Most Inspirational Players in Baseball History

Joe AcampadoCorrespondent INovember 17, 2011

Most Inspirational Players in Baseball History

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    Baseball's had a long history of players who've inspired others, not just in the game, but in life as well.

    A player can inspire a kid to play baseball or give courage to those who need it.

    A player can bring out the altruists in all of us or show what it takes to persevere.

    A player can unite a country or fight to defend it.

    Baseball players can do and have done all of these things.  Inspiration comes in all shapes, sizes, and ways; it just calls to each one of us in a different manner. 

    There have been many inspiring players in baseball's history, and I'm going to show you the top 15.

Tony Conigliaro

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    This guy had a bright future ahead of him as the Boston Red Sox's next big star.  However, fate decreed otherwise for Tony Conigliaro.

    He took a pitch to the face in 1967 fracturing his cheekbone and nearly losing his vision in his left eye.  Conigliaro missed all of the 1968 season, but came back in 1969.

    In 1970 he had an amazing season, overcoming obstacles to put up a 36 HR and 116 RBI season.  However, his vision worsened and he wasn't the same since.

    Conigliaro came back from a terrible injury to have one last great season.  To honor this, the MLB has an award named after him which is given to a player that has gone through a great difficultly but continues to thrive despite it. 

Ernie Banks

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    Ernie Banks.  "Mr. Sunshine." Here was a player who inspired by his bat as well as his positive attitude.

    Banks was a 14-time All-Star and two-time NL MVP.  He's also a member of the 500 HR club.  

    However, there's a lot more to Ernie Banks once you go past the numbers.

    He was the Chicago Cub's first African-American player, joining the Major League team in 1953.  Banks was also part of the league's first all black double play combo along with Gene Baker, the Cubs' second player of African-American descent.

    There was also the way he carried himself.  He just radiated positive energy and was a popular player.

    Banks was known for his catchphrase of "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame ... Let's play two!" out of his love for the game of baseball.

Kirby Puckett

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    Kirby Puckett was an amazing, energizing player who could've gotten 3,000 hits if his career wasn't cut short because of his eye.

    Puckett was a 10-time All-Star, two-time champion, and six-time Gold Glover.  Off the field is where he really shines, though.

    He was known and revered for his involvement in the community.  Puckett was always doing community service and charity work.  

    He even received the Roberto Clemente award and the Branch Rickey award for his charitable work in the community.

    In his career, he was known for his out-going personality and positive energy.  Puckett had a nice-guy persona that won the hearts of many fans.  

    That combined with his charity work is enough to make him one of the most inspirational players ever. 

Jim Abbott

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    Talk about inspiration. This guy was born without a right hand.  Despite that, Jim Abbott pitched for 10 years in the majors.

    Abbott also skipped the having to pitch in the minors routine most pitchers, born with both hands, have to go through.  So yeah, you can say he was kinda good.

    Some of you might also remember Abbott pitching a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993.

    Abbott had the determination and perseverance to overcome an obstacle to become a successful major league pitcher.  He shows that nothing is outside of the realm of possibility.

Mike Schmidt

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    Mike Schmidt is considered among the greatest third basemen in baseball history.

    His World Series Championship and MVP in 1980, along with his 12 All-Star appearances, three MVPs and 10 Gold Gloves more than support that.

    Schmidt had the glove and the bat.  He also had the hearts of Philadelphia Phillies fans as possibly their most beloved player.

    Mike Schmidt would've been inspirational to aspiring third basemen alone, but his philanthropic work is what makes him stand out among other players.

    Schmidt's annual fishing tournament raises money for cystic fibrosis research.  It's raised $1.5 million dollars since it first started in 2001.  

    Then in 2008, he released his own wine with all proceeds going to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Stan Musial

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    Here's one of the greatest hitters in baseball's history.  It's ironic that he almost wasn't.  Stan Musial started off as a pitcher until he was converted into an outfielder because of a shoulder injury.

