All too often in the world of sports, we hear about the misadventures and shockingly bad behavior from professional sports athletes. In general, athletes are well-behaved, but those few that get in the news for DUIs, domestic abuse charges, drug-related offenses and other misdeeds tend to drown out the good work of many other athletes.
In baseball, there have been several cases of such behavior that has permeated print and online media publications. While fans are no doubt angry and put off by their childish and immature behavior, there are many other players in Major League Baseball who continually set a good example through their play on the field, their locker-room demeanor and their off-field activities.
Many lists have been written characterizing the greatest players of all-time, the most popular players and on and on, ad nauseum.
We will take a look at the players in Major League Baseball history who were widely respected by other players, coaches and fans alike.
Here is a list of the 50 most beloved players in Major League Baseball history.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.
Much has been said about the developments in Texas about the Michael Young situation—his request to be traded, the public comments made by general manger Jon Daniels and the speculation of trades and such.
But one thing that will never be questioned about Michael Young is his universal respect around the league. Chicago Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said it best last year.
"He just gets great respect throughout baseball," Jaramillo told ESPN Dallas. "I think it's because if you're around him, you know he's so humble.
"He never talks about himself. He plays hurt. He plays when others wouldn't play. His peers see that and talk about it. Other managers think the world of him."
It’s rare to see Los Angeles Angels right fielder Torii Hunter without a smile on his face. Hunter has the respect of each and every player on the Angels, including clubhouse staff and coaches, and he has always been willing to participate in fellow players’ charity endeavors throughout the years.
Last season, Hunter was nominated by the Angels for the Roberto Clemente award, given to the player who best exemplifies the example of Clemente, who died on December 31, 1972 when a plane carrying relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua crashed.
Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has had to work hard throughout his baseball life to get where he is today. He has earned the respect of teammates and opponents through his incredible work ethic and will to win.
Last season, when fans and media were all over Sox designated hitter David Ortiz for his poor start to the season, Pedroia stood up for Papi in a big way, but with respect.
Pedroia has earned respect throughout the league not just for his game, but for his loyalty as well.
Closer Trevor Hoffman spent 16 of his 18 seasons in the majors with the San Diego Padres, and while the Padres may not have made it to the postseason very often, Hoffman was lights out when it came to closing games, becoming the all-time leader in saves with 601.
But what made Hoffman stand out during his career was his dedication to team, family and to the fans. Former Padres manager Bruce Bochy, who managed Hoffman for 10 seasons, said it best.
"As much as the talent with Trevor, it's the person," Bochy told MLB.com. "He's such a great person and family man. He was really a great pleasure for me to manage. He was so respectful to the game and his teammates and did whatever I ever asked of him. I consider myself fortunate to have had Trevor Hoffman all those years I had him."
Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko makes this list for one simple reason: He respects the game and the people around him. And through that work ethic, he has gained that respect back.
“You play for your teammates’ and your staff’s respect,” Konerko said. “I definitely care about the guys inside this clubhouse, what they think. Not too much beyond that. It’s nice, I guess, if people have that, but at the same time I think I know who’s important to me and hopefully I gain those people. If not, you work to get that.”
White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker said of Konerko last season, “He has been the most unselfish player I’ve ever been around. Maybe the game paid him back for doing it the right way. But if the MVP voters had been here to see what our staff and manager has seen him do, he’d win it hands down.”
During the 21-year career of Andre Dawson, he was universally respected by teammates and opponents alike, not just for the talents that were obvious, but for his approach to the game of baseball and the heart and effort he put into each individual game.
When former Chicago Cubs teammate Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, he went out of his way to mention his teammate and friend Dawson.
"No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson," Sandberg said." "He's the best I've ever seen.
"I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987 [with the Cubs], and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday."
While Don Mattingly may have never led the Yankees to a World Series championship, he became one of the most beloved Yankees, leading his teams by his example.
When the Yankees retired his number in 1997 and dedicated a plaque to Mattingly in Monument Square, the inscription read: "A humble man of grace and dignity, a captain who led by example, proud of the pinstripe tradition and dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, a Yankee forever."
