MLB: The 40 Best Outfield Arms in Baseball History

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2012

MLB: The 40 Best Outfield Arms in Baseball History

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    A diving catch or someone reaching over the wall to rob someone of a home run might get the crowd going, but nothing makes you stand up and say "wow" more than a big throw from an outfielder to nail a runner trying to advance a base.

    Outfielders with strong throwing arms not only result in outs, but they make the opposition think twice about even trying to run when they have the ball in their hands.

    Assists, while a somewhat useful statistic in gauging how strong someone's throwing arm is, doesn't tell the whole story—it's hard to throw someone out when they don't even try to run.

    Strength is only one aspect of what makes a great throwing arm. How quickly a player can get the ball from glove to hand and on its way can sometimes make up for a deficiency in arm strength.

    But all-in-all, the players on this list had an incredible combination of all those skills, making them more likely to throw straight for the base that the play was at rather then hitting the cutoff man.

    Let's meet the 40 players who had the best outfield arms in the history of the game.

Just Missed the Cut

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    Barry Bonds

    Shin-Soo Choo

    Mike Hershberger

    Andruw Jones

    Mark Kotsay

    Ruben Mateo

    Paul O'Neill

    Andy Pafko

40 (Tie). Bobby Abreu

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    From 1998 through 2002, Bobby Abreu racked up 59 assists patrolling right field for the Philadelphia Phillies.

    No longer an everyday player—nor having as strong and accurate an arm as he had in his prime—Abreu forces baserunners to show him respect and think twice before running on him.

    He leads all active outfielders in career assists with 134.

40 (Tie). Rick Ankiel

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    Being a former pitcher who routinely hit the upper 90's will certainly leave you with a powerful throwing arm, but some of the throws that Rick Ankiel has made from the outfield have been ridiculous.

    In regards to the two plays in the video, former St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Troy Glaus had this to say about the second one:

    "I didn't think there was a play, to be perfectly honest. …. That was by far the best throw I've ever seen in 10 or 11 seasons. Not only was it probably the better part of 300 feet, it was dead on line and in the air the whole way."

    Partly because of time missed due to injury, largely because of his reputation, people generally don't try to run when Ankiel has the ball in his hand, which would help to explain how someone with that strong of an arm has never reached double-digit assists in any season as an outfielder. His career high came last year in Washington, recording nine.

38. Jay Buhner

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    Yankees fans like Frank Costanza had reason to be irate that the Bronx Bombers traded Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps back in 1988.

    Phelps would only play poorly in parts of two seasons in the Bronx. Buhner merely went on to hit more than 300 home runs and become one of the most beloved Mariners of all-time.

    Buhner also played solid defense in right field and his cannon of a throwing arm gunned down 100 baserunners, including 48 from 1991 through the strike-shortened season of 1994.

37. Andy Van Slyke

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    A three-time All-Star, Andy Van Slyke was one of the more underrated players in baseball during his career.

    Consistent at the plate as well as in the field, Van Slyke spent his formative years patrolling the middle of the outfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates, between Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds.

    On Sept. 27, 1988, in front of less than 9,000 fans at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the Pirates had a 3-2 lead over the Cardinals heading into the ninth inning. With runners on the corners and one out, Cardinals shortstop Luis Alicea hit a shot hurtling towards Van Slyke in center field—one that was certainly deep enough to allow Jose Oquendo to tag up from third base.

    Van Slyke unleashed a throw to Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere that arrived in time to nail Oquendo, who was blocked from the plate by LaValliere's left leg long enough for the catcher to apply the tag.

    “I thought he (Van Slyke) had no chance, to be honest with you," said Pirates manager Jim Leyland after the game.

    Van Slyke would finish his career with five Gold Gloves and 107 assists.

38. Cory Snyder

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    A shortstop in college, Cory Snyder made his mark in the major leagues as a power-hitting outfielder. primarily for the Cleveland Indians.

    From 1986 through 1991, Snyder led the league in assists with a total of 61. He finished his career with 89 assists in 877 games played, which means that, on average, Snyder threw out a runner every 10 games.

36. Glenn Wilson

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    Known primarily for his throwing arm, Glenn Wilson threw out 38 runners between 1985 and 1986, leading the league in assists each season.

    He finished his career with 109 assists, 61 of which came in a four-year period for the Philadelphia Phillies, from 1984 through 1987.

35. Jose Guillen

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    A below average fielder who threw out 107 runners over the course of his career, Jose Guillen made what some consider to be the best throw in the history of baseball - click here to check it out.