    The injury came toward the start of his professional career when in was in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system.  There, he got married and had his first child.  

    It was hard enough to support yourself on your own but Musial had to support a family as well.

    Musial almost quit because of his financial situation but his manager at the time took him and his family in to ease the burden.  It was a good thing too since he was promoted to the majors a year later.

Sandy Koufax

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    Sandy Koufax is known as one of the best, most dominant pitchers ever despite having his career cut short by injuries.  His fastball and curve were the bane of hitters in that time.

    Koufax wasn't too sure if he was going to have success playing baseball professionally.  

    After games, he would drive to Columbia University to attend classes in order to have a backup plan.  At one point, after the 1960 season, Koufax even thought about quitting.

    Good thing he didn't since 1961 was the start of his dominance.  However, his arm couldn't keep up with him as it began experiencing problems from hemorrhaging.  

    For the next two years, Koufax pitched in pain and was even able to pitch a perfect game, an accomplishment most pitchers can do even when they're healthy.

    When talking about Koufax, you also can't ignore his loyalty to his religion since he didn't pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.

    Here was a guy who overcame doubts and pain while not ignoring his religious obligations.  

Willie Mays

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    Willie Mays was a gifted athlete in his time.  In high school, he played basketball and football as well.  All that athleticism payed off when he got to the majors.

    A World Series Champion, 24-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glover, and two-time NL MVP, Willie Mays is arguably one of the top five best baseball players ever.  

    His energy, athleticism and attitude for the game caught the heart of fans as well as aspiring athletes.

    One of his most inspirational moments has to be The Catch in the 1954 World Series which preserved a tie game.  He was able to not only make the catch but throw the ball back in to keep the runners from scoring.  

    Every kid should grow up wanting to make that play just once in their life.

    One can't forget his positive personality as well as his charity work, but when it comes to Willie Mays, his athleticism trumps it all.

Babe Ruth

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    If we're making a list of the most inspirational baseball players in history, we've gotta have the Babe.

    Babe Ruth's early life was rough even though nobody really knows the details.  He was sent to a reformatory and orphanage by his father at the age of seven.  

    It was there, however, that he was first introduced to the game of baseball.

    Fast forward many years later and Babe Ruth captivates the national audience with each of his towering home runs.  The media eats him up and he becomes a larger than life star in New York with the Yankees.

    He was soon called the "Sultan of Swat" and was rewriting record books with pretty much every at-bat.

    Ruth might have actually changed the game, taking baseball out of the Dead Ball Era and causing teams, and players, to aim for the fences.

    His bat alone was enough to inspire whole generations of power hitters and he is still regarded as one of the best, if not the best, baseball player ever.

Henry "Hank" Aaron

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    Henry "Hank" Aaron needs no introduction.  His towering home runs, all 755 of them, should be enough of an introduction.

    I could go on and on about all of his baseball accomplishments and his records.  However, I feel like that's been talked to death especially with Barry Bonds breaking his home run record a few years ago.

    Instead, I'm going to focus on the hatred and danger he had to face when he was still at 713 home runs.

    Hank Aaron wasn't born into the best of circumstances, often having to put together his own materials for baseballs and bats.  

    Life didn't get easier as a baseball player, especially when he was quickly approaching Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs.

    The time between the 713th and 715th home runs was filled with hate mail and death threats because some didn't want to see a black man break Babe Ruth's sacred record.

    However, he still put on his uniform and went out there to break the record, silencing his haters, and making him one of the most inspirational players ever.

Ted Williams

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    How can you not have one of the greatest hitters of all-time on the list of most inspirational players ever?

    Not to mention, Ted Williams' career was interrupted twice because he went to serve in the US Marine Corps.  There's a true American.

    Sure there's his hitting achievements but the focal point should be how he voluntarily enlisted in the US Marine Corps and selected to defend his country in not one, but two wars.

