The Top 20 International Baseball Players of All Time
The World Baseball Classic is upon us, and I have decided to make it my duty to present a list of the greatest international players of all time.
Baseball has a long, storied tradition of international players in the MLB, ever since Luis Castro became the first Hispanic player to take the field back in 1902.
Latin America and Japan bring a certain flavor to the game, and that flavor has forever left its mark upon the game. The flair and style of the players on this list is as important as their prowess on the field.
Before I begin, here are my criteria:
1. Players must be born outside the US. Sorry A-Rod, Washington Heights doesn't count.
2. Players will be judged solely on their MLB performance. I must say no, therefore, to Sadaharu Oh.
3. Current players are judged on their current statistics, as well as a reasonable future. Thus, I'm not going to put a guy like Hanley Ramirez, one of the best players in baseball today, on this list because he has too much he has yet to do.
Without further ado, let us begin.
No. 20: Omar Vizquel
Vizquel was never much of a hitter. In only two seasons was he above league average OPS. But my god, can this guy field. He won 11 well deserved Gold Gloves thanks to excellent range, a smooth glove, and his signature ability to field the ball with his bare hand.
He isn't quite a Hall of Famer, but he's pretty close.
No. 19: Bernie Williams
Bernie Williams was one of the key members of perhaps the greatest team in the history of the game. For 15 seasons, Bernie was a fan favorite in New York, thanks to his timely hitting, superb ability to "turn on the jets", and a smooth glove.
His career batting average neared .300 while he knocked 287 home runs and stole 147 bases. New York Yankee fans will never forget him.
As an addendum, he plays a pretty mean Latin guitar. Check him out on YouTube.
No. 18: Roberto Alomar
Like Bernie Williams, Roberto Alomar could do it all. He was a true five-tool player who could hit, run, and field. His career .300 average, 210 HR and 474 steals are particularly impressive considering that second basemen before him were almost always light hitters.
His glove was equally impeccable. Alongside Omar Vizquel (#20), Alomar was a member of the greatest double play due since Tinker to Evers to Chance. Their smooth double plays are etched in the memory of all who saw them.
Along with Jeff Kent, Alomar changed second base, and that is why he is on this list.
No. 17: David "Big Papi" Ortiz
What can be said about Big Papi that hasn't already been said? For six-years now, he has been one of the most feared hitters in the league. A huge power swing and an uncanny ability to perform in the clutch make Big Papi a definite entry on this list and many many others.
No. 16: Minnie Minoso
Minoso was one of the game's first true all-around threats. He was a durable outfielder who could hit for both power and average and steal bases. He was a great hitter and a versatile fielder, and his several attempts to get back into the game at ages 50 and 54 have propelled him further into baseball lore.
No. 15: Tony Perez
He was a main cog in the Big Red Machine, one of the greatest lineups ever assembled. Between 1969 and 1973, he was one of the best hitters in the league at a time when pitching dominated baseball.
He is one of the top-60 home-run hitters of all time and the first Hall of Famer on this list, inducted in 2000.
No. 14: Vladimir Guerrero
Vlad the Impaler is one of the quintessential players of our generation. He's only 32, and yet he's already complied almost 400 home runs and 175 steals.
His career .323 average is the fourth best among active players (two of whom will make appearances higher on this list) and his outfield arm has become feared as one of the strongest in baseball.
No. 13: Orlando Cepeda
Cepeda's productive years were basically ended at age 32 due to injuries, leading many to wonder what might have been. He could hit for power and average and was a good base stealer before his chronic injuries set in.
Without those injuries, one of the best players of the pitching-heavy '60s would have been able to continue his already career and probably reach 500 home runs and 200 steals.
It didn't matter to the BBWAA, though; Cepeda was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
No. 12: Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez
Just like Roberto Alomar, Pudge Rodriguez changed a position. Most catchers before him were light hitters. Pudge has broken the mold by mashing 295 home runs and hitting for a .301 career average.
His 124 career steals also make him an anomaly among catchers. It's not like he was a defensive slouch, either; he's thrown out over 40 percent of the runners who have tried to steal on him in his career and he's won 13 well deserved Gold Glove awards.
No. 11: Johan Santana
Johan is only 29 and he's already thought of as the best pitcher of the post Maddux/Johnson/Clemens/Martinez generation. He's already more than halfway to 3000 strikeouts and his career 144 ERA+ (adjusted for the time period and ballparks he pitched in) is ninth all time.
