The Single Greatest Player for Each MLB Franchise
Over the history of Major League Baseball, each team has been fortunate enough to have one player that fans can single out who defined the franchise. However, for some teams it is not always so cut and dried, since they have had numerous franchise players.
In terms of my criteria for who made this list, I looked at their stats and awards with the franchise, how long they were with that franchise and the legacy that was left. I tried to eliminate great players who were only there for one year or two and that could be thought of more as rentals to help make a run at a title.
This the list that I came up with of the single greatest player for each MLB franchise.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson
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The Arizona Diamondbacks have not had the luxury of having a long history or a large pool of players to choose from, but they had two very good pitchers that helped them win a World Series title in 2001.
This pick came down to Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Johnson got the edge because he pitched four more years for the club than Schilling.
However, he wasn't picked just because he pitched longer, as Johnson had some of his best years of his career in Arizona. He won four straight Cy Young awards from 1999-2002 as well as a World Series co-MVP with Curt Schilling in 2001.
Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron
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Even though Barry Bonds technically owns the home run record, some question his methods on achieving the feat and still recognize Hammerin' Hank as the true home run king. One question no one debates is whether or not Hank Aaron is one of the all-time greats to play this sport.
Hank Aaron was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982 after a 23-year career, the majority of which was spent with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. He won a World Series title and MVP award in 1957 and was elected to 21 All-Star games. He also led the National League in batting average in a season twice and in home runs on four different occasions.
Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr.
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This was a tossup between Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. since both were great players. Ripken Jr. gets the nod, though, because he owns more team records and has the MLB record of most consecutive games played at 2,632 straight games.
Ripken leads the Baltimore organization in career games played, hits, home runs, RBI and runs scored. He played his entire career with the Orioles and went to 19 straight All-Star games, which is an impressive feat in itself.
Boston Red Sox: Ted Williams
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Ted Williams is considered by many to be the greatest hitter ever to live and it is hard to argue when fans look at the stats. Ted Williams played 19 seasons in his career, all with the Boston Red Sox, and was elected to the All-Star game 17 times.
He won the MVP award twice, in 1946 and 1949, as well as the Triple Crown award twice in 1942 and 1947. He was also the last player to hit over .400 in a season.
Ted Williams has great offensive numbers, but they could have been better as he had two stints in the military during World War II and the Korean War. The Red Sox have had a number of great players, but Ted Williams is hands-down the best player to wear the uniform.
Chicago White Sox: Nellie Fox
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Nellie Fox played for the Chicago White Sox from 1950 to 1963 and won the AL MVP in 1959. The Hall of Fame second baseman was a key to the White Sox's offensive success, hitting .291 over his career with Chicago.
He never won a World Series but did make 11 straight All-Star appearances. The most impressive stat from his career, though, may be he never had more than 20 strikeouts in a season and had only 216 over his 19-year career. To put this number in perspective, Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn each eclipsed the 216 mark in a single season.
Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks
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Pretty easy selection here with Ernie Banks, whose nickname is Mr. Cub. The first baseman/shortstop played his entire 19-year career with the Chicago Cubs and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Banks went to 11 All-Star games over his career and won back-to-back MVP awards in 1958 and 1959. Banks obviously didn't win a World Series with the Cubs winning their last title over 100 years ago, but he holds the team record for games played, extra-base hits and total bases.
Cincinnati Reds: Pete Rose
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Pete Rose may not be elected to the Hall of Fame anytime soon, which in my opinion is a shame, but he makes this list as the greatest player to play for the Cincinnati Reds. Rose still owns the MLB record for games played (3,562), hits (4,256) and at-bats (14,053).
Rose played 19 of his 24-year career for the Reds and became a fan favorite for his determination and hustle on the field. That is why he ended up with the nickname "Charlie Hustle." He won three World Series titles with the Reds, Rookie of the Year in 1963 and an MVP award in 1973.
Cleveland Indians: Tris Speaker
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Tris Speaker spent 11 years with the Cleveland Indians and led them to their first World Series title in 1920. He had 1965 hits and still owns the record for career doubles at 792. He hit the majority of those doubles while with the Indians.
He still ranks sixth in Major League history in terms of career batting average at .345 and led the league in that category with a .386 average in 1916.
Colorado Rockies: Larry Walker
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This was a tough decision as it came down to Larry Walker and Todd Helton, and while Helton has played his entire career with the team, Walker had much better stats over his 10 years with the club.
Walker has a career batting average of .334 with Colorado and won an MVP award in 1997. He also won the NL batting title three different years in 1998, 1999 and 2001, and five Golden Glove awards.
Todd Helton gets a lot of credit for playing 16 seasons with Colorado, but looking at the stats Larry Walker had a bigger impact on the field and overall was the better player.
Detroit Tigers: Ty Cobb
Photo Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
Ty Cobb played for the Detroit Tigers from 1905 to 1926 and to this day still owns the MLB record for career batting average at .366. He hit over .400 three times and led the league in hitting in 12 seasons.
