National League Treasures: The Best Players in Each Franchise'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 NL franchise (for the AL results, click here).
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.
Some of the results were pretty predictable—I don't think saying Hank Aaron and Willie Mays won for the Braves and Giants 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!
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1. Randy Johnson—26 (8)
2. Luis Gonzalez—17 (1)
3. Curt Schilling—9
4. Steve Finley—1
On Randy Johnson by Aaron Hooks
Randy Johnson came to Arizona during the 1999 season. He promptly won four straight Cy Young awards and a World Series. Not to belittle this process, but for a team that hasn’t been around longer than most of you reading this, I can’t even imagine who you think could have been a better player for the D’backs—at least while playing in Arizona.
Let’s be honest. The Cy Young awards should be proof enough. But if we must, let’s not give short shrift to the fact that Arizona was pretty much the punching bag of the NL West before acquiring The Big Unit. During his tenure they were threats to win it all in 4 of his 6 seasons. Since he’s left, they haven’t done much.
Randy Johnson isn’t so much the best player in the franchise’s history as he is the franchise’s history.
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1. Hank Aaron—27 (9)
2. Warren Spahn—12
3. Greg Maddux—7
4. Eddie Matthews—3
5. Chipper Jones—2
T6. Phil Niekro—1
T6. John Smoltz—1
On Hank Aaron by Lewie Pollis.
The Braves have seen more than their share of legendary players over the years. Chipper Jones would rank No. 1 on more than a few other teams; not many southpaws can hold a candle to Warren Spahn; and only a handful of pitchers of either handedness ever displayed Greg Maddux' otherworldly command.
Pity, then, that they all are viewed in the shadow of Hank Aaron.
Hammerin' Hank's numbers speak for themselves. His 755 homers famously rank second on the all-time list, but his dazzling stats don't stop there. His 2,297 RBI are the most in MLB history, and his 2,174 runs tie him for fourth. You don't need all the fingers on one hand to count how many players can best his 150.5 career WAR—heck, he even stole 240 bases.
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1. Ernie Banks—23 (7)
2. Mordecai Brown—7 (1)
3. Ryne Sandberg—5
4. Cap Anson—4 (1)
5. Sammy Sosa—4
T6. Pete Alexander—2
T6. Ron Santo—2
T6. Billy Williams—2
T8. Greg Maddux—1
T8. Hack Wilson—1
On Ernie Banks by Asher Chancey
Chicago-area historians and sportswriters will, from time to time, rake muck by making the argument that some other player should be called “Mr. Cub” instead of Ernie Banks. The names Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Hack Wilson, Gabby Hartnett, Three Finger Brown, Frank Chance, and even Sammy Sosa are often bandied about as superior players to Mr. Banks.
This is all, to say the least, an academic exercise. Banks is not just the face of the franchise, but no player played longer or suffered more for the Chicago Cubs.
If Sandberg had not retired and then made a futile comeback, perhaps he could lay claim. If Sosa were beyond suspicion, it would be him. But Ernie Banks hit 500 home runs when it was still a once-in-a-generation accomplishment, and he hit most of his home runs as a shortstop. He is the Cubs' all-time leader in plate appearances and RBI, and he would be the home run champion if not for Sosa. Banks had a special blend of skills we’ve rarely seen in baseball history.
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1. Pete Rose—21 (5)
2. Joe Morgan—13 (2)
3. Johnny Bench—12 (2)
4. Frank Robinson—5
5. Barry Larkin—2
On Pete Rose by Curt Hogg
Forget about whether or not he bet on baseball, Pete Rose was one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Spending 19 years in a Reds uniform, he set the all-time record for games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), and, most famously, hits (4,256).
He was also a part of the Big Red Machine of 1975 and ’76 that took home consecutive World Series titles.
