2011 MLB Rookie of the Year: Ranking the 25 Best ROY Seasons in AL History
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, many forget that his play lived up to the hype of the first African-American in Major League Baseball.
Robinson earned Rookie of the Year honors, which was the first of its kind awarded. Two years later, in 1949, MLB split up the honor into two, one for the American League and one for the National League.
Since 1949, the American League has seen some of the finest rookie seasons in MLB history from players who went on to achieve great things in the game.
Before the winner is announced on Nov. 14, I looked at some of the more memorable rookie campaigns in history. When considering stats and contributions to their team's seasons, here is my list for the 25 best rookies of the year in the history of the American League.
25. Gary Peters: 1963
Gary Peters first full year in the bigs came in 1963 with the Chicago White Sox at the age of 26. He started 30 games for Chicago and ended the season 19-8 with a 2.33 ERA.
Peters was important for the White Sox, pitching 243 innings for a team that went 94-68 and nearly won the American League.
His career ended in 1972 after time with Chicago and Boston. His career was solid, as he went 124-103 with a 3.25 ERA with an All-Star appearance in 1967.
24. Eddie Murray: 1977
"Steady" Eddie Murray began his Hall of Fame career in 1977 with the Baltimore Orioles in a big way. He hit .283 with 27 HR and 88 RBI for a Baltimore team that went 97-64 and finished second in the AL East.
Murray would go on to win the 1983 World Series with Baltimore before he left the club in 1988. He then played for the Dodgers, Mets, Angels and Orioles, again.
He retired in 1997 after eight All-Star seasons and the reputation as one of the most important players in Oriole history. His No. 33 will never appear on a Baltimore jersey again.
23. Cal Ripken, Jr. : 1982
Speaking of Baltimore greats, is there any greater than Cal Ripken, Jr.?
Ripken began his illustrious baseball career in 1982 with the Orioles, whom he would play for his entire career. The Maryland native batted .264 with 28 HR and 93 RBI for Baltimore, who once again would miss the playoffs after winning 94 games.
Ripken would win the AL MVP the next year, when Baltimore won the World Series. He set the record for consecutive games played with 2,632. He would win another MVP in 1991 in addition to two gold gloves and 19 All-Star appearances.
He would be enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 2007, receiving 98.53 percent approval.
22. Tim Salmon: 1993
"King Fish" took the league by storm with his 1993 Rookie of the Year campaign with the California Angels.
Salmon took the honors by hitting .283 with 31 HR and 95 RBI. He set the tone for a consistent career full of power matched with contact hitting.
Whether they were the California, Anaheim or Los Angeles Angels, Salmon played for the club his entire career, finishing with a lifetime .282 average with 299 HR. He won the World Series with the team in 2002 before retiring in 2006.
21. Tom Tresh: 1962
With players like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Yogi Berra on the 1962 Yankees squad that won the World Series, Tom Tresh's fantastic rookie season is often forgotten.
Tresh hit .286 with 20 HR and 93 RBI at shortstop. He did quite well considering he was subbing for Tony Kubek, who was serving in the military at the time.
Tom would come up big in the World Series, hitting a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning of Game 5. New York would in seven games.
Tresh played with New York until 1969, when he was shipped to Detroit. He ended his career after the season. Tresh finished his career with two All-Star appearances and one Gold Glove.
20. Alvin Davis: 1984
The man known as "Mr. Mariner" started his career off with a bang in 1984.
Davis hit a steady .284 while hitting 27 HR and driving in 116 RBI. What's more amazing is the fact that he hit a home run in his first two big league games and reached base in his first 47 career games.
The game slowed down a bit for Davis after that, as he would never make another All-Star game after 1984. He left Seattle in 1991. The next year, he went to the Angels before going to Japan and subsequently retiring.
He held several Mariner records before players like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez rewrote the franchise's history.
19. Pat Listach: 1992
Listach is another player who would fail to match his rookie greatness.