    Williams attained the rank of Captain and in the Korean War, he flew 39 combat missions.  

    His most famous one was on February 16, 1953, where he was part of an air raid where his plane was hit and he was able to fly it back to a US air base.  Williams received the Air Medal for that.

    On top of that, he also donated generously to those who needed it.  Williams has been known to donate to the Jimmy Fund of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

    Ted Williams posted legendary numbers, defended his country and gives to those in need making him an inspiration for Americans everywhere.

Cal Ripken Jr.

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    Cal Ripken Jr. is best known for being the "Iron Man" for breaking Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played.

    He's also known for being one of the best shortstops ever.  19 All-Star selections, a World Series Championship, two Gold Gloves, and two AL MVP awards is enough to make him inspirational on the baseball level.

    However, what he did once he was done playing baseball propelled him to new heights.

    Ripken has donated to many charities, including research on Lou Gehrig's disease.

    His Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which he formed with his brother, gives underprivileged children the opportunity to attend baseball camps and learn the game of baseball.  

    He also helped found Athletes for Hope along with several other sports stars.

    Cal Ripken Jr. also inspired other tall, power-hitting players to be shortstops giving rise to the Alex Rodriguez-es and Nomar Garciaparras that followed him.

Lou Gehrig

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    Lou Gehrig is known as "The Iron Horse" because of his 2,130 consecutive games streak which was broken by Cal Ripken Jr. 56 years later.

    He's also known because of the disease that cut his illustrious career short, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is more commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease.

    Signs of his disease may have started popping up as soon as 1934 where he complained of a throbbing back.  

    However, it wasn't until the second half of the 1938 season and spring training of 1939 where people began suspecting something.  

    It was soon discovered that he had ALS and it was incurable.  Then, on July 4th, 1939, the New York Yankees held "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" where he gave his "The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" speech.

    His career was legendary, especially for that time.  

    His death was devastating to New York City and baseball fans everywhere, but it inspired people to research ALS to the point where the life expectancy is extended to several more years.

Roberto Clemente

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    Roberto Clemente was a great baseball player with a heart rivaling Santa's.

    Clemente wasn't born to the best of circumstances, working at a young age to help his family.  However, he was able to find time to play baseball and showed a talent for it.

    When he came to the majors, he was faced with racial tension and frustrated by it.  Clemente, however didn't let it get him down.

    During the offseasons, he spent most of his time doing charity work.  The most notable one being his trip to Nicaragua in 1972.

    Managua, the capital, was struck by an immense earthquake on December 23rd.  Clemente took it upon himself to start arranging emergency relief flights, but found out the supplies were being stolen by corrupt officials.

    He decided to join one of the flights to ensure it got there safely.  It never did.

    The plane he was on had been having mechanical problems and was overweight causing it to immediately crash.

    His legacy lives on as MLB awards the Roberto Clemente Award to a player who demonstrated outstanding works of charity in the season.

Jackie Robinson

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    We had to get here eventually, didn't we?

    Jackie Robinson never really had it easy.  

    His father left when he was young and he spent most of his childhood in poverty and aware of racial discrimination.  Because of this, he even temporarily joined a gang.

    However, his skill in sports, along with encouragement from his brothers, caused him to pursue sports, even lettering in four of them in high school:  football, baseball, basketball and track.

    Despite that, his troubles continued once he was drafted into the army.  Robinson was court-martialed because of his race.

    And as well all know, he faced discrimination in his professional career too once he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.  Robinson wasn't allowed to stay with his teammates in the minors and entire games were called off because of him.

    Once with the Dodgers, things didn't get any easier as his own teammates refused to play with him.  Other teams derided him and played rough against him.

    Jackie Robinson, however, was able to get past it and succeed.  He didn't let his race and what others thought of it get him down.  

    He defied odds and pure hatred to become an inspirational symbol for people anywhere that one's mind is the strongest thing in the world.  With it, anything becomes possible.