He won an MVP award in 1911 and is credited with setting over 90 records through his career. He is considered one of the greatest players ever to play the game; however, he wasn't a widely liked guy. According to this ESPN.com article by Howard Schwartz, Cobb wrote in 1961:
In legend I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport.
Houston Astros: Craig Biggio
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A case could be made for Jeff Bagwell here, but Craig Biggio is the single greatest player to put on a Houston Astros uniform. Biggio played his entire 20-year career with the Astros and is only one of a few players to reach the 3,000 career hit mark on the same team.
He never won an MVP award but was elected to seven All-Star games. He was the true definition of team player as he played a number of positions in his career including catcher, second base and the outfield.
Kansas City Royals: George Brett
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This was the easiest one to pick as the Kansas City Royals have not had many players who would even be considered for this distinction. George Brett will probably be remembered most for the infamous 1983 Pine Tar incident but he actually was a pretty good baseball player.
In 21 years, all with Kansas City, he had a career .305 batting average with 13 straight All-Star game appearances. The highlight of his career though was his MVP award in 1980 when he hit .390 and had a 1.180 OPS.
Los Angeles Angels: Nolan Ryan
Whether they are the California Angels, Anaheim Angels or L.A. Angels, there is one constant—and that is Nolan Ryan was the greatest player to ever be an Angel. He spent eight seasons with the club, posting a record of 138-121 and a career ERA of 3.07.
That doesn't tell the whole story though, considering he threw 156 complete games in his 288 starts. In 1973, he broke the modern day single-season record for strikeouts with 383. He also threw four no-hitters over his eight seasons with the Angels. He still owns a number of team records.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Jackie Robinson
Photo Courtesy of the Jackie Robinson Foundation
Jackie Robinson was a great player but his impact on the sport transcended the baseball diamond. I could list his Rookie of the Year award, MVP award, over .300 career batting average, but that tells a very small story of Jackie Robinson
He broke the color barrier in 1947 when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and opened the door for hundreds of athletes after him. His impact on baseball, and sports in general, is still felt today. MLB retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 and players are only allowed to wear the number if they choose to on April 15, which is Jackie Robinson Day.
Miami Marlins: Miguel Cabrera
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The Miami Marlins just celebrated their 20th season as a MLB organization, but fans were not celebrating due to the salary dumping trades pulled off over the past six months. They have two World Series titles in their short history but regularly seem to be cutting salary.
One of the greats to play for the Marlins, and in my opinion the greatest, was Miguel Cabrera. In the five seasons he played for the team he had a career batting average of .323 with 183 home runs and 600 RBI. In the four full seasons he played, he had over 100 RBI each year and was voted to the All-Star game.
Milwaukee Brewers: Robin Yount
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Robin Yount played for the Milwaukee Brewers for nearly two decades and joined a select group of players to have 3,000 hits with one team.
He never was able to capture a World Series title but did represent the Brewers at three All-Star games and won two MVP awards. Robin Yount also owns the team record in career home runs, hits, doubles, triples, runs and RBI.
Minnesota Twins: Kirby Puckett
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This was a pretty easy selection as Kirby Puckett helped the Twins to two World Series titles and had a career .318 batting average over 12 years. He unfortunately saw his career cut short due to losing vision in his right eye, which was later diagnosed as glaucoma.
He still accomplished more in his 12 years than some have over longer careers. He collected 10 All-Star appearances, six Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards, an AL batting title in 1989, ALCS MVP in 1991 and an All-Star MVP award in 1993. He was one of the true greats of his era.
New York Mets: Tom Seaver
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Tom Seaver played for four teams over his 20-year career but spent the majority of his career, and saw his best seasons, with the New York Mets. He spent 12 years with the team and had a career record of 198-124 with a 2.57 ERA. One of his career highlights came in 1969 when he won a World Series as part of the "Miracle Mets."
To go along with the World Series ring, he won the Rookie of the Year in 1967, three Cy Young awards in 1969, 1973 and 1975 and 10 total All-Star appearances. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992.
New York Yankees: Babe Ruth
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This was by far one of the tougher decisions as the New York Yankees have had numerous great players over their successful history like Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.
The pick though has to be Babe Ruth especially when Yankee Stadium is often referred to as "the House Ruth Built."
According to Babe Ruth's official website, he ranks in the top 10 in nine different hitting categories in MLB history. He also ranks in the top three in home runs, RBI, all-time slugging percentage, on base percentage, OPS and walks.
Babe Ruth last appeared in Major League Baseball over 77 years ago and yet everyone still knows his name. The man was one of the first people to transcend sports and became ingrained in American culture.
Oakland A's: Rickey Henderson
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This was a pretty easy selection as many consider, myself included, Rickey Henderson to be one of the greatest leadoff hitters and base runners. He played in 3,081 games over his 25-year career but spent the majority of it in Oakland.
