Ted Williams and the 10 Greatest Hitters That Ever Lived

SportsLifer@sportsliferCorrespondent IIJune 28, 2012

Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, the last player to hit .400, is the greatest hitter of all time.
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, the last player to hit .400, is the greatest hitter of all time.Getty Images/Getty Images

1. Ted Williams

It was Ted Williams who once said, "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street, folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.'"

Teddy Ballgame got his wish.

Williams hit .344 lifetime and won six American League batting titles, despite losing five years to military service as a fighter pilot, first in World War II and later the Korean War.

He was also the last MLB player to bat .400.

Williams went in the final day of the 1941 season guaranteed to hit .400, but elected to play a doubleheader in Philadelphia.

He went 6-for-8, finishing at .406.

Williams won the triple crown in 1942 and then again in 1947. The Splendid Splinter played his entire career with the Boston Red Sox.

In 1957, Williams hit .388 to win the batting title—at age 39. He won his sixth and final batting title the next season.

In 1960, Williams hit a home run at Fenway Park in his final at-bat, prompting John Updike to write his famous essay Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.

Rogers Hornsby
Rogers HornsbyDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

2. Ty Cobb

The Georgia Peach, Tyrus Raymond Cobb boasts the highest lifetime batting average of any player, at .366. He is second all-time in hits, with 4,191, trailing only Pete Rose (4,256).

Beginning in 1907 Cobb won nine consecutive AL batting titles (including the disputed 1910 race with Nap Lajoie, during which, according to the MLB, Cobb hit .385 to edge out Lajoie's .384). Then after losing the 1916 race, he won three more in a row starting in 1917.

Perhaps the most complex personality ever to appear in a big league uniform, Cobb was the dominant player in the American League during the dead-ball era.

During his 24-year big league career, nearly all of it with the Detroit Tigers, Cobb captured a record 12 batting titles, batted over .400 three times, hit above .300 for 23 straight seasons, and won the 1909 triple crown.

When he retired, in 1928, Cobb was also the all-time leader in stolen bases, with 892.

3. Rogers Hornsby

Generally considered the greatest right-hand hitter in baseball history, Rogers Hornsby (below) won seven National League batting titles—six in a row, between 1920 and 1925—while playing second base for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hornsby has the highest single-season batting average in baseball history, .424, in 1924. Between 1922 and 1925, the Rajah batted .401, 384, .424 and .403. He won his final batting title with the Boston Braves in 1928, when he hit .387.

Rod Carew
Rod CarewMike Powell/Getty Images

Hornsby ranks second in history with a .358 lifetime average. Hornsby won a pair of triple crowns, in 1922 and 1925.

He was also the first National Leaguer to reach 300 home runs.

4. Stan Musial

Stan the Man wore the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals for his entire career. The model of consistency, Musial stands fourth all-time with 3,630 hits—1,815 at home, 1,815 on the road.

Musial won seven NL batting titles.

His career numbers are stunning: .331 average; .725 doubles; 177 triples; 475 homers; 1,949 runs; and 1,951 RBI.

Musial's best season was 1948, when his career-best .376 average and 131 RBI led the NL. In fact he led the league that year in every significant batting category except home runs. His dominance included four games in which he picked up five hits, tying Ty Cobb's 20th-century record for five-hit games in one season.

For the havoc he raised in Ebbets Field that year, Dodgers fans on the receiving end of four Musial hits christened him "Stan the Man."

5. Tony Gwynn

Since Stan Musial retired in 1963, nearly 50 years ago, there hasn't been a better hitter than Tony Gwynn.

A San Diego Padre from 1982 to 2001, Gwynn owns a record-tying eight NL batting titles. He hit .394 in 1993, the highest average since Ted Williams batted .406  in 1941.

That kicked off a string of four straight batting titles, as Gwynn hit 368, 353 and .372 the next three years, respectively.

Gwynn finished with 3,141 hits and a .338 lifetime batting average. 

A true student of hitting, Gwynn was an early advocate of using videotape to study his swing, while his five outfield Gold Gloves, 319 career stolen bases and 15 All-Star Game selections attest to his superior all-around play.

6. Rod Carew

Rod Carew (below)  won seven AL batting titles while playing for the Minnesota Twins, including four straight starting in 1972.

