MLB: 20 Players Who Revolutionized Baseball

Jim MancariCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2011

MLB: 20 Players Who Revolutionized Baseball

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    Baseball is game known for giving a team effort in pursuit of victory.

    However, over the game’s history, individual players have revolutionized how the game is played.

    That could include their play on the field or how they approached the game off the field.

    Fans love the sport for a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones is to see their heroes in action.

    Here are 20 players who have revolutionized the game of baseball.

20. Ichiro

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    Ichiro arrived to the states with a bang in 2001.

    There had been several Japanese ballplayers before him, but he epitomized everything Japanese baseball was.

    He could hit, run and throw all perfectly, which allowed him to capture the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year in his first season.

    He went on to break the single-season hits record in 2004.

    Though he had a bit of an off year, he may have an outside shot at reaching 3,000 hits in the U.S. 

    This would be an incredible feat since he played nine years in Japan before suiting up for the Seattle Mariners.

    Ichiro exemplifies that small ball can win games.

19. Satchel Paige

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    Who said baseball players wear out at age 40?

    Leroy “Satchel” Paige made his Major League debut for the Cleveland Indians in 1948 when he was 42 years old.

    He had experienced a world of success pitching in the Negro Leagues for almost two decades.

    While his Major League career did not rival his Negro League career, a legend was born.

    Paige even made an appearance at the age of 59 for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965.

    That would be unheard of today.

18. Roberto Clemente

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    The story of Roberto Clemente is a tragic one.

    Fresh off collecting his 3,000th hit to close out the 1972 season, Clemente rushed to Nicaragua in December of that year to help victims of massive earthquake.

    However, he never made it. The plan he was on crashed into ocean, and his body was never found.

    Clemente was only 38 at the time, and still could have put up huge numbers that would have put him in the conversation of all-time greats.

    He still was, but because his career was cut short, he’s sometimes forgotten.

    He showed that just because athletes are high profile figures doesn’t mean they can’t give back to their communities. The annual MLB humanitarian award is named in Clemente’s honor.

17. Cal Ripken, Jr.

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    For 2,632 straight games, one thing was certain for the Baltimore Orioles: The name “Ripken” would be somewhere in the batting order.

    Cal Ripken, Jr., known as “The Iron Man,” broke Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old mark of playing in consecutive games.

    Naturally, Ripken was banged up and bruised at times, but his passion and respect for the game forced him to stay in the lineup every single day for the better part of 17 seasons.

    And boy was he productive.

    Ripken took home two MVP awards and was a 19-time All-Star.

    In a sport where injuries are unfortunately part of the game, Ripken didn’t let anything stop him.

16. Bob Feller

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    Today, we see tons of pitchers who can throw over 90 mph.

    However, back in the early days of baseball, very few pitchers could hit that mark.

    So when Bob Feller and his blazing 98 mph burst onto the scene, opposing hitters didn’t stand a chance.

    Just think of the stats Feller put up in his career as is. But also remember that he lost four seasons to serving in WWII. That could have been at least 80 more victories.

    He revolutionized the concept of the “hard-throwing right-hander” that has become the norm in baseball today.

    Still, not many of these hard-throwing righties will ever match the career of Feller.

15. Ted Williams

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    Ted Williams was deadly with a piece of lumber in his hands.

    It was rumored that he could read the writing on the baseball as it was being pitched.

    Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant, since he was still arguably the greatest hitter to ever play the game.

    Williams was a two-time Triple Crown winner and was the last player in history to hit over .400 in a season.

    Not only was he known for his high batting averages, but he also had plenty of pop. He owns the highest career batting average (.344) of any player in the 500 Home Run Club.

    Many players today consider Williams book “The Science of Hitting” to be their Bible.

14. Ken Griffey, Jr.

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    If injuries did not plague Ken Griffey, Jr. toward the end of his career, he’d be much higher on this list.

    Griffey could do everything on a baseball field and do it well.

    While there had been many five-tool players before him, he fit the mold of the expression perfectly.