34. Mark Whiten

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    Remembered more for hitting four home runs in one game than anything else, Mark Whiten's throwing arm was a weapon that he often tried to hide.

    Pittsburgh Pirates coach Rich Donnelly explains: ""He eggs you on. He'll lope after a ball to see if he can get you to run, picks it up . . . and bam, you're dead."

    Only a starter in four of the 11 seasons he played, Whiten ended his career with 77 assists, an impressive number when you figure that he was often a pinch-hitter or late-inning replacement.

    Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, who both played and managed against Roberto Clemente, gave Whiten's throwing arm the ultimate compliment: "As far as arm strength goes . . . it's a tough call between Clemente and Whiten."

33. Kirby Puckett

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    It only took two years for the American League to learn that you can't run on Kirby Puckett, a 10-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove award winner.

    After accumulating 35 assists in his first two seasons, baserunners simply chose not to try and advance when Puckett had the ball in his hand. Those who did generally failed in their attempt to take an extra base, and Puckett finished his career gunning down 142 men on base.

32. Jeff Francoeur

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    It's baffling why baserunners still try and advance on Jeff Francoeur.

    The 28-year-old has recorded no less than 11 assists in each of his seven seasons, and not only is his throwing arm powerful, but it's deadly accurate, as we can see in the video.

    After Ichiro, Francoeur has the best throwing arm in baseball today.

31. Johnny Callison

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    A three-time All-Star, Johnny Callison terrorized baserunners from right field for more than a decade.

    He was named the MVP of the 1964 All-Star Game, best remembered for his three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth off Dick Radatz that gave the National League a 7-4 victory.

    But Callison also threw out 175 over the course of his career, including a four-year stretch from 1962 through 1965 when he racked up 90 assists, leading the league each season.

30. Gary Sheffield

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    Between natural talent and growing up with his uncle—former New York Mets ace Dwight Gooden—teaching him how to pitch, Gary Sheffield was destined to have a cannon for an arm.

    A shortstop and pitcher in high school, Sheffield played both positions on the left side of the infield until 1994—his seventh in the majors—when he moved to the outfield.

    As an outfielder, Sheffield racked up 108 assists for his career, including a career high 17 in 2001 when he patrolled left field for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

29. Carl Yastrzemski

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    Only in baseball can the son of a potato farmer who born and raised on Long Island become Boston's favorite son.

    An 18-time All-Star and the last man to win the American League Triple Crown, a feat he achieved in 1967, Carl Yastrzemski played excellent defense in left field and had a strong, accurate throwing arm.

    Seven times in his 23-year-career Yaz won a Gold Glove, and seven times he led outfielders in assists, including a career-high 19 in 1964. His 195 career assists leave him tied with another member of our list who you may have heard of, Willie Mays.

28. Dave Parker

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    An intimidating physical presence standing 6'5" and weighing 235 pounds, Dave Parker only exacerbated things by walking around the field with a shotgun.

    A shotgun concealed as his right arm, Parker fired baseballs at a ridiculous velocity, resulting in his leading the league with 26 assists in 1977 and finishing his career with 143 assists.

    For as powerful as his arm was, it was also prone to be erratic, and Parker committed his fair share of throwing errors, which is why he doesn't rank higher on our list.

27. Jim Edmonds

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    One of the greatest defensive centerfielders to play the game, Jim Edmonds played with a reckless abandon, often launching his body into the air or wall to make a catch.

    Once he had the ball in his hand, anyone who was still running on the bases was a candidate to be thrown out. From 2000 through 2004, Edmonds tallied at least 10 assists a season, and he finished with 131 for his career.

26. Glen Gorbous

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    Glen Gorbous might actually have the greatest throwing arm in the history of the world, but because his incredible feats were primarily accomplished outside of game action, he finds himself closer to the bottom of the list.

    He played parts of three seasons in the majors for the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, recording 10 assists in 70 games.

    But in 1957, while playing for the Omaha Redbirds of the American Association, Gorbous made two ridiculous throws.

    First, standing at home plate, he only needed three attempts to throw a ball over the center field wall, 410 feet away. His first two throws fell just short.

    Then during a throwing competition where competitors were given a six-step running start, Gorbous launched a ball 445 feet and 10 inches from the right field corner to left field, setting a world record that stands to this day.

25. Cesar Geronimo

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    Acquired from the Houston Astros as part of the trade that bought Joe Morgan to the Cincinnati Reds, Cesar Geronimo patrolled center field for the Big Red Machine with aplomb, taking home four Gold Glove awards.