Mattingly played the game with style and grace, becoming the 12th Yankees captain in 1991.
Shortstop Alan Trammell was part of the longest middle infield combination along with Lou Whitaker (19 years) in the history of baseball, and he was adored by Tigers fans, teammates and opponents alike.
Trammell was a true professional in terms of his approach to the game, and despite his poor showing as manager in Detroit (2003-2005), his popularity as a player has never wavered.
Designated hitter Jim Thome is widely recognized around the majors as one of the nicest guys in the clubhouse, and in 2003, the Cleveland Plain Dealer conducted a poll in which Thome was proclaimed the most popular player in Cleveland Indians’ history.
Thome’s stops in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Minnesota added to his popularity, as teammates on each team gushed about his demeanor and attitude. Thome has also won the Baseball Writers of America Man of the Year award (2002), Marvin Miller Man of the Year award (2001, 2004), the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (2004) and the Roberto Clemente award (2002).
To give you an example of the unselfishness of Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, he deferred $13.1 million this year to help the club secure long-term deals with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Helton has long professed his love for the Rockies, and his wish to remain with the team throughout his career.
Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy is one who is a huge Helton fan.
“This is a star player who wants to come to work every day and earn every single nickel he gets paid. If you can't respect Todd Helton as someone in charge, shame on you.”
To give you a better idea of the respect that Jason Varitek has in Boston, he was named as only the third captain in Red Sox history in December 2004. Varitek has earned accolades for his game-calling skills, his ability to handle pitchers and his immense preparation for each and every game.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein once said of Varitek: "Jason is a player we did not want to lose to anyone. He stands for all the things we want our players to represent. He plays the game hard, respects the game. He is very selfless, a very supportive teammate. He's a great communicator, exceptionally well-prepared. He goes to children's hospitals all the time without telling anyone in the media. When you get a player who does all those things, who sets the right example, if you let him go, you send the wrong message to the rest of your clubhouse about what you're looking for in a player. And you might spend many years looking to fill that void."
When Jeff Conine decided to retire from baseball in March 2008, he signed a one-day contract with the team that he was most associated with, the Florida Marlins. Wishing to retire as a Marlin was a no-brainer, considering the fact that Conine was known as “Mr. Marlin.”
Shortly after his retirement, the Marlins created an award, called the Jeff Conine Mr. Marlin Award, to be awarded by the Miami chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of American to the player whose commitment to the game is embodied in his integrity and unselfish play.
That’s the legacy that Jeff Conine left behind in Florida and his other stops along the way during his career. Conine was respected and loved by teammates and fans for the simple approach he took to the game: Work hard and act like a professional.
Bob Feller was born in Ohio, played his entire career in Ohio with the Indians and died in Ohio. Without question he is one of the most beloved figures in the state of Ohio, let alone baseball.
In his later years, Feller could often be seen around the ballpark, and he was never one to shy away from a comment when it came to the sport he so loved.
When it came to his competitiveness on the baseball field, Feller had few equals.
“I would rather beat the Yankees regularly than pitch a no hit game,” Feller once said, just an example of his feisty nature on the field.
When Boston Red Sox fans think about “Big Papi”, designated hitter David Ortiz, they think about all the great walk-off home runs during his career, or the 54 home runs he hit during the 2006 season (a Red Sox record) or the incredible tandem he formed with slugger Manny Ramirez during the mid-2000s.
What fans also love about Ortiz is his big, toothy smile, the many charitable and community endeavors he has been involved with during his time in Boston and his dedication and loyalty to both his teammates and his fans.
On the day after the news broke about the death of Osama bin Laden, Ortiz hit a home run at Fenway Park. On his way back to the dugout, he high-fived several members of the US military on hand for the game sitting in the first row next to the dugout.
When David Wright accepted an invitation to play for the United States in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, very few of his teammates actually knew him beyond just playing against him. However, by the end of the WBC, every one of his teammates had a new-found respect for his talent, energy and dedication to the game.