    In fact, Griffey is just as well known for his incredible defense as his home run hitting prowess.

    He was the most exciting player to watch during the 1990s.

    While he set the mold of the super athlete, there aren’t many players in the game today that can match a healthy Ken Griffey, Jr.

13. Barry Bonds

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    Even without the alleged HGH use, Barry Bonds still revolutionized baseball.

    Even when he was a skinny guy for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was the rare combination of speed and power.

    His career on-base percentage of .444 is an astounding mark, and would have the “Moneyball” gurus going crazy.

    But Bonds’ career will be forever tainted.

    It’s hard to believe that he was totally clean of performance enhancing drugs, especially since he greatest home run output came after age 35.

    He would have been a Hall of Fame player without the drugs, which is why it’s a shame that he got involved in the first place.

12. Cy Young

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    It’s no wonder why the “Cy Young” Award is named after Cy Young.

    Even 100 years after he retired in 1911, he still holds the Major League record for wins, innings pitched, games started and complete games.

    He also holds the big league record for losses as well, but that just goes to show his longevity in the game.

    He truly had a rubber arm, which allowed him to start on the mound virtually every other day. And on the days he didn’t start, he usually relieved.

    511 wins is definitely a record that will never be surpassed.

11. Mickey Mantle

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    While switch-hitting was around long before Mickey Mantle, the New York Yankee great turned it into an art form.

    Normally, switch hitters have power from their natural side of the plate while hitting for contact from the other side.

    However, Mantle used to club homers from both sides, which eventually totaled 536 for his career.

    As good as he was during the regular season, Mantle revolutionized the game due to his postseason performances.

    Mantle holds the MLB records for most home runs, RBI, runs scored, walks, extra-base hits and total bases in the World Series.

    Maybe Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira could look to Mantle as an example of how to hit in the postseason.

10. Johnny Bench

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    Catcher has mostly been known as a defensive position.

    When a team found a catcher that could hit a little bit, it was considered a huge success.

    Enter Johnny Bench.

    Bench was tough as nails behind the plate and likely will continue to be considered as the greatest defensive catcher of all-time.

    And the best part was that he could hit too. He had two 40-plus home run seasons and drove in more than 125 runs three times.

    He took home two MVP awards and was an integral part of the Big Red Machine during the 1970s.

    He totally transformed the catching position.

9. Pete Rose

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    In the minor leagues, Pete Rose was never thought as anything more than an undersized player who would never make it.

    However, 4,256 Major League hits later, Rose earned the title of the all-time hits king.

    “Charlie Hustle” never settled for less than 100 percent on the ball field.

    He even famously barreled over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game to score the winning run, and that was when the game was just an exhibition.

    He was also the last ever player-manager. Recently, the Chicago White Sox has internal discussions about making Paul Konerko a player-manager but instead hired Robin Ventura.

    Sadly, Rose was banned from baseball after gambling on games as both a player and manager.

    He has been excluded from the Hall of Fame and may never be inducted.

8. Nolan Ryan

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    When the New York Mets drafted a hard-throwing Texan in 1965, they had no idea what they were dealing with.

    The problem was that the hard-throwing Texan had trouble finding the strike zone.

    This hard-throwing Texan was Nolan Ryan, and the Mets traded Ryan in 1971 to the California Angels for perennial All-Star Jim Fregosi.

    Two words: huge mistake.

    Fregosi’s career fizzled out, while Ryan went on to set MLB records with 5,714 strikeouts and seven career no-hitters.

    He was the modern-day Bob Feller in that he would use his powerful fastball to mow down opposing hitters.

    Ryan truly revolutionized the art of pitching.

7. Jose Canseco

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    Jose Canseco is on this list for several reasons.

    Of course, he was the first player in history to record 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in the same season (1988).

    He was a super hero trapped in the body of a baseball player.

    However, we found out later that this was the result of steroids.

    “The Godfather of Steroids,” as Canseco is known, revolutionized baseball during the mid-to-late 1990s.