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1. Todd Helton—25 (7)
2. Larry Walker—20 (2)
3. Dante Bichette—3
4. Matt Holliday—2
T5. Vinny Castilla—1
T5. Ubaldo Jimenez—1
T5. Troy Tulowitzki—1
On Todd Helton by Jordan Schwartz
Todd Helton broke into the big leagues with the Rockies in 1997, four years after the team came into existence, and he has been with them for his entire 14-year career.
Over that time, he has become the franchise’s second-leading hitter with a .324 average and a .424 on-base percentage.
No Rockies player has ever played more games, had more at-bats or collected as many hits, doubles, homers, RBI, total bases or walks.
Helton finished runner-up in the 1998 National League Rookie of the Year voting and made the All-Star team five straight years from 2000-04.
In ’00, the first baseman led baseball with 59 doubles, 147 RBI, a .372 average, a .698 slugging percentage, a 1.162 OPS and 405 total bases.
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1. Hanley Ramirez—12 (1)
2. Miguel Cabrera—10 (3)
3. Mike Lowell—10 (1)
4. Gary Sheffield—6 (2)
5. Luis Castillo—6 (1)
6. Josh Beckett—4 (1)
7. Josh Johnson—3
T8. Kevin Brown—1
T8. Livan Hernandez—1
T8. Dontrelle Willis—1
On Hanley Ramirez by Lewie Pollis
The Florida Marlins haven't been around long enough to produce any legends. Some solid players (Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett) started out in Miami and some marquee names (Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown) spent stints with the Fish, but the only players to spend over 1,000 games in Marlins uniforms were Luis Castillo and Jeff Conine.
That's why three fantastic seasons are enough to put Hanley Ramirez over the top.
From 2007-09, Han-Ram hit .325/.398/.549 with 86 homers, 113 steals, 254 RBI, and 351 runs scored. He owns the Florida single-season franchise records in average (.342), runs (125), total bases (359), extra-base hits (83), and WAR (7.5).
Doubters' only real argument is that he accomplished all this while playing lackluster defense at shortstop—a detraction that, to me, is negated by the fact that he accomplished all this while playing shortstop.
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1. Jeff Bagwell—20 (4)
2. Craig Biggio—17 (3)
3. Nolan Ryan—9 (2)
4. Lance Berkman—3
5. Roy Oswalt—2
T6. Cesar Cedeno—1
T6. Mike Scott—1
On Jeff Bagwell by Aaron Hooks
Jeff Bagwell was never the sexiest star in baseball. He was not in the spotlight a ton. He didn’t exactly strike a chord with America. When Houston came to town, you pretty much were "hey, they have Jeff Bagwell, that guy is pretty good. I think."
And save for 2005, the Astros as a team are pretty much the same thing. Never the sexy team, not really in the national baseball consciousness, America’s forgotten team. And that’s probably why Astros fans love Jeff Bagwell.
For 15 seasons Bagwell anchored a pretty okay bunch of teams that, while not always accomplished, were going to give your team a fight. He cranked out .290/30+/115+ seasons like a machine. He was right there in the the 7-15 range of MVP voting more times than stars with many more accolades. He took a franchise that was everyone’s expansion memory from the 60’s and made them into a bona fide MLB team.
He doesn’t have the championships to show for it, but Bags will be Houston baseball as long as they have a team.
Los Angeles Dodgers
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1. Sandy Koufax—21 (5)
2. Jackie Robinson—16 (3)
3. Duke Snider—5
4. Don Sutton—3 (1)
T5. Roy Campanella—2
T5. Don Drysdale—2
T5. Gil Hodges—2
On Sandy Koufax by Lewie Pollis
Compared to most of the other names on this list, Koufax' tenure with the Dodgers was quite short; he spent just nine seasons with the Bums because he retired at age 30.
But boy, did he make the most of the time he had.
From 1958-66, Koufax went 156-77 with a 2.64 ERA, 133 complete games, 38 shutouts, and 2,214 strikeouts. He set the Dodgers' single-season records in WHIP (0.86), strikeouts (382), shutouts (11), and WAR (10.8).
Over the last five years of his career alone, he went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA (167 ERA+) and 33 shutouts. Throw in six All-Star selections and a hat trick of Cy Youngs and consider his three World Series rings and it's no surprise Koufax is remembered as a legend.
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1. Robin Yount—25 (7)
2. Paul Molitor—20 (2)
3. Cecil Cooper—3
T4. Ryan Braun—1
T4. Prince Fielder—1
T4. Rollie Fingers—1
T4. Geoff Jenkins—1
T4. Ted Simmons—1
T4. Pete Vuckovich—1
On Robin Yount by Curt Hogg
Robin Yount will be almost impossible to replace as the all-time greatest Milwaukee Brewer.
“The Kid” spent each of his 20 big league seasons with the Brewers, including one as a member of the only team in franchise history to reach the World Series. Yount won two MVP Awards, one as a shortstop and one as an outfielder.
The first-ballot Hall of Famer ranks first in Brewers history in hits (3,142), home runs (251), RBI (1406), stolen bases (271), and, obviously, games played (2,856).
Not only was he a great player, but a fan favorite. Just last week I waited in line while he spent almost four hours signing autographs at a semi-pro game.
New York Mets
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1. Tom Seaver—27 (9)
2. Mike Piazza—8
3. Darryl Strawberry—7
4. Dwight Gooden—3
5. Nolan Ryan—2
T6. Keith Hernandez—1
T6. Jerry Koosman—1
T6. Johan Santana—1
T6. David Wright—1
On Tom Seaver by Brandon Williams
Forever “Mr. Met,” Tom Seaver’s 11-year run in Flushing Meadows goes beyond the 198 wins, 2,541 strikeouts and 2.57 ERA he delivered for New York. His 10 All-Star appearances and three Cy Young awards (1969, 1973, 1975) pale in comparison to the fact that Seaver’s Hall of Fame array of pitches transformed the moribund Mets into two-time National League pennant winners and the victors of one remarkable World Series 41 years ago.
Others like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry have flirted with surpassing Seaver atop the Mets’ Mecca. Time will tell if current stars Jose Reyes or David Wright can author a volume of work that rivals Tom Terrific, but for now, and perhaps forever, Tom Seaver will remain the gold standard for New York’s “other team.”
1. Mike Schmidt—23 (7)
2. Steve Carlton—10 (1)
3. Robin Roberts—6
4. Pete Alexander—3 (1)
T5. Richie Ashburn—2
T5. Ed Delahanty—2
T5. Ryan Howard—2
T5. Chase Utley—2
9. Billy Hamilton—1
On Mike Schmidt by Asher Chancey
Tell you what, Lewie. I like you and I like this topic, so load me up if you need to. I can do these all day.
There have been many great Philadelphia Phillies, including but not limited to Ed Delahanty, Chuck Klein, Gavvy Cravath, Richie Ashburn, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts—the list goes on and on.
The best of the best, though, is without a doubt Mike Schmidt, the greatest third baseman of all time. During his career Schmidt was the elite home run hitter in the NL. From 1970 to 1990, Schmidt was the NL’s leader with 548 home runs, and the second-place finisher was Dale Murphy with just 354.
Throw in his 10 Gold Gloves and his three MVPs and you have one of the best all-around players in major league history. Surely that is enough to top the Phillies.
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1. Honus Wagner—18 (6)
2. Roberto Clemente—15 (2)
3. Willie Stargell—9
4. Barry Bonds—5 (1)
5. Paul Waner—3
T6. Pud Galvin—1
T6. Pie Traynor—1
T6. Arky Vaughan—1
On Honus Wagner by Asher Chancey
In the long history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there has been a veritable All-Star team of greats: Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Barry Bonds, Jason Kendall, Pie Traynor, Arky Vaughan, Paul Waner, Fred Clarke, Roberto Clemente, etc.
But the Pirates are one of those teams, like the Tiger, Cardinals, Braves, Yankees, and Red Sox, who have been lucky enough to have one of the all-time great baseball players on their team. In Detroit it was Cobb, in New York it was Ruth, and in Pittsburgh it is Honus Wagner.
Wagner was the winner of eight batting titles and eight OPS titles. He led the league in RBI five times but also stolen bases five times. He finished his career with over 3400 hits, 1700 runs, and 1700 RBI, despite playing in the Dead Ball Era. To top it all off, he did all that from the shortstop position, a position he played until the age of 41.
San Diego Padres
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1. Tony Gwynn—27 (9)
2. Trevor Hoffman—11
3. Dave Winfield—8
T4. Ken Caminiti—2
T4. Adrian Gonzalez—2
6. Jake Peavy—1
On Tony Gwynn by Asher Chancey
The thing about Tony Gwynn is, there is really no one else close in San Diego Padres history. Trevor Hoffman, maybe, but that’s about it. Nevertheless, Tony Gwynn would be the best player in the history of a lot of franchises. There hasn’t been a better pure hitter in baseball in the last fifty years, and you may have to go all the way back to Ted Williams to find someone who was Gwynn’s superior in terms of hitting knowledge.
Gwynn won eight batting titles and led the league in hits seven times, and despite hitting only 135 career home runs, he posted an .847 OPS, which is better than Nap Lajoie, Carl Yastrzemski, and Reggie Jackson.
San Francisco Giants
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1. Willie Mays—27 (9)
T2. Barry Bonds—10
T2. Christy Mathewson—10
4. Mel Ott—3
5. Juan Marichal—2
6. Willie McCovey—1
On Willie Mays by Jordan Schwartz
Willie Mays is among the greatest to ever play the game and he is the greatest to ever play for the Giants.
The 1951 Rookie of the Year is the franchise’s all-time leader in games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, total bases, and home runs with 646.
Mays was named to 20 consecutive All-Star teams between 1954-73, and he finished in the top six of MVP voting 12 times, twice taking home the award in ’54 and ’65, when he led baseball with 52 homers.
And the outfielder’s defense was just as good as his offense. He captured 12 straight Gold Gloves from ‘57-’68.
Mays helped lead the Giants to three World Series, winning one in ’54.
St. Louis Cardinals
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1. Stan Musial—27 (9)
2. Albert Pujols—12
3. Bob Gibson—9
4. Rogers Hornsby—4
T5. Lou Brock—1
T5. Frankie Frisch—1
On Stan Musial by Lewie Pollis
Choosing two of Bob Gibson, Rogers Hornsby, and Albert Pujols to take my votes was incredibly difficult. All three are among the greatest players in baseball history, and it seemed blasphemous to leave any of them off my ballot.
But picking No. 1 was easy.
How can there be an argument against Stan Musial when he owns the St. Louis record books? Hits (3,630), runs (1,949), RBI (1,951), total bases (6,134), walks (1,599), WAR (139.3, good for 10th all-time)—and, of course, home runs (475).
Pujols has been great, but there's no question that "The Man" beats "The Machine." It's not just about longevity; compare Pujols' best season (.357/.462/.653 with 37 homers, 116 RBI, and 9.3 WAR) to Musial's (.356/.450/.702 with 39 homers, 131 RBI, and 11.5 WAR).
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1. Andre Dawson—14 (3)
2. Vladimir Guerrero—12 (3)
3. Tim Raines—8 (1)
4. Gary Carter—6
T5. Nick Johnson—3 (1)
T5. Pedro Martinez—3 (1)
7. Livan Hernandez—2
T8. Stephen Strasburg—1
T8. Ryan Zimmerman
On Andre Dawson by Brandon Williams
Many players have possessed all five tools, but few were able to translate them to success like Dawson, whose dominance in perhaps baseball’s most balanced era have finally been rewarded with a Hall of Fame induction.
Dawson was a three-time All-Star in Montreal who also won six Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers. He never recorded a 30-30 season, but his 1983 numbers (.299-32-113, 25 stolen bases, 104 runs scored) exemplified his immense talent.