He hit a career-high .388 in 1977 and wound up his career with a .328 lifetime average and 3,053 hits.

Carew used a variety of relaxed, crouched batting stances to hit over .300 in 15 consecutive seasons with the Twins and Angels.

He was honored as the 1967 rookie of the year in the AL, won the league MVP 10 years later and was named to 18 straight All-Star teams.

He remains a national hero in Panama.

7. Shoeless Joe Jackson
Joe Jackson never won a batting title, yet finished with the third-highest lifetime batting average in baseball history, at .356.

He hit .408 in his first full season with the Cleveland Indians, in 1911, but lost the batting title to Ty Cobb, who hit .420.

Shoeless Joe followed that up with a .395 campaign in 1912.

He was hitting .382 for the White Sox in 1920 when he was tossed out of baseball, after he and seven teammates contrived to throw the 1919 World Series.

Jackson hit .375 during that tainted World Series, to lead all hitters.

8. Honus Wagner

Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner, The Flying Dutchman, played nearly his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates before retiring, in 1917.

He won eight NL batting titles, tied for the most in NL history with Tony Gwynn. Wagner hit a career-high .381, in 1900, and won four batting titles in a row, starting in 1906 and culminating with a world championship Pittsburgh team in 1909. He also led the league in slugging six times and in stolen bases five times.

His 3,419 hits are seventh all-time, and he finished his career with a .328 lifetime batting average.

Wagner also had 723 stolen bases.

9. Harry Heilmann

A .342 lifetime hitter, outfielder/first baseman Harry Heilmann of the Detroit Tigers hit .394, .403, .393 and .398 every other year, starting in 1921.

But Heilmann was the most impressive in 1921. It was in this year that he battled Cobb, who was also Detroit’s manager, in a neck-and-neck race for the AL batting title, eventually outlasting his tutor with a .394 average. Cobb finished at .389.

“When he beat Ty Cobb out for the batting championship, Ty didn’t really talk with him again,” daughter-in-law Marguerite Heilmann said. “He was kind of irrational about it and wasn’t really dad’s cup of tea.”

10. Wade Boggs

One of several left-handed batting champs to wear Red Sox uniforms, Wade Boggs (below)  won five AL batting titles and four in a row, from 1985 to 1988, during which stretch he hit .368, .357, .363 and .366.

Boggs, a third baseman, was later traded to the Yankees, with whom he hit .342 in 1994, his last great year.

Boggs collected his 3,000th hit—a home run—with his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in 1999.

Boggs holds a .328 average and 3,010 lifetime hits. Utilizing great bat control and a good eye, Boggs strung together seven consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits and is a member of the 3,000-hit club, despite not getting a chance to play in the big leagues regularly until he was nearly 25. 

On Deck

Lefty O'Doul

Francis Joseph "Lefty" O'Doul was nearly 30 years old by the time he played his first full season, for the New York Giants in 1928.

He retired after the 1934 season, having won batting titles with the Phillies, in 1929 (.398), and the Dodgers, in 1932 (.368), and finished with a .349 lifetime batting average.

George Sisler

A first baseman for the St. Louis Browns, Sisler hit .402 in 1920 and .420 in 1922, lead the American League in batting each year.

He had 257 hits in 1920, a record that stood up for nearly 90 years before being broken by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004.

Sisler compiled a .340 lifetime batting average.

Babe Ruth

The Babe has made fame as a slugger—and even a pitcher—but his hitting prowess is often understated.

Ruth had a .342 lifetime average, tied with Dan Brouther's for ninth all-time.

The Babe won a batting title, with a .378 mark in 1924, one year after hitting a career-high .393 and losing out to Harry Heilmann's .403.

Three Up

Albert Pujols boasts a .325 lifetime mark, tops among all active players. He led the NL in batting in 2003 (.359).

Ichiro Suzuki has a .323 lifetime BA, with batting titles in 2001 (.350) and 2004 (.372). He broke Sisler's single-season hit record, with 262 hits in 2004.

Catcher Joe Mauer led the AL in hitting in 2006 (.347), 2008 (.328) and 2009 (.365) and has a .323 career mark.


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