Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones, But Put Me in the Lineup
Who are the 10 toughest players in Major League Baseball today?
While many have been quick to limp to the disabled list, others such as Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, and numerous catchers across the league take their nicks and keep moving forward.
What names belong on my top 10 list?
Let’s begin with an honorable mention…
Honorable Mention: Jorge Posada, Catcher—New York Yankees
New York backstop Jorge Posada is one of a handful of catchers to don this “toughest Major League Baseball players list” and rightfully so.
Posada, currently in his 16th season with the Yankees, has really only missed significant time from the game once during the 2008 season when he appeared in just 51 games for New York.
His prior “low” for appearances in a season (outside of his first three years in the majors) was 111 games (1998 and 2009), and he has spent every year in MLB as a member of the Yankees.
With an overall batting average of .278—Posada is batting .288 in 2010 through 37 games. The 38-year-old catcher has 1,524 career hits, garnering 350 doubles along with 251 home runs and counting.
10. Alex Rodriguez, Third Baseman—New York Yankees
Alex Rodriguez, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, along with more than a handful of All-Star appearances, is currently in his 17th season in the majors.
And since beginning life in MLB in the 1994 (17 games) and 1995 (48 games) seasons, Rodriguez has appeared in over 120 games every year (124 in 2009 and 129 in 1999 were his two lowest season totals for games played).
Playing seven seasons in Seattle, three in Texas, and seven and counting in New York, Rodriguez holds a career batting average of .304 with 2,596 hits, 591 home runs, and 460 doubles; and those numbers will be significantly higher by the time A-Rod hangs up his baseball jersey in retirement.
In 2010, Rodriguez is batting .290 with 15 doubles and eight home runs (through 58 games played).
The 34-year-old third baseman also boasts a postseason batting average of .302 with 60 hits, 14 doubles, and 13 home runs.
9. Kevin Youkilis, First/Third Baseman—Boston Red Sox
Through seven seasons and counting in the majors, Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis has a career batting average of .294, and is batting .319 in 2010 with 69 hits, 47 walks, 17 doubles, and 12 home runs (through 63 games and counting).
Outside of his opening two years in MLB, Youkilis has appeared in a minimum 136 games (2009), and appeared in 145-plus games for the Red Sox from 2006 through 2008 (147 games in 2006, followed by back-to-back 145-game seasons in 2007 and 2008).
The 31-year-old infielder has also appeared in back-to-back All-Star games (2008 and 2009) and won a Gold Glove award in 2007.
In addition, Youkilis has spent every season in the majors as a member of the Red Sox.
8. Albert Pujols, First Baseman—St. Louis Cardinals
When you think of St. Louis Cardinals baseball, at least in the modern era, two words should come to mind.
“Albert” and “Pujols.”
Pujols, the 30-year-old first baseman who is pretty much linked to the Cardinals’ face of the franchise since the departure of Mark McGuire in the late 90s, holds a career batting average of .333 and is currently in his 10th season in the majors.
And since being called-up to the MLB level in 2001 at the age of 21, Pujols has missed barely any action with his games played low coming in 2008 when he appeared in 148 games for St. Louis.
His lowest batting average for a season came in 2002, when the hard-hitting Pujols ended the year batting .314. And that was his worst season at the plate.
Through 64 games in 2010, Pujols is batting .309 with 73 hits, 48 walks, 15 home runs, and 14 doubles.
With the Hall of Fame certainly in his future, the powerful Pujols has quite a few years left in the tank when it comes to playing baseball.
And for St. Louis fans, they’re hoping he’ll leave the game exactly where he started — as a member of the Cardinals.
7. Joe Mauer, Catcher—Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer has been a rock behind the plate. Not just this season but pretty much every year since he’s been called up to the majors in 2004 at the age of 21.
Seven seasons and counting later, Mauer has a career batting average of .326 with 910 hits, 177 doubles, and 74 home runs.
In addition, the 27-year-old backstop has appeared in over 100 games every year since his rookie season in 2004 (playing in 35 games for the Twins that year).
His all-time low for appearances from 2005 through 2009 was 109 games in the 2007 season, and his highest batting average (thus far) came in 2009 when the catcher ended the season with a remarkable .365 batting average along with belting 28 home runs.
Through 56 games in 2010, Mauer is batting .316 with 66 hits and 19 doubles.
He has also made three All-Star appearances, won three Silver Slugger awards, two Gold Glove awards, and was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2009.
6. Jason Kendall, Catcher—Kansas City Royals
Jason Kendall, currently a catcher for the Kansas City Royals, is in his 15th season in the majors after beginning his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996.
A life-time .289 hitter, Kendall’s all-time low for number of games played in a season came in 1999 when he appeared in just 78 games for the Pirates.
Outside of that lone season, however, Kendall has appeared in 130-plus games every year (the two lowest totals were 130 games during his rookie campaign in 1996, and 134 with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009).
A three-time All-Star, the 36-year-old backstop is batting .267 through 62 games played in 2010 with Kansas City—garnering 60 hits (12 doubles) while driving in 18 runs.
5. David Eckstein, Second Baseman/Shortstop—San Diego Padres
Ten seasons and counting into his Major League Baseball career, San Diego Padres second baseman David Eckstein has taken his share of bumps and bruises along the way.
