being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a matter that has been contentious throughout baseball depending on who you ask. Despite the controversy, Rose owns, the highest number of hits all-time — and there’s no arguing that.
9. Albert Pujols
Batting Average: .300
Home Runs: 656
Born in the Dominican Republic, Alberto Pujols was raised mostly by his grandmother, and a host of ten uncles and aunts. As a little boy, he practiced baseball by hitting limes, using a milk carton container for a glove. When he was sixteen, the family immigrated to New York, but moved to Missouri shortly after a teenage Albert witnessed a shooting at a local bodega.
Out of college, Pujols accepted a $60,000 signing bonus to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. After only one year in the minors, earning an MVP award, it is said that famous first baseman Mark McGwire remarked to Tony La Russa that if he did not move Pujols to the majors it would be one of the worst mistakes of his career. Pujols was promoted, becoming a ten-time All Star and two-time World Series champion.
8. Willie Mays
Batting Average: .302
Home Runs: 660
Willie Mays was raised mostly by his father, a railway porter, and plant worker who starred for the Birmingham Barons in what was then the Negro League in Alabama. The elder Mays began practicing with his son when he was just five years old. An adult Willie once reminisced about attending his father’s games, saying that they drew as many as 6,000 fans per night.
When Willie Mays entered the major leagues in 1951, be became one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. Miraculously, he once hit four home runs in one game in 1961. Two years later, when he hit his 400th home run against the Cardinals he became just the tenth player in baseball history to break into the coveted 400 club. His career total of 660 blasts still stands as the fifth best ever.
7. Stan Musial
Batting Average: .331
Home Runs: 475
When Musial retired his 475 home runs ranked second in National League history behind Mell Ott’s total of 511. In his early days, he was a pitcher, and a standout player at Donora High School. Once he entered the majors, Musial was moved to the outfit on account of his erratic pitching, which allowed for him to further develop as a hitter.
One of the best hitters in major league history, Musial played his entire twenty two seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals. He won seven National League batting titles, including a three-peat from 1950 to 1952. After his playing career ended, Musial was the physical fitness advisor to United States President Lyndon B. Johnson, before he took over as general manager for the Cardinals, and led them to a World Series championship in his first year at the helm.
6. Tris Speaker
Batting Average: .345
Home Runs: 117
After a brief slump in 1915, where he batted .322, Tris Speaker was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Cleveland Indians after refusing to take a pay cut. The move paid off for Cleveland. As a player-manager, he led the team to a World Series title and batted better than .350 in ten out of eleven seasons with the club.
In fact, 1916 was Speaker’s best year as a pro. He had established himself as the best player in baseball, and the Indians were willing to pay up. His salary of $40,000 per year (the equivalent to $940,000 today) was the highest in baseball.
5. Hank Aaron
Batting Average: .305
Home Runs: 755
“Hammerin’ Hank Aaron” played 21 seasons for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, and two years for the Milwaukee Brewers. He held the MLB record for career home runs for 33 years, a record he stole from Babe Ruth. To this day, he still holds several MLB records for hitting, including for RBIs, extra base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856). Since 1999, the MLB has handed out the Hank Aaron Award every year to the league’s most dominant offensive player.
Growing up in poverty in Mobile, Alabama, Aaron used to hit bottle caps to practice hitting, making his own bats from materials he found in the streets. Though he was a right-handed hitter, he is one of the few players to grip the bat cross-handed, or left-hand over right. Having been on the receiving end of racist taunts over the years, Hank Aaron’s record breaking home run to surpass Babe Ruth marked a historic moment in race relations.
4. Rogers Hornsby
Batting Average: .358
Home Runs: 301
Rogers Hornsby might be number four on our list, but his lifetime average of .358 at the plate comes second only to Ty Cobb. He is the winner of two Triple Crown awards, awarded to a player when he leads the league in three statistical categories for hitting. To this day, Cobb is the only player to have batted at least .400 and notch 40 home runs in a single season.
The youngest of six, Rogers Hornsby was born in Winters, Texas. When he was ten, he worked at a meat packing plant and played infield on the company baseball team. By age fifteen, Hornsby dropped out of school in the tenth grade, and began making a name for himself playing semi-professional ball in Texas.
3. Ted Williams
Batting Average: .344
Home Runs: 521
Growing up in San Diego, California, Ted Williams learned how to throw a baseball from his uncle, a former semi-pro player. After starring at Hoover High School, Williams received offers to play for the Yankees and the Cardinals, but Williams’ mother thought he was too young to live so far from home, so he joined the minor league San Diego Padres. Eventually, after a standout season in the minors, the Red Sox purchased Williams for $35,000.
His stellar play and boyish looks earned him the nickname “the Kid” as a minor league player in the Red Sox organization, which stuck ever since. During his career, Williams was the AL batting champion six times and led the league in scoring four times. His career on base percentage, at .482, still ranks as the highest in MLB history to this day.
2. Babe Ruth
Batting Average: .342
Home Runs: 714
Babe Ruth was born in the “Pigtown” section of Baltimore in a small apartment that has now been turned into a museum. Though several details of his childhood are shrouded in mystery, it is known that at age seven, Ruth was sent to a reformatory boarding school. By many accounts, the move was the result of a young Babe Ruth’s tendency to play hooky when his father wasn’t paying attention.
Ruth was schooled in baseball by one of his teachers, and thanks to his size and strength, he began earning the attention of local clubs. He made his MLB debut for the Red Sox in 1914 as a pitcher who could occasionally hit long home runs, eventually switching to become a hitter. In 1919, he had an unprecedented string of games where he homered consistently, breaking the American League record for a single season.
1. Ty Cobb
Batting Average: .367
Home Runs: 117
One former teammate once said that “baseball [to Cobb] was like a war…every time at bat for him was a crusade”. Indeed it was pure will that led Ty Cobb to become the best hitter in baseball history. “The Georgia Peach” made his major league debut for the Detroit Tigers at eighteen, and hit a double in his first at bat. His career would soon be etched in baseball history.
Over the course of his career, Cobb set ninety MLB records. To this day, he owns the records for the highest batting average and the most career batting titles (twelve) of any player. Though his legacy is often marred by memories of his physical altercations, and profanity-induced shouting matches, Cobb is widely considered by baseball experts to be one of the greatest players of all time, and the single best player of the dead ball era.