His New York rival, Derek Jeter, was especially impressed. The two have become fast friends since, on several occasions joining forces to raise money for their charitable foundations.
Former Mets general manager Jim Duquette had this to say about Wright:
“His combination of ability, attitude, presence and being a kid teammates tend to like and respect make him the kind of player you can build a team around.”
Tim Salmon played his entire career for the Los Angels Angels and is actually the only player to have played for the Angels under three different names (California Angels, Anaheim Angels, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim).
More importantly, Salmon quickly became a fan favorite, loved by teammates, coaches and fans alike. Salmon developed such love and admiration in Anaheim that when Dan Haren was traded to the Angels from the Arizona Diamondbacks in July 2010, he requested the No. 24 instead of the No. 15, out of respect for Salmon.
When knuckleballer Tim Wakefield broke into the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in midseason 1992, he helped the Pirates win the National League East division title and won two games during the NLCS. Some 19 years later, Wakefield is still plying his trade with the Boston Red Sox in his 17th season with the franchise.
During his time in Boston, Wakefield has been well known for his many charitable efforts helping the Boston community, his selflessness on the field and his mentoring of younger teammates.
Last year, Wakefield was named the recipient of the coveted Roberto Clemente award, given to the player in Major League Baseball who best exemplifies the spirit of teamwork and community involvement.
John Smoltz was known throughout baseball for his fiery competitiveness, but he was also widely respected for the way he treated people.
Former Atlanta Braves teammate C.J. Nitkowski had this to say about Smoltz:
“I say this about John; he is the most gifted athlete I have ever shared a uniform with. He can do more than just throw a baseball, as many people know. He is also a tremendous person, and I believe his strong passion to be great in that area rivals his passion to be a great pitcher.
“Baseball is lucky to have him, and I believe he will continue to be an influence on those around the game well after his playing days are over. Watching him pitch close up was a treat and even though I have been around a lot of tremendous players, I looked forward and still look forward to watching him. He does so many things well and pitchers at any level can learn something by watching him.”
Tom Seaver, during his 20-year career, commanded respect not only with his stuff on the mound, but for his deep respect for the history of the game and for the way he studied opposing hitters.
Preston Gomez, who managed the San Diego Padres in the early 70s, recalled Seaver’s intense nature.
“He (Seaver) would stand by the batting cage before the game and watch every one of our hitters like it was the World Series. He’s smart. He retains everything he sees. He’d even ask me questions like, ‘What do you like to throw to McCovey’ (of the Giants) in certain situations. He’d always try to find out something. He’s all business.”
Source: Baseball Digest, 1972
Just this past week, New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson contacted PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) and asked if there was anything they needed. The officials at PSAL told Granderson that they needed wooden bats, as metal bats in baseball had been outlawed.
Granderson then walked into South Bronx High School and announced that he was donating 300 Louisville Slugger bats to both baseball and softball programs in PSAL, a donation worth approximately $50,000.
This is just a small example of the type of community giving that Granderson has been involved in since he broke into the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers. Granderson is a shining example of a professional athlete who believes it is of vital importance to give back to the community in which he plays and to support programs in need.
Harmon Killebrew passed away on May 17, 2011 after a battle with esophageal cancer. However, he will go down in history as one of the most beloved baseball figures ever.
During Killebrew's illustrious 22-year-career, he was known as “Killer,” but that was for his home-run hitting prowess. Killebrew hit 573 home runs during his career and hit over 40 in a season eight times.
In actuality, Killebrew was a very quiet man with a gentle soul. One would be hard-pressed to find anyone who had an unkind word to say about the man known as “Killer.”
When Duke Snider played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, they were fondly known as “The Boys of Summer,” and that magical season brought the first-and-only World Series championship to the New York borough.
Snider, playing alongside such greats as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges, was revered throughout Brooklyn, and even his peers at the time had great respect for the man known as “The Lord of Flatbush.”
When Snider passed away in late February, Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays, who played for the hated rival New York Giants, fondly remembered Snider.
“Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter, and a great friend, even though he was a Dodger,’’ Mays said in a statement. “It was great playing center field in New York in the 1950s, along with Mickey (Mantle) and Duke.’’
Source: Boston Globe
Yogi Berra is more often associated with his nonsensical mutterings (“Half the lies they tell about me aren't true”) than by a career which was indeed outstanding in its own right. Berra was a lifetime .285 hitter with 358 home runs and played for 10 World Series champions.
Berra had an incredible quirky sense of humor and soon became beloved throughout baseball. Berra’s statements became known as Yogisms, and although he is now 85 years old and has a bit more trouble getting around, he still attends spring training each year with the New York Yankees and can often be found surrounded by current Yankee players.
Ron Guidry spent his entire 14-year career in pinstripes with the New York Yankees, and his incredible 1978 season stands as one of the best individual single-season pitching performances in baseball history. “Louisiana Lightning,” as he was known, became a beloved figure in New York, even though he looked completely out of place with his Cajun ways and background.
However, now Guidry has become known for something very special indeed. For the past 12 years, Guidry has served as the personal chauffeur/escort for Yankee legend Yogi Berra during spring training, and for Guidry, it’s more of an honor rather than a duty.
“See, I really love the old man, but because of what we share—which is something very special—I can treat him more as a friend and I can say, ‘Get your butt in my truck or you’re staying,’ ” Guidry said. “He likes that kind of camaraderie, wants to be treated like everybody else, but because of who he is, that’s not how everybody around here treats him.”
Because of the special bond shared between Berra and Guidry, they definitely belong together in our top 50.
Source: New York Times
When rookie Carl Yastrzemski stepped in to play left field for the Boston Red Sox in 1961 after the great Ted Williams had retired, no one at that time had any idea that the man known as “Yaz” would become one of the most consistent and beloved players of all-time.
That’s exactly what Yaz became through sheer hard work and determination. Rarely missing time to injury, Yaz was on the disabled list once his entire career, truly becoming the working-man’s hero.
On the last day of his storied 23-year career, fans were cheering in Fenway Park 45 minutes before game time, and when Yaz was replaced in the field by manager Ralph Houk, as he was walking off the field at Fenway Park for the very last time, he saw a seven-year-old boy in the stands and handed his cap to him.
When Chicago Cubs beloved third baseman and broadcaster Ron Santo passed away last December, the accolades came pouring in for a man who was considered to be one of the greatest Cubs players of all-time, as well as one the the greatest Cubs fans of all-time as their broadcaster.
Ernie Banks: “On the field, Ronnie was one of the greatest competitors I've ever seen. Off the field, he was as generous as anyone you would want to know. His work for diabetes research seemed unparalleled. Ronnie was always there for you, and through his struggles, he was always upbeat, positive and caring. I learned a lot about what it means to be a caring, decent human being from Ron Santo.”
Billy Williams: “Ronnie's passing is a tremendous loss, not only for the Cubs but for all of baseball,” said Williams. “He is a man who devoted his entire life to the game, to the Cubs and to the great Cubs fans. He's going to be missed by a lot of people.
"What I learned from Ronnie is he loved the game, he loved the people in the game and he loved the fans of the game – he enjoyed every moment until the last day of his life. When it came to his beloved Cubs, you never had to look at the scoreboard to know the score of the game – you could simply listen to the tone of his voice. Ronnie was a great friend and will be greatly missed.”
Ferguson Jenkins: “This is a very sad day for Cubs fans and baseball fans everywhere,” said Jenkins. “Ronnie, No. 10, was and always will be a Chicago legend. He was a tough player, he wanted to play and contribute every day, and he never let any obstacles stand in his way.
“Ronnie was one of the leaders on our team. Leo Durocher made him the captain, and he took that role very seriously. As an announcer, Ronnie wore his heart on his sleeve. Off the field, his contributions to diabetes research were unmatched. Ronnie will always be remembered as one of the best third basemen the Cubs have ever had, and his No. 10 flag flies above Wrigley Field as a tribute to Ronnie.”
The measure of a man comes from the adulation of his friends and peers.
For 20 seasons in San Diego, the one thing that fans could count on every season is that Tony Gwynn would bat at least .300 and that Gwynn would flash that toothy smile just out of sheer love for the game of baseball.
Gwynn was respected league-wide and is easily the most beloved player in San Diego Padres history. Now dedicating his life to teaching college kids how to play the game the right way at San Diego State, Gwynn recently went through a cancer scare, having surgery to remove a tumor of the parotid gland on the right side of his face.
Back on the field, but somewhat limited, Gwynn is cancer-free, smiling once again and doing what he loves best: sharing his love of baseball.
Cal Ripken Jr. was an unassuming 20-year-old rookie in 1981 when he first broke into the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles. The following year, Ripken took over as the regular shortstop and went on an incredible 17-season journey that saw him play in 2,632 consecutive games before he removed himself from the lineup for the last game of the season in 1998.
Ever the humble man, Ripken had to be convinced by his Oriole teammates to take a victory lap around the stadium when he officially broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record on Sept. 6, 1995. Ripken’s road to the consecutive games played record during that season single-handedly revived baseball after a messy strike had cancelled the 1994 World Series and delayed the start of the 1995 season.
Ripken was so widely respected by his peers that, when he was voted the starting third baseman for the American League All-Star game in Seattle, All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken play the first inning at the position that Ripken had manned for most of his career.
Fittingly, Ripken was inducted into the Hall of Fame with fellow beloved player Tony Gwynn.
Sean Casey, known as “The Mayor,” was widely considered the nicest guy in the major leagues during his time in baseball. He earned his nickname by becoming very chatty with every batter that reached first base and for the great charity work that Casey was involved in while he was with the Cincinnati Reds.
In a Sports Illustrated poll conducted in 2007, Casey was voted “the friendliest player in baseball” by his peers. His vote of 47 percent far outdistanced the second-place finisher, Jim Thome, at seven percent.
Known as a fierce competitor and clubhouse leader during his 11 seasons with the New York Yankees, catcher Thurman Munson was headed towards a Hall of Fame when an airplane crash took his life in 1979 at the age of 32.
The Yankees hadn’t had a captain since Lou Gehrig, a span of over 30 years, when Munson was named to the post by the Yankees, signifying the great respect that the organization and his teammates had for his work ethic and approach to the game.
The day after Munson’s death, his No. 15 was retired by the Yankees, and his plaque in Monument Park reads, “Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next ... Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.”
One of the most beloved figures in the Bay Area, Willie McCovey was considered one of the true gentleman of his era. Playing with other greats such as Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda, McCovey went about his business with distinction and class during his 22-year career.
When the Giants built AT&T Park, they knew they wanted the cove in right field to be named after the man who embodied the spirit of the Giants.
Willie “Pops” Stargell was already a legend in Pittsburgh when the 1979 season started. However, Stargell more than cemented his legacy in the Steel City with his MVP performance at the age of 39, helping to lead the Pirates to the World Series championship.
Stargell was loved by fans and teammates alike. In that very special year in Pittsburgh, Stargell was the leader of a very diverse group of players, and through his example and demeanor, established the “family.”
"You have only a few years to play this game, and you can't go out and do it when you're tied up," Stargell said after the win in '79. "You come into the game without ulcers and you should go out without ulcers."
Source: Sports Illustrated
Roberto Clemente was already a first-ballot Hall of Famer when his plane carrying relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua crashed on Dec. 31, 1972. Clemente had recorded his 3,000th hit on the last day of the regular season that year, and the 12-time All-Star and 12-time Gold Glove award winner was already one of the most popular figures in Pittsburgh sports history.
Clemente was the example of how a ballplayer should play every day. Clemente had a kind-and-endearing nature that naturally attracted players and fans alike, and that nature allowed Clemente to overcome obstacles early in his career because of his Hispanic background.
No matter, Clemente became beloved through his play, his work ethic and his demeanor. Because of his tireless efforts to help others in need, including on the day he died, Major League Baseball created the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who embodies the spirit of Clemente by their deeds on and off the field.
When Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, Satchel Paige, at the age of 42, followed one year later. Paige was largely considered to be one of the reasons that baseball’s color barrier was indeed broken. His incredible talents with his right arm on the pitching mound, played to sold-out stadiums throughout the country, propelled baseball to finally make a change.
In a piece for Sports Illustrated in 2010, Joe Posnanski pronounced Paige as the hardest thrower in the history of baseball, and he used the following examples.
"Joe DiMaggio would say that Paige was the best he ever faced. Bob Feller would say that Paige was the best he ever saw. Hack Wilson would say that the ball looked like a marble when it crossed the plate. Dizzy Dean would say that Paige’s fastball made his own look like a changeup."
George Brett is without a doubt the single greatest player in the history of the Kansas City Royals, but even beyond that, he was beloved for his approach to the game. Fans would never see George jogging out a ground ball, but they would constantly see Brett trying to stretch a single into a double.
When Brett made the decision to retire, it was a simple decision for him.
"I could have played another year, but I would have been playing for the money, and baseball deserves better than that," Brett said.
Hal McRae, who played alongside Brett for years in Kansas City, said, "One of the things that's helped George Brett become such a great player is that he never worried about politics and all that stuff that goes on around a team. George was always more interested in looking for a pitch to hit hard than playing politics or talking about management."
Paul Splittorff, another Royals teammate, said, "This tells us all and makes it very clear how lucky we were. Whether a teammate or a fan, we either got to play with or watch the best player of our time. From the day he graduated from high school and went through the minor leagues, he developed as a person and a player within the organization."
Brett carried himself with grace and distinction, and to this day in Kansas City, he is remembered as both a great human being and a great ballplayer.
Source: Baseball Reference
When Al Kaline retired in 1974, he joined Ty Cobb as the only players to play 20 or more seasons in a Detroit uniform. And for Kaline, he never wanted to play anywhere else.
In 1971, Kaline was given the opportunity to become the first Tiger ever to make $100,000 in a single season. He turned it down, saying, "I don't deserve such a salary. I didn't have a good season last year. This ballclub has been so fair and decent to me that I'd prefer to have you give it to me when I rate it."
The Tigers gave him the $100,000 contract the following season.
On September 27th, 1999, Kaline brought out the lineup card in his familiar No. 6 Tigers' uniform, for the last game ever played at Tiger Stadium. It was fitting for one of the most beloved athletes ever in Detroit.
Source: The Baseball Page
Aside from Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, there was no player more beloved in New York than Mickey Mantle. Mantle's exploits on the field literally made grown men cry.
According to a former Yankee Stadium employee:
"I have seen grown men cry when recounting the story of Mickey twisting his knee on the sprinkler head in the outfield."
Mantle had a demeanor and way about him that instantly attracted teammates and fans alike.
"The thing I really liked about Mickey (Mantle) was the way he treated everyone the same," former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette said.
While Ted Williams may not have had a great relationship with the press and wouldn't tip his cap for all of his adoring fans, he was still one of the most beloved players of any generation.
Williams' sheer knowledge of hitting amazed just about everyone who ever came in contact with him.
Carl Yastrzemski, who replaced Williams in left field for the Boston Red Sox, said, "They can talk about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial and all the rest, but I'm sure not one of them could hold cards and spades to (Ted) Williams in his sheer knowledge of hitting. He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn't see in a week."
When Williams passed away in 2002, Baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey said, "Ted's (Williams) passing signals a sad day, not only for baseball fans, but for every American. He was a cultural icon, a larger-than-life personality. He was great enough to become a Hall of Fame player. He was caring enough to be the first Hall of Famer to call for the inclusion of Negro Leagues stars in Cooperstown. He was brave enough to serve our country as a Marine in not one but two global conflicts. Ted Williams is a hero for all generations."
Williams' legacy was not lost on his opponents, either. Former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said, "Ted (Williams) was everything that was right about the game of baseball. If you really think about it, he was everything that is right about this country. It is certainly a sad day for all of us. He is a man who lost five years of service time serving his country. What he could have done with those years in the prime of his life ... it would be awesome to really put those numbers together. He would have probably been the greatest power hitter of all time."
New York Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott was small in stature, at 5'9" and 170 pounds; however, he still became the first National League player to surpass 500 home runs, finishing with 511.
Ott was also one of the most popular players in the majors, universally liked and well-respected. During the early part of his career with the Giants, manager John McGraw had Ott sitting next to him in the dugout so that the older veterans wouldn't "corrupt" Ott.
Ott was actually the source of the famous quote by Leo Durocher, saying, “Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why, they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.”
Source: Frank Graham, New York Journal-American
When Jackie Robinson finally broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, he had to endure a tremendous amount of racial slurs, horrible treatment from teammates and opponents and death threats.
However, Robinson would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award and would win the National League MVP award in 1949, despite the tremendous pressure he faced day in and day out.
Robinson carried himself with tremendous grace and eventually won the respect of teammates and opposing players.
Mickey Mantle became a huge fan of Robinson after facing him in the World Series. Mantle said, "After the game, Jackie Robinson came into our clubhouse and shook my hand. He said, 'You're a helluva ballplayer and you've got a great future.' I thought that was a classy gesture, one I wasn't then capable of making. I was a bad loser. What meant even more was what Jackie told the press, '(Mickey) Mantle beat us. He was the difference between the two teams. They didn't miss (Joe) DiMaggio.' I have to admit, I became a Jackie Robinson fan on the spot. And when I think of that World Series, his gesture is what comes to mind. Here was a player who had without doubt suffered more abuse and more taunts and more hatred than any player in the history of the game. And he had made a special effort to compliment and encourage a young white kid from Oklahoma."
Robinson also had the admiration and respect of teammate Duke Snider. "He knew he had to do well. He knew that the future of blacks in baseball depended on it. The pressure was enormous, overwhelming, and unbearable at times. I don't know how he held up. I know I never could have," Snider said.
Source: Baseball Reference
There have been several players in the history of the New York Yankees who were better than shortstop Derek Jeter. However, few have been as popular.
Since 1996, Jeter has been the face of the Yankees, and he has carried that title with class. People associate the Yankees today with Jeter, and as their captain, Jeter has earned the respect of his teammates and the love of his city.
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre was one who was enamored with Jeter.
"He's basically shy. And I know most people don't see him that way. He's so fluid among people. He knows what he is as far as the matinee idol stuff, and he wears it well. He has no pretenses. He's real. He enjoys himself and makes it easy for others to enjoy him," Torre said.
Source: Baseball Almanac
Just last week on May 6, the world celebrated the 80th birthday of the "Say Hey Kid," Willie Mays. His name was trending on Twitter all day and was also a top 10 in Google searches as well. The popularity of Mays is still as strong 38 years after he retired as it was when he was playing.
While he was playing, teammates and opponents alike marveled at Mays and his five-tool skills.
Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher once said of Mays, "If he could cook, I'd marry him."
Source: Baseball Almanac
When Ernie Banks joined the Chicago Cubs in 1953, he became the first African-American ever to play for the Cubs. Within just a few years, Banks won over the hearts and minds of Cubs' fans, winning the National League MVP award back-to-back in 1958 and 1959.
It was Banks' pure joy of the game that Cubs' fans came to know and love. While Banks is associated with the quote, "Let's play two!", he is also associated with his exuberance and appreciation of the game itself.
Actor Joe Mantegna, a longtime Cubs fan, said, "He never complained about his team's bad luck or bad talent, never stopped playing the game with joy, never stopped giving his all, never lost his proud demeanor, and never acted like anything but a winner. He was a symbol of the Cub fan's undiminishing resilience. If he could be happy to come to the park each afternoon, then so could we."
Source: Baseball Almanac
Ever since Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki started his career in 2001, he has not only captivated the city of Seattle, he has captivated an entire country (Japan) as well. In his first 10 seasons, Ichiro collected 200 hits in each season, the first man in the history of baseball ever to do so.
Ichiro also won a Gold Glove award in each of his first 10 seasons, showing his remarkable talents defensively as well as offensively.
Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of Suzuki:
"There's nobody like Ichiro in either league—now or ever. He exists strictly within his own world, playing a game 100 percent unfamiliar to everyone else. The game has known plenty of 'slap' hitters, but none who sacrifices so much natural ability for the sake of the art... Ichiro, a man of wondrous strength, puts on impressive power-hitting displays almost nightly in batting practice. And he'll go deep occasionally in games, looking very much like someone who could do it again, often... [but] the man lives for hits, little tiny ones, and the glory of standing atop the world in that category. Every spring, scouts or media types write him off, swearing that opposing pitchers have found the key, and they are embarrassingly wrong."
In March, Suzuki donated $1.25 million to the Japanese Red Cross for earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in the wake of his home country's devastating natural disaster.
When Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett suddenly passed away in 2006 of a stroke, praise and accolades came pouring in for a player who brought pure joy to the ballpark every day he played. Puckett was the driving force that brought two World Series championships to Minnesota in 1987 and 1991.
Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk said of Puckett, “There was no player I enjoyed playing against more than Kirby. He brought such joy to the game. He elevated the play of everyone around him.”
Donald Fehr, former executive director of the MLBPA, said, “Kirby played the game with such passion and enthusiasm that he was beloved by players and fans throughout all of baseball. An icon in Minnesota, Kirby’s contributions to the game and all who love it will stand as a lasting tribute to his life.”
New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig exhibited class on and off the baseball field. While a dominant force on offense for the Yankees, Gehrig also was known as a humble man who became every working man's hero with his consecutive games streak.
Sportswriter John Kieran of the New York Times said of Gehrig, "His greatest record doesn't show in the book. It was the absolute reliability of Henry Louis Gehrig. He could be counted upon. He was there every day at the ballpark bending his back and ready to break his neck to win for his side. He was there day after day and year after year. He never sulked or whined or went into a pot or a huff. He was the answer to a manager's dream."
Source: Baseball Almanac
When watching Ken Griffey Jr. on the baseball field, it was like watching a kid in a candy store. Griffey had this childlike approach to the game that he had been around all his life, when as a kid he would spend days in the dugout with his father watching the Big Red Machine.
Fans instantly became attached to Griffey Jr., as he continually amazed with his outstanding play in center field and with his beautiful swing at the plate.
Griffey was also known as one of the great pranksters in the clubhouse, constantly keeping things loose with different gags perpetrated against unsuspecting teammates.
In an era of steroids and performance enhancing drugs, Griffey became the symbol for playing the game the right way.
During his remarkable 22-year career in St. Louis with the Cardinals, Stan Musial amassed 475 home runs, 3,630 hits, a lifetime .331 batting average, three NL MVP awards and 24 All-Star appearances. But Musial was also known throughout the majors as one of the all-around nicest guys ever to have played the game.
Ty Cobb, a pretty good player himself, said of Musial in a LIFE Magazine article in 1952, "No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today.... He plays as hard when his club is away out in front of a game as he does when they're just a run or two behind."
Broadcaster Bob Costas offered this about Musial on ESPN Sport Century. "All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being," Costas said.
From the moment that Joe DiMaggio stepped onto the baseball field for the New York Yankees in 1936, he became the darling of New York, and of the baseball world.
In 1941, DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak was watched carefully by the entire country and is considered to be one of the records in baseball least likely to be broken.
DiMaggio carried himself with grace and is one of the few baseball players ever immortalized in song.
George Herman "Babe" Ruth is to this day the most beloved player in Major League Baseball history.
Ruth brought the long ball to baseball, and almost single-handedly changed the way the game was played. Ruth was arguably the greatest American hero between World War I and World War II, and even became a legend in other countries, such as Japan, before the advent of the internet.
Ruth's antics and behavior were legendary and only served to endear him even more to the American public. He was every advertising company's marketing dream, and while most of his records have long since been broken, Ruth was the benchmark in terms of offensive brilliance for decades.