Franchise Boys: The Best Players in Each American League Team's History
In today's game of free agency and rebuilding sell-offs, it's extremely rare for a player to stick with a team for much more than about a decade. Stars come and go, and the team's is the only name that lasts through a fan's lifetime.
But some players leave behind legacies that continue to capture the hearts of their fans long after they hang up their cleats.
Last week, Bleacher Report's MLB Featured Columnists completed our hardest poll yet: picking the top players in the history of each AL franchise (NL results will be up next week).
Each voter was asked to name the top three players for each team, scored on a 3-2-1 basis. The greats were then ranked by points, with the number of first-place votes (in parentheses next to the vote totals) as a tiebreaker (one of the winners was actually decided this way).
Some of the results were pretty predictable—I don't think saying Babe Ruth and Ted Williams won for the Yankees and Red Sox is much of a spoiler.
But some of the winners were harder to see coming, and how the rest of the lists filled out was fascinating.
Thanks to everyone who participated!
Note: I sent this survey only to the Featured Columnists who have been active in previous polls. If you are a new FC or you have changed your mind about wanting to participate, send me a message and I'll be sure to keep you in the loop for next time!
1. Cal Ripken—22 (5)
2. Brooks Robinson—18 (2)
3. Jim Palmer—12 (2)
4. George Sisler—4 (1)
5. Rafael Palmeiro—2
6. Eddie Murray—1
On Cal Ripken by Nick Cafferky
If you spent any time in Baltimore during the 80s or 90s, you would know that Cal Ripken isn’t just the best baseball player from the city, he is also one of the most influential people in the city. He is truly beloved by everyone and continues to be active in the organization today.
Ripken will be known forever for his 3000+ hits, 400+ home runs, and his consecutive games streak, but despite all of his accolades, the first word I think of when I hear his name is “class.”
Year after year, Cal played in every single game without complaint. He played through injury after injury because he wanted to help his team win. When he finally did rest, it was because he realized that having him play every day was no longer beneficial to the team.
When he finally retired in 2001, he was elected into the HOF with 98.7% approval, which is the highest percentage anyone has gotten on a ballot. Simply put, Cal is one of the most important people in all of baseball, not just Baltimore.
Boston Red Sox
1. Ted Williams—29 (9)
2. Carl Yastrzemski—11 (1)
3. Roger Clemens—6
T4. Pedro Martinez—5
T4. Cy Young—5
6. Tris Speaker—2
T7. Jim Rice—1
T7. Joe Wood—1
On Ted Williams by Jordan Schwartz
The Red Sox have had several Hall of Fame players, but none better than Ted Williams.
The Splendid Splinter holds a number of franchise records, like his .344 career batting average, 521 homers, 2,019 walks, .482 on-base percentage and .634 slugging percentage.
He also ranks second in runs scored (1,798), doubles (525), RBIs (1,839), total bases (4,884) and hits (2,654), third in games played (2,292), fourth in at-bats (7,706) and ninth in triples (71).
And Williams may have been the team’s all-time leader in every statistic had he not left baseball for three years during his prime to fight in World War II.
Chicago White Sox
1. Frank Thomas—16 (5)
2. Eddie Collins—10 (2)
3. Ed Walsh—9 (1)
4. Luke Appling—8
5. Joe Jackson—5 (1)
6. Luis Aparicio—47.
Ted Lyons—3 (1)
8. Harold Baines—3
T9. Carlton Fisk—1
T9. Nellie Fox—1
On Frank Thomas by Asher Chancey
In the long history of the Chicago White Sox, there have been many great players: Eddie Collins, Luke Appling, Luis Aparicio, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ray Schalk; the list goes on and on.
But Frank Thomas is probably one of the top 20 to 25 hitters of all time and is the White Sox’ career leader in all of the major offensive categories.
The only other player for whom a case could even be made would be Collins, and he only played for the Sox for 12 years compared to Thomas’ 16.
1. Bob Feller—21 (6)
2. Tris Speaker—14 (3)
3. Nap Lajoie—8
4. Manny Ramirez—3 (1)
T5. Albert Belle—2
T5. Addie Joss—2
T5. Bob Lemon—2
T5. Kenny Lofton—2
T5. Jim Thome—2
T5. Omar Vizquel—2
T11. Larry Doby—1
T11. Al Rosen—1
On Bob Feller by Lewie Pollis
Many a baseball legend has worn Chief Wahoo on his cap; from Lou Boudreau and Earl Averill to Omar Vizquel and Robbie Alomar, quite a few talented players have spent extended time in an Indians uniform.
But while an outsider might posit that Tris Speaker or Nap Lajoie was the greatest Indian of all time, any real Cleveland fan knows that title unequivocally belongs to Bob Feller.
Arguably the greatest right-handed pitcher of all time, Feller earned 266 wins with a 3.25 ERA (122 ERA+) through 18 seasons with the Indians, starting at age 17.