    Opponents quickly learned that they couldn't run on Geronimo and they stopped trying, which explains his 81 career assists, one of the lower totals of those on our list.

    Ted Kluszewski, who was the Reds' hitting coach when Geronimo arrived and helped Geronimo enjoy a moderate level of success at the plate, explained how impressive his throwing arm was:

    "(Geronimo) is like a center in basketball—he intimidates you. Not only is his arm incredibly strong, it's also accurate. No one, I mean no one, runs on him."

24. Duke Snider

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    One of the great centerfielders of all-time, Duke Snider would land higher on this list if not for suffering an injury to his arm that robbed him of much of the power behind his throws.

    From 1949 through 1956, Snider threw out 82 baserunners. From 1956 until he retired in 1964, he only threw out 32, due largely in part to the injury.

23. Reggie Smith

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    A seven-time All-Star who won only one Gold Glove award, Reggie Smith had one of the great throwing arms of the 1970's.

    In stints with the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, Smith threw out 127 runners from the outfield, spending significant time in both center field and right field.

    Bob Forsch, a teammate of his with the Cardinals, remembered Reggie's arm:

    "It was FUN being on the same team as he was. One, he was a POWER hitter and switch hitter... He was big guy, very strong, very muscular. Hard to believe he was that agile. He was very muscular for an outfielder... Plus he also had one of the best outfield arms of anybody. And he was smart as well as stronghe never threw to the wrong base and kept the double play in order, which, to a pitcher, is BIG."

22. Andre Dawson

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    Andre Dawson epitomized the tern "five tool player" for more than a decade before 12 knee surgeries and age began to take their toll.

    Nicknamed "The Hawk" for his ability to track down any fly ball that came his way, Dawson's right arm should have required a permit to travel between Canada and the United States.

    Known primarily as a right fielder, a position he played for 1,283 games, Dawson patrolled center for the Montreal Expos in more than 1,000 games as well.

    From his Rookie of the Year season in 1977 through 1983, Dawson averaged nearly 10 assists a season, racking up 69 over those seven years, including a career high 17 in 1978.

21. Dave Winfield

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    Dave Winfield's throwing arm was so powerful that simply warming up in the outfield was a dangerous proposition.

    On August 4, 1983, while warming up in the outfield with one of the Toronto Blue Jays' ball boys in the middle of the fifth inning, Winfield's throw hit a passing seagull, killing the bird and found Winfield arrested for cruelty to animals. The charges would later be dropped.

    He led the league with 17 assists in 1982, and has 166 for his career.

    For as powerful as Winfield's arm was, it wasn't the most accurate, as Yankees manager Billy Martin opined after the seagull incident: "They say he hit the gull on purpose, They wouldn't say that if they'd seen the throws he'd been making all year. It's the first time he's hit the cutoff man."

20. Larry Walker

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    A six-time Gold Glove winner and the 1997 National League MVP, Larry Walker was yet another smooth fielding right fielder with a cannon for an arm who has played the game.

    Over a 17-year career that was spent primarily with the Montreal Expos and Colorado Rockies, Walker picked up 154 assists, including eight seasons with 10 or more.

19. Ty Cobb

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    One of the greatest players that the game has ever seen, Ty Cobb needs no introduction.

    Tris Speaker, one of Cobb's contemporaries, had this to say about Cobb in 1917:

    "As an outfielder Ty Cobb is unusually good. I think his weakness, so far as he has any, is in his throwing arm. Not that his arm is weak by any means but it is not his strongest point."

    Cobb's 392 outfield assists rank second all-time behind Speaker.

18. Bo Jackson

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    Arguably the greatest athlete in the history of the game, Bo Jackson made impossible plays on a routine basis and his cannon of a right arm kept runners at bay.

    In the bottom of the 10th inning against the Seattle Mariners on June 5, 1989, Jackson's arm made one of the great throws in the history of the game.

    With the score tied at three and Harold Reynolds on first, Seattle catcher Scott Bradley hit a double to left. The speedy Reynolds headed full steam towards third as Jackson played the ball on the warning track.

    As Reynolds was rounding third, Jackson unleashed a throw that not only reached Royals catcher Bob Boone on the fly, but in plenty of time to stop Reynolds from scoring the winning run. You can see video of the play here (the actual play starts around the 40 second mark).

17. Raul Mondesi

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    When you walk around calling yourself "El Cañon" (translation: the cannon) and you tell Maryann Hudson of the LA Times, "I don't know why they keep running on me...they know I'm going to throw them out"—only a month into your rookie season—you'd better be able to back that up in the field.