After looking at his 1992 season, it's easy to see why. Listach hit .290 while stealing 54 bases and scoring 93 runs. His production was important for a Milwaukee team that would narrowly miss the playoffs, finishing second behind the World Champion Blue Jays in the AL East.
Listach's playing career would end in 1997. He was third base coach for the Nationals in 2009 and bench coach for the Cubs in 2010.
18. Ron Kittle: 1983
Ron Kittle grew up fast in the Major Leagues, starting with his 1983 Rookie of the Year season.
Kittle smashed 35 HR and 100 RBI for a Chicago White Sox club that went 99-63 and won the AL West. He would crush balls out of Comiskey Park regularly, including a few that hit the roof.
The MLB would catch up with Kittle after his lone All-Star appearance during that 1983 season. He left Chicago in 1986 and went to the Yankees. He would play for the Indians and Orioles in his career, with two returns to the White Sox.
He retired after the 1991 season.
17. Neftali Feliz: 2010
After playing a few games for the Ranges in 2009, Feliz was slated as closer to start the 2010 season, replacing Frank Francisco.
The Rangers' decision immediately payed dividends. Feliz pitched over 69 innings, posting a 2.73 ERA and finishing the season with a rookie-record 40 saves. He made the All-Star game as well.
Feliz has deep postseason experience in just two seasons in the bigs, making it to the World Series with the Rangers in 2010 and 2011.
16. Andrew Bailey: 2009
One of the most unheralded Rookie of the Year performances in recent history is that of Andrew Bailey's in 2009.
Bailey dominated opponents at the end of games, finishing the 2009 season with a 1.84 ERA with 26 saves in over 83 innings pitched. He confused hitters with his devastating curveball mixed with his fastball that tops out at 97 mph.
He hasn't slowed down since, saving 25 games in 2010, and 24 in 2011. He made the All-Star team in 2009 and 2010, and his career ERA thus far is 2.07.
15. Carlos Beltran: 1999
Carlos Beltran has always been a great player; it just took him leaving Kansas City for many to realize it.
Beltran's productive career began in 1999 with the Royals. He hit .293 with 22 HR and 108 RBI for a pretty bad Kansas City club, taking home Rookie of the Year honors over the likes of Tim Hudson and Carlos Lee.
Beltran stayed with KC until the trading deadline in 2004. He was traded to the Astros and hit eight home runs in only two postseason rounds. He then played with the Mets until this past season's trading deadline, when he was shipped to the Giants. Beltran is currently a free agent.
At 34, Beltran has hit a lifetime .283 with 302 home runs. He has made the All-Star squad six times, and is only 83 hits away from 2,000.
14. Al Bumbry: 1973
Bumbry's speedy career got off to a fast start in 1973 with the Baltimore Orioles.
Al hit .337 with 120 hits, 11 triples and 73 runs scored in just 110 games. His performance was important for Baltimore, who won the AL East before losing in the ALCS to Oakland.
Bumbry's other great season came in 1980, when he made the All-Star team. He won the World Series in 1983 with Baltimore and then left to join San Diego in 1985, where he would retire after the season.
13. Justin Verlander: 2006
Justin Verlander is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in the game today.
Since his debut in 2006, it was pretty evident that this guy was special. He ended his rookie year with a 3.63 ERA with a 17-9 record in 186 innings pitched. He helped lead the Detroit Tigers to the American League title.
It's hard to imagine, but Verlander has only gotten better since his rookie season. He has thrown two no-hitters, made four All-Star teams and has thrown over 200 innings ever year since 2007.
Verlander won the triple crown of pitching in the American League this year and will be named AL Cy Young winner on Nov. 18; bet on it. He is also a candidate for MVP.
12. Gregg Olson: 1989
It's easy to forget about a guy named Gregg Olson when there are several others in sports who share a variation of the same name. Olson's 1989 season, however, was one to remember.