Rapid Robert’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he lost almost four full seasons (in what would have been the prime of his career) to fight in World War II. Given that he won 93 victories in the four years before his hiatus, Feller likely would have reached 350 victories had he not gone to serve his country.
1. Ty Cobb—28 (8)
T2. Hank Greenberg—11 (1)
T2. Al Kaline—11 (1)
4. Sam Crawford—4
T5. Charlie Gehringer—2
T5. Harry Heilmann—2
7. "Trammaker" (Alan Trammell and Lou Whittaker)—1
On Ty Cobb by Brandon Williams
Ty Cobb wasn’t the most graceful person in social circles, but there’s no denying he is the greatest player to don a Tigers uniform.
“The Georgia Peach” was the game’s first five-tool player—a man whose prolific swing would have made him a Hall of Famer in any era. Cobb played the game with a reckless abandon that would have made Ron Artest proud and was willing to do anything to win.
To rehash his numbers is a waste of time, but the .366 average is the one that stands out in a career that saw Cobb lead the Tigers to three consecutive American League titles and a World Series crown from 1907-09. That he remains atop the leader list in a variety of career categories almost a century after his last game with the “D” on his shirt is a testament to his greatness and why he will remain the greatest Tiger of them all for years to come.
Kansas City Royals
1. George Brett—30 (10)
2. Bret Saberhagen—10
3. Frank White—6
4. Dan Quisenberry—4
T5. David Cone—2
T5. Denis Leonard—2
T7. Kevin Appier—1
T7. Yuniesky Betancourt—1
T7. Cookie Rojas—1
On George Brett by Aaron Hooks
Being the best Royal of all time is something you have to earn. But let’s not pretend that the bar has been set that terribly high. More times than not you forget that Kansas City has a baseball team and you’ll be all “The Royals are still fielding a team, aren’t they?”
But back in the 80s, KC was a threat in the AL. And that’s in no small part thanks to one George Brett.
Remarkably consistent over two decades, Brett was drafted in the second round of the amateur draft, broke into the bigs with a ROYcampaign and didn’t look back until he made it to Cooperstown. A man’s man that the blue collar folks of western Missouri could respect, Brett played the game with an intense passion. And if you need proof, just Google ‘Pine Tar’ and see what comes up.
Maybe his .305/1595 line wouldn’t put him at the top of the Yankees or Cardinals or Dodgers… but George Brett doesn’t care. He’s KC and KC baseball is George Brett.
No one even comes close.
Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim
1. Nolan Ryan—21 (4)
2. Tim Salmon—11 (2)
3. Vladimir Guerrero—10 (3)
4. Rod Carew—7 (1)
T5. Jim Fregosi—3
T5. Frank Tanana—3
7. Garret Anderson—2
T8. Brian Downing—1
T8. Jim Edmonds—1
T8. Chuck Finley—1
On Nolan Ryan by Jordan Schwartz
Nolan Ryan spent only eight years with the Angels, but he still ranks second in the franchise’s history with 138 wins and 288 starts, and his 3.07 ERA is third among starting pitchers. No Angel has ever thrown more complete games (156), tossed as many shutouts (40), or struck out as many batters (2,416).
Ryan made five All-Star teams with California and finished in the top eight of the Cy Young voting four times, including three times in the top three.
In 1979, he helped lead the Angels to their first American League Championship Series.
1. Walter Johnson—17 (5)
2. Harmon Killebrew—17 (2)
3. Kirby Puckett—13 (2)
4. Rod Carew—8 (1)
5. Bert Blyleven—4
On Walter Johnson by Dan Tylicki
The Twins history extends back to the days of the original Washington Senators, where they had who was likely the greatest pitcher of all time in Walter Johnson. He pitched for them for 21 years, won a World Series title, and won an MVP award for his incredible 1913 season, as well as his also great 1924 season.
Beyond that, he has 410 wins, a 2.17 ERA, and 110 shutouts, a record that will never be broken in this modern era. Killebrew, Puckett, and Carew were all great in their time for the twins, but can one compete against one of the five inaugural Hall of Famers? Seems like that’s a no.
New York Yankees
1. Babe Ruth—29 (9)
2. Lou Gehrig—15
3. Mickey Mantle—11 (1)
4. Derek Jeter—2
5. Joe DiMaggio—1
On Babe Ruth by Jordan Schwartz
Babe Ruth is the best baseball player of all time, so he is obviously the greatest to ever don the Yankee pinstripes.
He is the storied franchise’s all-time leader in career batting average (.349), runs (1,959), homers (659), total bases (5,131), walks (1,852), on-base percentage (.479) and slugging (.711).
The Sultan of Swat also ranks second in RBIs (1,971), third in hits (2,518), fifth in doubles (424) and sixth in triples (106).
The trade that sent Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1920 changed baseball history forever. It led to the first seven of New York’s 40 American League pennants and the first four of the club’s 27 World Series titles.