    Raul Mondesi did just that, compiling 112 assists over his 13-year playing career, including 53 between 1994 and 1997 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    A two-time gold glove winner, Mondesi's career high for assists didn't come until 2001 with the Toronto Blue Jays, when he threw out 18 baserunners from right field.

16. Dwight Evans

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    A mainstay in Boston for nearly 20 years, Dwight Evans is the owner of eight Gold Glove awards and one of the best throwing arms of the 70's and 80's.

    Evans had six seasons of at least 10 assists, and the 157 he has for his career leaves him tied with Andre Dawson.

    While Game 6 of the 1975 World Series is best remembered for Carlton Fisk's dramatic, game-winning and series-extending home run in the bottom of the 12th inning, Evans was responsible for turning a double play in the top of the 11th inning that made Fisk's heroics possible.

15. Babe Ruth

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    The greatest player who ever lived.

    Some forget that before he was saving baseball with his bat, Babe Ruth was a heck of a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.

    Ruth carried his strong pitching arm into the outfield, where he threw out 204 runners over the course of his career.

    Teammate Bob Meusel had a better arm than the Babe, but Ruth wasn't far behind.

14. Mickey Mantle

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    One of baseball's legendary figures and the greatest switch hitter who ever lived, Mickey Mantle's defense and rocket of an arm are often overshadowed by his offensive numbers.

    Nicknamed "Muscles," Mantle's throws were both accurate and strong. He finished his career with one Gold Glove award and 117 assists, largely in part to the fact that nobody was crazy enough to try running on him after awhile.

13. Rocky Colavito

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    Playing for the Cleveland Indians minor league team in the Pacific Coast League in 1956, Colavito threw a ball from home plate 436 feet, watching it land well beyond the centerfield wall.

    It's been said that the Indians have been cursed ever since they traded Colavito to the Detroit Tigers in 1960, getting Harvey Kuenn in return. Upon his arrival in Detroit, Colavito's arm was so good that it pushed another member of this list, Al Kaline, to center field for the 1960 season.

    Colavito recorded double digit assists in eight of the 14 seasons in which he played—five of which he played in 79 games or less due to injury.

    He finished his career with 128 assists.

12. Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Ken Griffey Jr. is one player you look at and bemoan "Had he only been able to stay healthy..."

    Had he only been able to stay healthy, we could be talking about the greatest player in the history of the game—before he got injured, there was no better player in the game.

    Owner of 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards, Griffey made impossible plays not only possible, but look nowhere near as difficult as they actually were.

    His throwing arm, whether in use from a dead stop, a running start or from his knees, was a powerful weapon that kept baserunners honest. Junior had 154 assists for his career, a number that would have been significantly higher were it not for the rash of injuries that he dealt with.

11. Tris Speaker

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    Tris Speaker recorded no less than 12 assists from the outfield in 20 of the 22 years that he played, including three seasons with 30 or more and 12 seasons with at least 20, giving him a record that will likely never be broken—449 career assists for an outfielder.

    His baseball career almost ended in 1905 when he enrolled at Fort Worth Polytechnic Institute. He played one year of baseball for the school, but it was during a football game that his left arm was injured to the point that doctors gave serious consideration to amputating it.

    Speaker refused, worked like a maniac to rehab the arm, and not only went on to become a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest center fielders to ever play the game, but to have one of the best throwing arms that the game has ever seen.

10. Shoeless Joe Jackson

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    When he was 13 years old, Shoeless Joe Jackson began pitching on the baseball team of the textile mill in which he worked. His fastball was thrown so hard that he broke a catcher's arm with it, and when nobody else would catch him, they moved him to the outfield.

    Remembered more for his involvement in the Black Sox Scandal and alleged throwing of the 1919 World Series, Jackson routinely picked off baserunners from the outfield, racking up 183 career assists, including 90 in a three-year span from 1911 through 1913.

9. Willie Mays

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    While "The Catch" is unquestionably one of the great plays in the history of the game, the part of the play that is often overlooked is the throw that Willie Mays made immediately following it.

    Mays fired the ball back into the infield—by his own admission, he had no idea where the ball was going—but it stopped Al Rosen from advancing to second base and, more importantly, stopped Larry Doby from scoring, forcing him back to third base.

    His arm recorded 195 assists over the course of his career and only adds to his case to be called the greatest of all time.

8. Ellis Valentine

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    A promising career cut short by injury and addiction, Ellis Valentine possessed one of the great throwing arms in baseball history.