It's tough to think about how good Santana could be by the time he's done, but he's already well on his way to being enshrined in Cooperstown one day.
No. 10: Bert Blyleven
Bert is the first of two non-Latinos on this list. The Dutch hurler is easily the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame. His 3,701 career strikeouts put him fifth all time, and he is ninth on the career shutout list with 60.
For a non-deadball pitcher, that is incredible. He was a main member of two World Series teams, and the fact that he's not in the Hall already is a travesty.
No. 9: Luis Aparicio
Aparicio was one of the first great international players. He was a durable second baseman who could absolutely fly. He was one of the first truly great base stealers, and he swiped 506 bags during his career. He was also a great fielder and an anchor of the White Sox teams of the late '50s.
No. 8: Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro changed the game. Without Ichiro, there are no Japanese position players in the major leagues. He already has 1805 hits and 315 steals despite playing only eight seasons. He is a great fielder with a laser beam for an arm.
He is also the single-season hit king and should be a shoo-in to the Hall when he retires.
No. 7: Albert Pujols
By the time Albert Pujols is done destroying the Major Leagues, he could be No. 1 on this list. For now, he is in the same boat as Johan Santana. He is a great player, who, at 28, could still have his best years ahead of him (which is a scary thought).
His 170 OPS+ is eighth best all time and he has the best average of all active players. He will easily hit 500 home runs and is a plus defender. The quintessential hitter of the current generation is already a lock for Cooperstown.
No. 6: Rod Carew
Rod Carew could flat out hit. He is a member of the illustrious 3000 hit club and hit over .320 for his career. He also stole well over 300 bases and had a great glove at both second and first base. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991, a well-deserved first ballot entry.
No. 5: Manny Ramirez
Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever play. In his illustrious career, he has accumulated over 500 home runs and over 500 doubles while hitting .314. His career OPS+ of 155 is 24th all time, and he's done it all without any steroid accusations.
Oh, and if all that wasn't enough, and he's hit 20 grand slams, only three behind Lou Gehrig's all time record.
No. 4: Juan Marichal
Marichal was the first great Latino hurler. In the pitching heavy 60s and 70s he was still able to make his mark with both his superb numbers and his signature high leg kick.
His career 2.89 ERA is excellent and his 52 career shutouts are impressive as well. He had great control and led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio three times in the '60s.
He was also one of the toughest guys around; just ask Johnny Roseboro. He was one of the first Latino players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame when he entered in 1983.
No. 3: Mariano Rivera
Mo is the greatest closer who ever lived. Period. He has a career ERA+ of 199, meaning he has been almost twice as good as the rest of the pitchers of his generation, ERA wise.
He has insane control and has averaged less than 18 walks a season for his career. Though saves isn't the best statistic, Mo will reach 500 before he's done, an incredible number.
He's also the greatest postseason closer of all time, with an astounding 0.77 postseason ERA. No relief pitcher has ever changed the game the way Mo has, and it will be a long time before we see someone this good again.
No. 2: Pedro Martinez
If Pedro's career consisted only of his 2000 season, it would be hard for anyone to deny him entry to the Hall of Fame. In that season, his ERA was almost three times better than the league average, an unbelievable feat.
However, Pedro doesn't just have the best pitching season in history; he backs it up with a great career. His career ERA+ is 154, the best ever for a starting pitcher, and his 3117 strikeouts in only 2782 innings is the third best ratio ever.
His 1.05 career WHIP is third best all time. Even his W-L percentage is the best among active pitchers. No matter what way you slice it, the outcome is clear: Pedro Martinez is the greatest Latino pitcher to ever play the game.
No. 1: Roberto Clemente
When discussing five-tool players, it's hard to find many who were better than Roberto Clemente. Everything about him was distinctly international: His unique stance, his boundless swagger, and his incredible all-around ability.
He hit 240 home runs and had over 160 triples, showing that he had both power and speed. He hit .317 for his career and had 3000 hits. His outfield arm may be the best ever, as he had an incredible 266 career assists, along with great range.
All this was in a career tragically cut short; if Clemente had not died in a plane crash, he could've finished with 3500 hits and 250 home runs. He is one of the game's greatest men and the greatest international player who ever lived.