1. Jimmie Foxx—18 (5)
2. Rickey Henderson—9 (2)
3. Lefty Grove—9 (1)
4. Reggie Jackson—7
5. Eddie Plank—6
T6. Eddie Collins—3 (1)
T6. Mark McGwire—3 (1)
8. Dennis Eckersley—3
T9. Mickey Cochrane—1
T9. Dave Stewart—1
On Jimmie Foxx by Lewie Pollis
For me, choosing the three best players in Athletics history was the hardest part of this poll. Rickey Henderson, Eddie Plank, Lefty Grove, Eddie Collins, Reggie Jackson—picking Nos. 2 and 3 was extremely difficult.
Picking the No. 1 guy (almost pictured here), however, was easy.
In 11 years with the A’s (only seven of which were really full seasons), Foxx smashed 302 homers with 1,075 RBI. From his 1929 (his first season with more than 400 at-bats) to 1935 (his last go-round with the Athletics), he averaged 7.9 WAR per annum.
Foxx won back-to-back MVP awards in 1932 and 1933 over the course of those two seasons, he hit .360/.460/.726 with 106 homers, 332 RBI, 19.7 WAR, and a 203 OPS+.
That, my friends, is a legend.
1. Ken Griffey—24 (6)
2. Ichiro Suzuki—12 (1)
T3. Randy Johnson—9 (1)
T3. Alex Rodriguez—9 (1)
5. Edgar Martinez—5 (1)
On Ken Griffey by Nick Cafferky
When Griffey first burst onto the scene in 1989, everyone knew he was something special. At the tender age of 19, Griffey’s combination of raw power and speed was something that the baseball world hadn’t seen in decades.
From then on, he was the most exciting player in the league. He was absolutely dazzling in the field and loved to hit the long ball.
If not for injuries, Griffey would be the one with the career home run record and it would be a clean record. What makes him mean so much more than his numbers is that he is probably the best player of the steroid era whose name never came up in a scandal.
Griffey played the game right and for a period of 10 years or so, watching a Mariners game was one of the most exciting things in sports.
Tampa Bay Rays
1. Carl Crawford—24 (5)
2. Evan Longoria—16 (3)
3. Scott Kazmir—6
4. Wade Boggs—4 (1)
5. B.J. Upton—3 (1)
6. Fred McGriff—3
7. Ben Zobrist—1
On Carl Crawford by Asher Chancey
Sometimes it is best to be a big Ray in a small pond, and Carl Crawford is exactly that. Crawford is the Rays career leader in almost every counting statistic there is, with the exception of home runs and bases on balls.
But Crawford isn’t just a great Ray because there has been no one else; he is pretty good in his own right. With just two more home runs and one more triple, Crawford will become the eighth player in baseball history to hit 100 home runs and 100 triples while also stealing 400 bases. He will join Frankie Frisch, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Kenny Lofton, Lou Brock, Tim Raines, and Paul Molitor.
1. Ivan Rodriguez—18 (5)
2. Nolan Ryan—12 (2)
3. Alex Rodriguez—6 (2)
4. Juan Gonzalez—6 (1)
5. Frank Howard—4
T6. Fergie Jenkins—3
T6. Rafael Palmeiro—3
T8. Whitey Herzog—2
T8. Charlie Hough—2
T8. Gaylord Perry—2
11. George W. Bush—1
On Ivan Rodriguez by Evan Bruschini
Throughout most of the 1990s, the Texas Rangers were known for one thing: offense. That's why it comes as no surprise that the greatest player in Rangers history is not a pitcher, but a seven-time Silver Slugger, Ivan Rodriguez.
And even though Pudge is known mostly for being one of the greatest offensive catchers of all time, he might just be the greatest defensively, as well. He's won 13 Gold Gloves, the most at the position, no one threw out runners at a higher clip, and he ranks near the top in passed ball and wild pitch numbers.
For a team known mostly for offensive prowess, their greatest offensive player also outshines the rest defensively, making Ivan Rodriguez a clear choice for the greatest player in Rangers history.
Toronto Blue Jays
1. Roy Halladay—17 (4)
2. Roberto Alomar—12 (3)
3. Dave Steib—10 (2)
4. Carlos Delgado—9
5. Roger Clemens—5 (1)
6. Joe Carter—5
7. Paul Molitor—2
On Roy Halladay by Dan Tylicki
The Blue Jays have had many big names play for them, albeit not for long; Roberto Alomar, Roger Clemens, and others had pit stops in Toronto. The best player in Toronto who actually hung around, though, is Roy Halladay. While he brought home no titles to Canada, he did win a Cy Young award and win 148 games, combined with only 76 losses.
What makes him stand out, beyond the leadership, has been his consistency and desire to finish the job. His 57 complete games and 18 shutouts lead active major league pitchers easily, and he led the league in innings pitched three times. For 12 years, Toronto had a true great.