    Fans loved seeing monstrous athletes crush 500-ft home runs, and steroids gave the athletes the power to do so.

    While it ruined the integrity of the game, it put fans in the stands and raised revenues.

    The steroid era is an unforgettable facet of baseball history, and Canseco spearheaded the operation.

6. Willie Mays

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    Willie Mays was a human highlight reel in the days before steroids.

    He hit the ball as far as anyone. He ran as fast as anyone. He caught fly balls that no other outfielder would dream of even getting to.

    He was the real deal.

    Mays was a 24-time All-Star, though his career only last 22 seasons. How is this possible? From 1959-1962, two All-Star Games were played each season.

    He was a true ambassador of the game and is still a prominent baseball figure at 80 years old.

5. Curt Flood

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    Curt Flood may not be as well known for his baseball talent (though he was a good player) as some of the other players on this list, but he rightfully deserves a mention as a baseball revolutionary.

    Flood played twelve seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals through the 1969 season, but was traded to the lowly Philadelphia Phillies that offseason.

    Flood refused to report to his new team because he deemed it unfair that he was treated like a piece of property after fulfilling the terms of his original contract.

    He sued Major League Baseball to grant him free agency, but he ultimately lost the case.

    However, in 1970, the league instituted the 10/5 Rule (the Curt Flood Role) in which a player with 10 years of MLB service, the last five coming with the same team, can veto any trade.

    Flood’s actions were integral in understanding the business side of baseball.

4. Mariano Rivera

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    Saves are statistics that haven’t been documented like home runs or batting averages over the years.

    However, when looking at saves, the new all-time saves king Mariano Rivera has revolutionized the role of a late-game relief pitcher.

    Since taking over the Yankees closer role in 1997, Rivera has shortened the game by one inning.

    Rather than worrying about holding off a team for nine innings, the Yankees only had to worry about eight—since handing the ball to Rivera in the ninth made the game as good as over.

    He closed out this season by earning his 603rd career save.

    It’s amazing that someone who only appears in just a little over a third of his team’s games has left such an insurmountable effect on baseball.

3. Babe Ruth

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    Babe Ruth was a larger than life figure when he played, and he still is so now.

    The funny thing is that Ruth, in addition to his great hitting, was also a good pitcher.

    Though pitchers hit back in the day in both leagues, Ruth didn’t play in all the games since he needed a day or two off after pitching. Just think of the numbers he could have had.

    Ruth is also the subject of baseball’s most famous rivalry between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

    The Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees so Boston’s owner Harry Frazee could finance a Broadway play.

    In what’s known as the “Curse of the Bambino,” the Yankees have won 27 World Series titles since then. The Red Sox have won two—both of which have come in the past eight years.

2. Alex Rodriguez

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    There’s no doubt that Alex Rodriguez is one of the most talented baseball players to ever step onto a field in the history of the game.

    He’s also one of the most controversial.

    A-Rod is always in the media somehow for his recent antics, which often take his focus away from baseball.

    Though his career is also tainted with performance enhancing drug use, he’s on this list for another reason: money.

    A-Rod is the owner of the two largest contracts ever in sports history. His current deal with the Yankees is worth nearly $300 million. (Maybe we’ll see Albert Pujols’ next contract surpass that total.)

    He is one of the reasons that baseball has become more about the business and less about the game. This is a sad truth but one that must be acknowledged in the game’s long history.

    Baseball is all about the money these days.

1. Jackie Robinson

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    When Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, that is when the game of baseball took off.

    Up until then, teams and players were talented but not giving everyone, regardless of race, a chance to play limited the expansion of the game.

    Once Robinson broke the color barrier, it gave every kid an equal chance to follow his baseball dreams.

    In the game today, there is an eclectic mix of races and nationalities that has caused baseball to become a worldwide phenomenon.

    The fans are treated with seeing the best players in the world, rather than ones deemed eligible due to race.

    Robinson was the game’s most important revolutionary, and his actions changed baseball forever.