<
>

#MLBRank: The Iron Horse and the Big Train make Olney's top 10

play
Olney defends ranking Ruth as his third greatest player ever (2:25)

Buster Olney ranks Babe Ruth as his third greatest player ever, a ranking Mike Greenberg doesn't agree with. (2:25)

The games are still composed of nine innings and 27 outs. There are still 90 feet between bases, and .300 has always been a benchmark of accomplishment for hitters. But one longtime pitcher who started his career in the 1990s laughed off the idea that you could possibly compare the game he played with the brand of baseball that occurred 100 years ago.

"If you look back at pictures of those games, the catcher is standing up," he said. "Do you think that strike zone is the same size as it is now?"

Nope. This is why measuring players of today against those who played a century ago is ridiculously imprecise, unfair and mostly an empty exercise.

But it's also a lot of fun.

With that caveat: My top 10 players of all time.

10. Rickey Henderson

When Henderson was up for election for the Hall of Fame in 2009, it was shocking he was left off the ballots of 28 voters. It's just as stunning that he is not higher on this list. The aim of every game is to score as many runs as possible, and Henderson did that more than anyone -- 2,295 in his career. He reached base more than 5,000 times. He stole 1,406 bases -- over 500 more than Ty Cobb. He hit 297 homers. He won a Gold Glove Award. He is one of the best players of all time.

9. Lou Gehrig

He played alongside Babe Ruth in the 1920s and '30s, and yet he was so great he managed to distinguish himself long before the onset of the illness that would take his life. Gehrig hit for a high average -- .340 in his career -- and he had about 50 percent more extra-base hits than he did strikeouts. Gehrig finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting in nine seasons, and while playing in seven World Series, he batted .361 with an OPS of more than 1.200. And he didn't miss a game for almost 14 years. Think about that.

8. Ty Cobb

In some of the oral histories from players of Cobb's generation, there are many references to his personality -- how disliked he was, how difficult he could be. That conversation about Cobb has come to overshadow just how great a player he was, in spite of his other faults, with 4,189 hits and a .366 career batting average, which is the greatest of all time. Think about this: He won the American League batting title in all but one season from 1907 through 1919, and until Rickey Henderson's arrival, Cobb held the MLB record for stolen bases with 897.

7. Stan Musial

The Cardinals' Musial formed the most perfect statistic in MLB history. During his career, Musial generated 1,815 hits in home games and 1,815 hits on the road. That's 3,630 in all, which was the most in National League history before Pete Rose broke it. Stan The Man also ranks in the top 10 all time in runs, RBI and doubles, among others.

6. Walter Johnson

His peers liked and respected him, yet they feared him as well because of how hard he threw and how he dominated, even while pitching for mostly forgettable teams between 1907 and 1927. He led the American League in strikeouts in 12 seasons and in ERA during five seasons, including the year he turned 36. Only Cy Young compiled more victories, and Big Train threw nearly 6,000 innings, rolling on and on.

5. Ted Williams

There could be a robust argument about who the actual forefathers of this era of analytics were. But all moneyball DNA could probably be traced back to Williams, who seemed to have the earliest understanding of on-base percentage before it was called that. He continues to inspire hitters into the current generation, including Joey Votto. Either he or Barry Bonds should be viewed as the greatest hitters of all time.

4. Barry Bonds

He might not gain induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but if you asked most players from the '90s and early 2000s about the best player they ever saw -- and I've had a lot of those kinds of conversations with a lot of players -- the vast majority would say Bonds. Tony Gwynn once told me he believed Bonds' eyesight was so good that he could identify pitch types while the ball was still in the pitcher's hand.

3. Babe Ruth

His greatest value to baseball wasn't necessarily in his production but in how he captured the imagination of a nation with his power and his personality. He drove baseball beyond the 1919 Black Sox scandal and into a new realm with all of the home runs he hit, creating generations of fans at a time when baseball was, in fact, America's pastime. But it's difficult to put him at the top of this list when he played in an era of segregation.

2. Hank Aaron

Aaron will be remembered forever for all of the home runs, of course, and some baseball fans will continue to regard him as the home run king because of Bonds' association with performance-enhancing drugs. But he won Gold Gloves, a couple of batting titles, stole 240 bases and finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting in 13 seasons. He scored 2,174 times and drove in a record 2,297 runs. The consistency of his excellence is almost unimaginable now. Think about what it takes to compile 755 homers.

1. Willie Mays

He might be as close to a perfect player as we've ever seen in baseball, with the power -- he finished his career third all time in home runs -- and the speed and the defense. Scouts will talk about five-tool players, and Mays was great at everything. He led the National League in homers four times and in steals four times, won 12 Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 for the MVP 12 times.