Olson pitched 85 innings for the Baltimore Orioles, saving 27 games with an ERA of 1.69. He finished the season with a record of 5-2 with 90 strikeouts.
Olson made the All-Star team in 1990, but he was never able to match the greatness of his first few seasons later in his career. After Baltimore, he went to places like Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota and Arizona, amongst others.
In 14 years, Olson posted a 3.46 ERA with 217 saves. He still works in baseball to this day as a scout for the San Diego Padres.
11. Harvey Kuenn: 1953
Harvey Kuenn exploded onto the MLB scene with Detroit in 1953, boasting one of the all-time great rookie hitting performances.
Kuenn batted .308 with 209 hits, which led the major leagues. He also set a rookie record for singles with 167, while scoring 94 runs.
He made the first of eight All-Star teams that season with Detroit. After the Tigers, he would play with the Indians, Giants, Cubs and Phillies.
Kuenn won the batting title in 1959 and ended his career with a .303 average and 2,092 hits.
10. Tony Oliva: 1964
An all-time Twins great, Tony Oliva would begin his lifelong career in Minnesota with one of the best seasons in his career.
Oliva's first full year with the Twins came in 1964 after being discovered by scouts years before in Cuba. Tony hit .323 with 32 HR and 94 RBI, with 217 hits overall. He finished fourth in MVP voting, and earned 19 of of the overall 20 votes for AL Rookie of the Year.
He made the All-Star team that season and seven more times in his career. Tony-O retired in 1976 after playing for 15 seasons. His No. 6 is retired by Minnesota.
Oliva now has a statue outside Target Field, which was dedicated on April 8 of this year.
9. Dustin Pedroia: 2007
A testament to Theo Epstein's player development for the Boston Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year in 2007 with an excellent display of fundamentals.
Pedroia finished his rookie year batting .317, hitting 39 doubles and driving in 86 runs. His defense at second was spectacular, boasting a .990 fielding percentage.
The Red Sox needed everything they could get from Pedroia, who helped the team win their second title in four years.
Since 2007, Dustin has done everything he didn't do in his rookie year. He has made three All-Star teams, won two gold gloves and captured the 2008 AL MVP.
8. Mark McGwire: 1987
Maybe he got a little extra help from an unnamed source, but Mark McGwire's rookie season in 1987 was fantastic.
A .289 average matched with a whopping 49 HR and 118 RBI gave McGwire the award with ease. His 49 HR is 11 more than the previous rookie record held by Frank Robinson and Wally Berger.
McGwire went on to do much of the same in his career with both the A's and Cardinals. He hit a Major League record 70 home runs in 1998, a feat which has since been diminished by his admitted steroid use.
He finished with 583 home runs and is eligible for Cooperstown, but his chances are unlikely due to his involvement with performance enhancing drugs. McGwire is currently the hitting coach for the Cardinals, who just captured their 11th title a few weeks ago.
7. Walt Dropo: 1950
The second American League Rookie of the Year ever awarded went to one of the best performances in rookie history.
Walt Dropo, who had a pretty average career, had an unbelievable rookie year in 1950. He hit .322 with 34 HR and a league leading 144 RB, narrowly defeating Whitey Ford for the award. He made his only All-Star appearance that season for a Boston Red Sox club that went 94-60.
His career would never be the same after his rookie year. Dropo went on to play with Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox before retiring in 1961.
He finished his career with a .270 average and 152 HR.
6. Bob Grim: 1954
Few rookie pitching seasons outdo Bob Grim's year in 1954.
In his first season, the Yankee pitcher went 20-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 199 innings pitched. He was a big reason why New York won 104 games that year.
In 1957, his ailing arm made him a reliever. He made the All-Star team that year, the only appearance of his career. He retired in 1962 after playing for teams like the Indians, Reds, Cardinals and A's.
He won the World Series with the Yankees in 1956.
5. Derek Jeter: 1996
Derek Jeter became the first rookie starting shortstop for the Yankees since the aforementioned Tom Tresh during the 1996 season. Few knew then just how good this guy would be. His rookie season gave them a bit of an idea.
Jeter batted .314 with 10 HR and 78 RBI while scoring 104 runs. He amazingly did better in the playoffs, hitting .363 as the Yankees won their first World Series since 1978.
Since then, Jeter has done about everything you can do in baseball. He has over 3,000 hits, has made the All-Star game 12 times, won five Gold Gloves and has been a part of four more Yankee championships.
The future Hall of Famer has had our attention since his rookie year, and still seems to have a few good years left in him.
4. Nomar Garciaparra: 1997
Throughout his career, Nomar Garciaparra was known to do everything on the diamond.
This characteristic was very evident in Nomar's rookie year in 1997. Garciaparra hit .306 with 30 HR, 98 RBI, 11 triples and 209 hits overall. He made the AL All-Star team and unanimously won Rookie of the Year.
His 30 game hitting streak is a record for rookies, and his 98 runs driven in is a record for leadoff hitters in a season. He played shortstop well and even finished eighth in MVP voting.
Garciaparra went on to have several great seasons with the Red Sox before being traded to the Cubs during the 2004 season (He still received a World Series ring.). He then played with the Dodgers and A's before retiring in 2009. Nomar was an All-Star six times.
3. Ichiro Suzuki: 2001
This selection may come as a bit controversial because he spent eight years in Japan before coming to the MLB, but look at it this way. The MLB is far more developed than Japan's Pacific League, and Ichiro was far better than any player in 2001.
Ichiro had a rookie record 242 hits, the most in the Major Leagues since 1930, hit .350 and stole 56 bases, which led the majors. In addition to Rookie of the Year honors, Ichiro made the AL All-Star squad, won a Gold Glove in right field, won the batting title and won MVP honors in 2001.
Suzuki made quite an impact on the MLB, becoming the first Japanese born player in the game. In his career, Ichiro has made 10 All-Star teams, won 10 Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and two batting titles, and set the Major League record for hits in a season, with 262 in 2004. He also owns the MLB record for consecutive stolen bases with 45.
When thinking about these statistics combined with his numbers in Japan, Ichiro is one of the greatest players baseball has ever seen. No performance was better than his American debut in 2001.
2. Fred Lynn: 1975
Ichiro Suzuki was the second player in Major League history to win MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season; Fred Lynn was the first.
Lynn won both these awards quite deservingly. He hit .331 with 21 HR and 105 RBI. Lynn led the league in doubles with 47, runs scored with 103 and slugging percentage at .566. He also finished second in hitting and won a Gold Glove in centerfield.
A signature performance from Lynn's rookie year came June 18 against Detroit. He hit three home runs, drove in 10 runs and had an amazing 16 total bases. Lynn did this all for a Red Sox team that won the American League title and pushed the World Series to seven games against Johnny Bench and the "Big Red Machine."
Lynn went on to have a exceptional career in baseball. He made nine All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves. He retired in 1990 with a career average of .283 with 306 HR and 1,111 RBI.
Lynn also played for California, Baltimore, Detroit and San Diego.
1. Mark Fidrych: 1976
Few thought they would see a rookie performance like Fred Lynn's after 1975. The very next year, Mark Fidrych had them thinking otherwise.
That's because Fidrych had one of the most impressive pitching seasons in baseball history, rookie or not. What's amazing are the stats Fidrych put up after not getting his first start until a month and a half after the season started.
"The Bird" went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and an unheard of 24 complete games. He started the All-Star game that season and finished second in AL Cy Young voting to Jim Palmer. Overall in that 1976 season, Fidrych lead the league in ERA and complete games and pitched four shutouts. All being started, mind you, in mid-May.
Fidrych's 1976 rookie season is that of legend and deserving of this spot. Unfortunately, a torn rotator cuff put his career to an end in 1980. He made one additional All-Star game in 1977.
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