He won one World Series title with Oakland in 1989, an MVP award in 1990 and currently owns the record for most stolen bases in a career at 1,406. During his time with Oakland he averaged over 61 stolen bases a season.
Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt
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Mike Schmidt played his entire 18-year career with the Philadelphia Phillies and is considered one of the best third basemen ever to play the game. He had one of the more unique hitting stances, but it is hard to argue with the results.
He won a World Series title in 1980, along with a World Series MVP award, 12 All-Star appearances, three MVP awards, 10 Gold Gloves and six Silver Slugger awards. He also led the National League in home runs eight times and in RBI on four different occasions.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente
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Roberto Clemente had a great 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972. Over this span he had 3,000 hits, an MVP award in 1966 and two World Series titles in 1960 and 1971. He also won the World Series MVP in 1971.
Unfortunately his playing career was cut short in 1972 when he tragically passed away in a plane crash while doing charity work during the offseason. Roberto Clemente's impact on the game is still felt to this day, though, as MLB awards the Roberto Clemente award to one player who has had an impact off the field through charity and community involvement.
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn
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This was a pretty easy pick as Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, played 20 years for San Diego and was one of the few players to have 3,000 hits with the same organization.
Tony Gwynn has a career .338 batting average and almost broke .400 for a single season in 1994 when he hit .394. More impressive than that one single season may be that he hit above .300 19 straight years. It should come as no surprise that he led the National League in batting average eight different times and went to 15 All-Star games.
San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays
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The Say Hey Kid is the most notable player associated with the Giants and is still their ambassador, as can be seen here when he went to the White House in 2010 when the Giants won the World Series.
Willie Mays had a number of great accomplishments with the team, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1951, two MVP awards in 1954 and 1965 and appearing in 19 All-Star games. He also won a World Series in 1954 with the Giants where he made one of the most memorable catches in baseball history, which can be seen here.
Seattle Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr.
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The Mariners have had a number of good players including Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez, but Ken Griffey Jr. will always be the first player fans think of when they think of Seattle. With one of the sweetest swings in baseball, Griffey was a force to be reckoned with for 13 years up in the Northwest.
He won the MVP award in 1997, and over a 10-year span from 1990 to 1999 he went to the All-Star game and won the Gold Glove every season. Over his final four seasons with Seattle he averaged just over 52 home runs a season.
St. Louis Cardinals: Stan Musial
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Stan Musial had a great 22-year career as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He won three World Series titles with the team, three MVP awards, finished second in MVP voting four other times and went to the All-Star game 20 times.
He had a career batting average of .331 and collected 3,630 hits, which ranks fourth-best in MLB history. He was nicknamed Stan the Man and with a career like that, I don't think anyone will argue with that nickname.
Tampa Bay Rays: Carl Crawford
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The Tampa Bay Rays do not have the history that some other MLB franchises have, and since the franchise's first season was 1998, the pool of "greatest" players is limited.
In a few years this slide could change if Evan Longoria keeps playing at the level he has been, but Carl Crawford was the heart and soul of this team for over nine years.
He owns numerous team records, including batting average, total bases and games played. He was elected to four All-Star games and was the player fans came to see during the team's bad years. Carl Crawford owns the title right now as greatest player for the Tampa Bay Rays, but Evan Longoria and David Price are closing quickly.
Texas Rangers: Ivan Rodriguez
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Ivan Rodriguez spent the majority of his 21-year career behind the plate for the Texas Rangers and won the MVP award in 1999. He also went to 10 straight All-Star games and won 10 straight Golden Glove awards from 1992 to 2001.
He wasn't only a good defensive catcher as he had a career batting average of .304 with 214 home runs and 842 RBI. The man they call Pudge was the face of the franchise for the better part of a decade and played a major role in turning the organization around to becoming a contender.
Toronto Blue Jays: Roy Halladay
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This selection could have gone to Joe Carter for the single greatest moment in Blue Jays history when he hit a World Series-clinching home run, or Carlos Delgado who currently holds the team record for home runs.
While both of them were great players, Roy Halladay was the greatest player to wear a Blue Jays uniform.
He never won a World Series but that can be attributed more to playing on some bad teams over his 12 years in Toronto. He was able to win one Cy Young award in 2003 and appeared in six All-Star games. He finished his career in Toronto with a record of 148-76 and an ERA of 3.43.
Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos: Vladimir Guerrero
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Vlad the Impaler spent eight seasons with the Montreal Expos and was one of the best hitters not just on the team, but in the entire league over this period. He had a career batting average of .323 and hit over 40 home runs four out of the eight seasons with the Expos.
He went to four All-Star games and in 2002 fell one home run short of reaching the 40-40 club when he had 40 stolen bases but only 39 home runs. This slide could change in a few years, though, if Ryan Zimmerman continues to play for the Nationals at the level he has been.