Amazingly though, he has only has one season in which he’s appeared in less than 100 games — in 2008, when he combined for 94 appearances between the Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Beyond that season, however, Eckstein has been a workhorse for whatever team he’s playing for, with his lows for appearances coming in 2007 with St. Louis (117 games) and 2003 with Anaheim (120 games).
Through 59 games with the Padres in the 2010 season, Eckstein is batting .282 with 17 doubles and one home run.
Spending time in both the American League and the National League, Eckstein also has a postseason batting average of .278 with four doubles and two home runs, appearing in 44 games (over a span of four seasons/nine series).
4. Miguel Olivo, Catcher—Colorado Rockies
After reading a story in April 2010 about how Miguel Olivo, a catcher for the Colorado Rockies, recently passed a kidney stone, during a game nonetheless, and continued to go to work behind the plate, I had to include him in the top five of this list.
Unfortunately, I know all too well the discomfort of passing a stone, and Olivo, without a doubt, deserves to be here for doing so and continuing to play.
The 31-year-old catcher, who apparently has been suffering from passing kidney stones on a fairly regular basis since 2003, holds a career batting average of .247.
But stones speak louder than numbers.
In addition, Olivo has been fairly consistent behind the plate, appearing in at least 80 games per season since his rookie debut in 2002 with the Chicago White Sox.
His only other three seasons appearing in less than 100 games came in 2004 (96 games), 2005 (91 games), and 2008 (84 games).
Currently in his ninth season in MLB, Olivo is batting .311 in 2010 with the Rockies (through 46 games), garnering eight home runs, four triples, and four doubles.
And he’s on pace for one of his best year’s in the majors.
3. Jason Varitek, Catcher—Boston Red Sox
The top three guys in this list could easily have been shuffled around in any order you please, but I ended up going with the following order.
Jason Varitek, a lifelong catcher for the Boston Red Sox, is—and has been—a beast through his 14 seasons and counting in the majors.
The 38-year-old catcher, who has been sidelined by injuries just once in his career (during the 2001 season when he appeared in just 51 games for the Red Sox), is as consistent as they come.
Holding a career batting average of .259, Varitek’s season low for appearances (outside of his year-plus rookie campaign in 1997-98, and injury-plagued season in 2001) came in 2006 when he played in 103 games for Boston.
Through 28 games in 2010, the Red Sox catcher is batting .263 with seven home runs and four doubles.
In addition, and like his teammate Kevin Youkilis, Varitek has spent all 14 seasons in the majors as a member of the Red Sox.
2. Aaron Rowand, Outfielder—San Francisco Giants
Yes, I know—if you were to poll current Major League Baseball players (at least based on statistics from a couple years ago), they would tell you that Aaron Rowand is the toughest player in the game.
However, I have him as a close No. 2 on my personal top 10 list.
Rowand, currently an outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, is in his 10th season in the majors and has spent time with three different teams (Chicago White Sox, 2001-2005; Philadelphia Phillies, 2006-2007; and the Giants, 2008-present).
A lifetime .277 hitter, Rowand is known for his aggressive outfield defense, and he isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body to make a remarkable play.
In fact, the All-Star outfielder has done just that time and time again, making the highlight reel on numerous occasions when it comes to top-notch defense in the majors.
Outside of his rookie season in 2001, Rowand has also appeared in less than 100 games during a season just once — in 2003 when he played in just 93 games with the White Sox.
Through 45 games in 2010, Rowand is batting .222 with eight doubles, six home runs, and two triples.
A one-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner (2007 with Philadelphia), Rowand has a career fielding percentage of 98.9 percent with 59 assists.
1. Derek Jeter, Shortstop—New York Yankees
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter tops my personal list of toughest players in Major League Baseball today.
Jeter, currently in his 16th season in the majors, holds a career batting average of .316 with 2,827 hits, 452 doubles, and 232 home runs.
In addition (outside of his rookie campaign when he appeared in 15 games for New York in 1995 as a 21-year-old), Jeter has played in well over 100 games every season in the majors, with his all-time low for games played coming in 2003 when he appeared in 119 games for the Yankees.
And beyond his 1995 rookie year and 119-game season in 2003, the shortstop has had nearly 150 appearances every year, with the only two seasons barely hitting that mark coming in 1998 (149) and 2000 (148).
That makes 11 seasons (and counting) of 150-plus games played per year.
Absolutely amazing in my opinion, and by far a reason for being No. 1 on the toughest baseball players currently in the game today.
Through 63 games with the Yankees in 2010, Jeter is batting .290 with 14 doubles, eight home runs, and a triple.
Another player with a no-doubter future of being inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame, Jeter has spent all 16 years in the majors as a member of the Yankees; and barring any unforeseen incidents, I believe Jeter will retire in New York as well.
But the 36-year-old, 10-time All-Star has plenty of baseball left in him.
And that’s just one reason of many as to why he’s currently No. 1 on the top 10 list of toughest players in Major League Baseball.
The funny and amazing thing is that I’m a die-hard Houston Astros fan, and my all-time bests list includes three Yankees and a pair of Red Sox.
Truth be told, though, the aforementioned guys all deserve a spot on this list.
Let me know below…
Denton Ramsey may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org