    With the Montreal Expos, Valentine was part of a young, talented outfield that included Warren Cromartie and Andre Dawson. His arm was so impressive that Expos manager Dick Williams is said to have compared it to Roberto Clemente's, a bold statement to say the least.

    In 1978, Cromartie and Valentine led the league in outfield assists with 24 apiece.

    Pete Rose once attempted to put Valentine's arm in perspective: "They say that I can't throw like Ellis Valentine or run like Tim Raines or hit with power like Mike Schmidt. Who can?"


7. Al Kaline

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    Baseball may never see another player as smooth at the "catch-and-throw" than Al Kaline.

    Kaline was a master of putting himself in perfect position when a ball was hit in his direction where he would make the catch and fire the ball back into the infield in one, fluid motion.

    A 10-time Gold Glove winner, Kaline finished his career with 170 career assists.

6. Vladimir Guerrero

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    No player had a stronger arm in the 1990's than Vladimir Guerrero.

    It was maddening to watch him throw a ball, only because his motion was so fluid that it appeared that he wasn't even trying—yet the ball exploded out of his hand and routinely reached it's destination on the fly.

    His 126 career assists include six consecutive seasons of 10 or more, from 1999 through 2004.

4 (Tie). Ichiro Suzuki

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    Not only is he still a very good hitter at the age of 38, but when Ichiro throws the ball from right field it still comes out of his hand like a laser beam.

    A 10-time Gold Glove winner, opponents learned very quickly that the explosive throws he had a reputation for making in Japan were very much a reality, and they generally wouldn't even think about running when Ichiro had the ball in his hand.

    The respect that his arm commands explains why he has only 97 career assists, a relatively low number for a man with such a powerful weapon at his disposal.

4 (Tie). Bob Meusel

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    When you call Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth your teammates, you tend to get overlooked.

    That's the case with Bob Meusel, who was actually a slightly below-average fielder for his time. Yet when Meusel had the ball in his hand, anyone who was still running the bases was a candidate to get picked off by one of his powerful throws.

    Meusel finished his career with 157 assists, including a three-year period from 1921 through 1923 where he racked up 69.

    Bob Quinn, former president of the Boston Braves and Boston Red Sox, had this to say when asked about Bob Meusel: "Meusel's arm was the best I ever saw. And I'm talking about strong arms, not merely accurate ones. Meusel threw strikes to any base from the outfield."

3. Jesse Barfield

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    In discussing the effects of PED's on players with Morris Dalla Costa of the London Free Press, Barfield noted the biggest problem that taking PED's has on an outfielder: "They can't get the arm up over the top because of how the muscles are built up. It's not natural. Guys who could throw, suddenly can't throw."

    Jesse Barfield could always throw, and anyone who challenged his arm generally found themselves on the losing end of the battle.

    The best outfield arm of the 80's, Barfield led the league in outfield assists five times, including three years straight from 1985 through 1987. Three times he registered 20 or more assists in a season.

2. Carl Furillo

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    A lifelong Dodger, Carl Furillo was a master at playing the tricky right field corner of Ebbets Field, becoming adept at fielding balls off of the 40-foot-high wall that loomed over him.

    Nicknamed the "Reading Rifle," Furillo led all outfielders in assists in 1951 with 24, and he has 151 for his career.

    One of his most remarkable assists came in the top of the third inning of a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers on August 27, 1951.

    Pirates starting pitcher Mel Queen hit a fly ball into the gap between right and center. Furillo picked up the ball and fired a strike to Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, beating Queen to the bag by two feet.

    While the play itself was quite amazing, Dodgers starter Ralph Branca would end up taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning before the Pirates would collect two hits off of him. That doesn't happen without Furillo's play.

1. Roberto Clemente

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    A 12-time Gold Glove winner, 10-time All-Star and the 1966 National League MVP, Roberto Clemente was the prototype for a five-tool player.

    He could do it all.

    Players in the National League knew that Clemente could throw anyone out from anywhere in the ballpark, yet 266 of them feebly tried to advance on his powerful right arm, also known as "El Howitzer."

    In Game 6 of the 1971 World Series (the throw can be seen in the video around the 1:20 mark), Clemente unleashed a throw from deep in the right field corner towards third base, trying to nail the runner. The umpire called the runner safe, but it was a bad call—Clemente's throw beat him to the bag, and it wasn't close.

    The immortal Vin Scully put it best: "Clemente could field the ball in New York, and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania."