Manny Ramirez Retires: Manny and the Top 25 Right-Handed Hitters of All Time
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One the greatest right-handed hitters of all time retired on Friday afternoon. Manny Ramirez goes riding off into the sunset after a career spent lighting up the scoreboard.
But it was also a career mired in controversy. After serving as one of the cornerstones of the team that finally brought a championship back to Boston in 2004, and then brought another in 2007, it was revealed to all the world that Manny had tested positive for steroids back in 2003, then did it again in 2009.
And Manny truly goes down in a blaze of glory: it has been revealed that Manny retired on Friday in lieu of going through a painful suspension and appeal process in conjunction with a second positive steroids test, one which would have resulted in a 100 game suspension.
In his final act, Manny makes it impossible for us to love, or pretend to think that steroids did not play a significant role in his career.
Let's take a look at the 25 greatest right handed hitters of all time, a list that Manny makes, steroids or no.
Unfortunately, I do not think the Hall of Fame will be so forgiving.
25. Gary Sheffield
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Gary Sheffield is a hard player to appreciate for several reasons.
From a personality perspective, he was perceived as an arrogant trouble-maker and a negative force in the clubhouse.
Sheffield also jumped from team to team, whether by being traded or by free agency. Sheffield played for eight teams, and was never in one place longer than four years.
But he sure could hit.
One of the quickest bats in baseball history, Sheffield was truly a 1990s' hitter. His career batting average was .292, but his on-base percentage was over 100 points higher (.393), he walked way more than he struck out and his slugging percentage was over .500.
He had over 500 career home runs and over 1600 runs and RBI.
24. Dick Allen
Dick Allen ranks 20th all time on the career leaders for relative OPS+.
Amongst the players ahead of him are Albert Pujols, who has only been in the league for ten years, and Dan Brouthers, Pete Browning, and Dave Orr, who played in the 1800s.
Which means that, amongst players who played full careers since 1900, Dick Allen ranks 16th all time.
And Allen did some other impressive things in his career - .292 career average, 351 homeruns in 6,332 at-bats, and over 1000 runs and RBI. In case you think he played a short career for a Hall of Famer, Mark McGwire only had 6187.
23. Al Kaline
Al Kaline's numbers would be more impressive if he had played in a better hitters' era, and if he had been able to stay on the field more often. He never managed to play more than 150 games after the age of 21, and rarely even broke 140 games after the age of 30.
Nevertheless, he won a batting title in 1955, hit 399 home runs with 1622 runs, 3007 hits, and 1583 RBI.
His career average only fell below .300 in his second to last season.
22. Al Simmons
Al Simmons won two batting titles, hit .334 for his career, and finished his career with 307 home runs, 1827 RBI, and 1507 runs scored. He hit .380 or higher four times, and fell 73 hits shy of 3,000 in an era in which players did not hold on to get to 3,000, unlike today when a player while walk to the plate on crutches long enough to get to 3,000.
21. Roberto Clemente
Four batting titles, 3,000 hits, a career .317 batting average, and three seasons over 200 hits.
Roberto Clemente's position on this list comes with two big caveats:
One, this is a hitting-only list; including defense in this analysis would catapult Clemente way of ahead of a lot of guys ahead of him.
And two, Clemente's career as a hitter was very uneven, and if he had hit anywhere near as well from the age of 20 to 25 as he did from the age of 26 through the end of his career, he would be much higher on this list.
20. Harmon Killebrew
If Roberto Clemente lives at the talent end of the talent-value spectrum, Killebrew resides solidly at the value end.
Killebrew never won a batting title, did not hit over .260 for his career and fell one strikeout shy of 1700 for his career.
However, he also hit 40 or more home runs eight times, led the league in home runs six times and RBI three times. Despite his meager 2,086 career hits, he reached base 1,559 more times via base on balls, and finished his career with a 143 OPS+.
18. Mike Piazza
In an era of tiny ballparks, Mike Piazza spent his career playing his home games exclusively in pitchers' parks.
He started his career out at Dodger Stadium in 1993, which in the 1990s drastically favored pitcher's (somehow, in 2006 it magically became a hitter's park). He was then traded to the Marlins for five games in 1998; the Marlins played in vast Joe Robbie Stadium. Then he moved onto the Mets, and Shea Stadium, which was also a pitcher's park, though not as drastically as Dodgers Stadium. Finally, Piazza moved to Petco Park in San Diego, which stands out as one of the only two or three pitcher's parks to have been built in the last decade.
Excluding his one year in Oakland, this is what Piazza's career splits looked like:
19. Manny Ramirez
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Throw out the fact that we know Manny used steroids in 2003, used steroids in 2009 and apparently used steroids in 2011, for just a minute.
If Manny had been clean, he would have without a doubt been on of the top ten right-handed hitters of all time. He is on the rare members of the .300/.400/.500 club. His 555 home runs, 1,831 RBI and 1,544 runs are all historic, and he was one of the great run-producers of all time.
Frankly, knowing the extensive nature of his steroid use makes appreciating his career very difficult to do.
17. Rickey Henderson
Pretend for a moment that you do not know that Rickey Henderson was the greatest base stealer of all time.
Rickey is the all time leader in runs scored with 2,295 and is second behind Barry Bonds in career walks with 2,190. A decent power hitter, Rickey finished his career with 297 home runs and 510 doubles.
Despite a meager .279 batting average, his career on-base percentage is .401, which for a leadoff hitter (oddly enough) is historically good. He also finished his career with 4,588 career total bases, 3,055 hits and a 127 OPS+.
Now throw in the fact that he had over 1400 stolen bases.
Rarely has there been a more valuable hitter from the right side.
16. Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Bagwell's career was shortened by injuries at the end, but he still had enough time to establish himself as one of the complete right handed hitters in baseball history. With over 1500 career runs and RBI in 15 seasons, he was an elite run producer and scorer. He was also an elite power/on-base combination and, perhaps most astonishingly, he stole over 200 career bases and went 30/30 twice.
15. Hank Greenberg
Though he is often forgotten to history, Hank Greenberg was one of the bohemoths of the game, in the same vein as Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Mark McGwire.
He led the league in home runs four times, finished with 150 or more RBI three times, had 200 hits three times in four years, and for his career is over .300/.400/.600, which is historic.
For his career, he had 331 home runs, 1276 RBI and 1051 runs. Of course, he also missed most of five seasons (1941-1945) due to World War II and missed all but 12 games in 1936 due to injury.
In his final season, in 1947, Greenberg led the league with 104 walks in only 125 games.
Given a full career, Greenberg's name makes all the lists.
14. Edgar Martinez
Edgar Martinez benefits greatly on lists like these, in which we only consider a player's hitting.
Martinez was a classically great hitter, the kind of hitter you would think was left-handed. He won two batting titles, led the league in on-base percentage three times, and led the league in doubles twice.
Edgar was not a major league regular until the age of 27, and then missed all but 42 games in 1993 before playing through the 1994 player's strike.
Nevertheless, he managed 8672 plate appearances, during which he hit 309 home runs with over 1200 runs and RBI. More relevantly, he had 1283 bases on balls, a .312 batting average, and an OPS over 900. He is a member of the rare 300/400/500 Club.
13. Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey, Jr., are the charter members of the "Half a Career" Club, composed of guys who had half of a career that would have made them one of the top five or six players of all time if the second half of their careers had matched the first.
Before he started getting injured, at the age of 31, Thomas was just as good as, if not better than, Albert Pujols was through the same age.
12. Harry Heillmann
Heilmann won four batting titles in 15 seasons with single-season batting averages of .394, .403, .393, and .398.
I'm not sure why Heilmann played his last full season at the age of 35, but if he could have played a couple more years, he would have easily gotten to 3,000 hits.
One of the more heartwarming moments in Ted Williams' autobiography (and there ain't that many) is Ted's anecdote about being on the road in Detroit towards the end of his run at hitting .400 in 1941 and having Harry Heilmann, then a Tigers announcer, come out and give him advice about how to hit at Tiger Stadium.
Williams discovered that Heilmann was actually rooting for him, even as he was playing against the team that was giving Heilmann his paycheck.
11. Frank Robinson
Two MVPs, a Triple Crown, 1,800 runs, 1,800 RBI, and 586 home runs.
If not for those Mays and Aaron guys, Robinson would be more of a household name.
10. Joe DiMaggio
A truly wonderful athlete and a tremendous athlete whose importance to our national identity Americans have an annoying habit of overstating.
What he did as a right-hander, though, was incredible: .325 average, twice as many walks as strikeouts, and that 56-game hitting streak.
If not for World War II, we're talking 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, and a spot in the top five.
9. Alex Rodriguez
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Yeah, he used steroids. His record will always be tainted by that revelation, and we'll always wonder to what degree steroids are responsible for his career numbers.
But A-Rod was also an awesome hitter before the steroids.
Remember when he won the batting title in 1996 by batting .358? In his first full season? At the age of 20?
He has done things that have been rivaled by very few of his right-handed brethren, including those on steroids.
8. Nap Lajoie
Five batting titles and a .338 career batting average for a guy who hit right-handed and played second base. In 1901, LaJoie hit .426 with 232 hits, 14 home runs, 125 RBI, and 143 runs—all of which led the league—in 131 games.
It would be tempting to consider LaJoie a right-handed Tony Gwynn because of his average, his 3,242 hits, and his meager 82 home runs, but this was the deadball era. LaJoie's OPS+ was actually a sluggerific 150, and he led the league in OPS three different times.
7. Jimmie Foxx
A right-handed, and self-destructive, version of Lou Gehrig.
For those enamored with everything Albert Pujols has done at his young age, know that Foxx hit his 500th home run the year he turned 32 years old. At that point in his career, he had nearly 1,500 runs scored, over 1,700 RBI, and a .334 batting average.
He played one more full season after that. Talk about "what coulda been."
6. Mike Schmidt
By no stretch of the imagination could Mike Schmidt, a career .267 hitter, be considered a "pure hitter."
Nevertheless, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no more valuable hitter overall in the National League than Schmidt, who led the NL in home runs eight times, RBI and walks four times each, and OPS five times.
5. Albert Pujols
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There is no reason Albert Pujols cannot eventually be the number one man on this list.
Though, I would have said the same thing about Frank Thomas ten years ago.
We will just have to wait and see.
4. Honus Wagner
The first great hitter in baseball history.
A right-handed Ty Cobb, Wagner won eight career batting titles and retired with lots of everything.
3. Willie Mays
There's probably nothing I can say about Willie Mays that hasn't been said before.
In his second full season, after two years in the Korean War, Mays won the NL batting title.
He led the NL in home runs and stolen bases four times each, but never in the same year.
His .302 career batting average understates his abilities as a hitter, which is pretty incredible; it is pretty incredible when you can say that a career .300 batting average understates your abilities.
Mays was that kind of player.
2. Hank Aaron
Sometimes I think it is a shame that Hank Aaron set the home run record, because sometimes that is all people seem to remember about him.
Hammerin' Hank was a tremendous hitter, home runs aside. He won two batting titles, had 200 hits three times, and over 190 four other times. He scored over 100 runs 15 times, led the league in total bases eight times, and had a .313 career batting average at the age of 37 before he began his march towards Babe Ruth and his average went down, ultimately, to .305.
To think that Hank Aaron was just a home run hitter the way Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco were just misses the mark so badly. Aaron was a right-handed Stan Musial.
Or maybe we should say Musial was a left-handed Hank Aaron.
1. Rogers Hornsby
Rogers Hornsby is hands down the greatest right handed hitter of all time, and one of the top three or four hitters of all time.
His credentials are too numerous to be listed, but consider:
From 1920 to 1925, Hornsby led the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS every single year for six years.
He hit .400 over the course of the four season stretch from 1922 to 1925.
His career .358 average is second all time only to Ty Cobb, and he is the only post-19th Century right handed hitter within the top 10.
We could go on.