There are certain players that every fan knows, irrespective of their age or interest in the game. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Greg Maddux, and many others have, through their play, ingrained themselves into the very fiber of the game.
There are others who have either been phenomenal players or have shaped the game in a lasting way, yet for one reason or another have slipped from the public's consciousness.
Here are five players I think every fan should know, but that have been largely forgotten.
Jackie Robinson is well known for being the first man to break the color barrier. While Robinson made huge strides towards breaking down that barrier, he wasn't actually the first non-white player in the game.
In 1897, a Penobscot Indian named Louis Sockalexis played for the Cleveland Spiders. He was far from the player that Robinson was, but his contribution should not be glossed over.
He, too, faced racism and discrimination when he played, but unlike Robinson, he isn't remembered.
Barry who? Babe who? Hammerin' what? Josh Gibson was the home run king before there was a kingdom to be claimed.
As with all Negro League players, some numbers exist for Gibson, but they are spotty at best. He's listed as having hit 159 home runs between the Negro Leagues and the Mexican League, but most experts agree he hit a lot more than that.
Two legends exist about Gibson's home run prowess (from the catcher position, no less). Neither have been assigned a truth value, so decide for yourself.
First, Gibson is reported to have been the only player to have hit a home run out of the old Yankee Stadium. Two players who were playing in the alleged game testify to this fact, but, sadly, no record exists for sure.
Second, Gibson hit somewhere in the vicinity of 800 home runs. The normal caveats apply here, but no matter how many he hit, Gibson was a machine.
He hit a home run between every 10.6 and 15.9 ABs, either of which would make him one of the greatest home run hitters in history.
Speaking of home run hitters, in the reasonably home run unfriendly NPB, Sadaharu Oh was a beast among men. His 868 home runs still stand as the league record, with next closest hitter sitting at 657, a gap of over 200 four-baggers.
It is difficult to compare his record with Hank Aaron's (or Barry Bonds', don't get me started) though Oh and Aaron did once square off in a exhibition home run derby, won by Aaron 10-9.
In addition to being a home run hitter par excellence, Oh has managed Team Japan to a World Baseball Classic title and the Yomiuri Giants to two Japan Series titles.
Baseball may be thought of as an American game, but if you want to impress your friends or just look through incredible research, do a little looking into the history of the game in Japan. Absolutely fascinating, and Oh is just the tip of the iceberg.
Like Gibson, Satchel Paige's exact numbers are very hard to come by. Sites exist with supposed statistics, but verifying them is next to impossible.
Better then to focus on what is out there and known fact. Paige's first season in Major League Baseball, he was 41 and still posted a 6-1 record with an ERA+ of 164.
Far from an ageless junkballer, Paige was a flamethrower with a penchant for throwing a ton of strikes. Still, he pitched into his 50s, making his last appearance at the age of 58.
Satchel was a mercenary. He played wherever the money was good: Negro Leagues, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, didn't matter. Satch was so good, he was a hot commodity wherever he went.
Scouts raved about Joe DiMaggio after he went 1-for-4 off of Paige, and DiMaggio later called Paige the best pitcher he ever faced.
Paige was so good, he was supposed to be the man the broke the color barrier, not Jackie Robinson. Paige refused, not wanting to be the only black player on an all white team; he told Branch Rickey he would play in the majors when the rest of his team could come, too.
The fact that he was the first African-American admitted into baseball's Hall of Fame ought to tell you how well respected he was.
A seven-time Gold Glover, Flood quit the game when he was 33.
In today's game, such a move would be absurd. A 33-year-old Center Fielder with a career average of .293 who frequently posted an OPS+ over 110 to match his stellar defense at the end of his contract would be licking his chops over the contract he'd get the next season.
Such is life in the world of Free Agency.
So, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, thank your lucky stars you played after Curt Flood.
Flood played under the reserve clause, which, as his biography puts it, made him a very well paid slave. Without going into the nitty gritty of the old system, the owner of a team could renew the contract of any player at no greater than a 20 percent pay cut.
Put in modern terms, the team held one year options on every player and could force them to take a pay cut as the situation saw fit. No-trade clauses were a fantasy, and that's what got Flood's goat.
Despite being a All-Star the year prior, Flood was traded to the Phillies from the Cardinals in a move to bring in cheaper players. Flood didn't want to move to Philly, a city well known for treating Jackie Robinson worse than any felon, and so, in lieu of playing for the Phillies, he retired and sued baseball for his rights as a free agent.
Flood himself was never granted free agency, but his lawsuit set in motion the process that ended the reserve clause and opened the doors to the modern system we all know and love (well, know, at least).
Baseball teams would look very different today if Flood had agreed to play for Philly. Whether it would be better or worse can be debated, but Flood deserves credit for having the guts to stand up to a system that he believed was unfair.