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Top 100 MLB players of all time: Nos. 25-1

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Is Babe Ruth ranked too high? Should Willie Mays be ahead of him? (2:07)

David Schoenfield, Buster Olney and Jeff Passan analyze the careers of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays and debate how high they should be ranked on the top 100 list. (2:07)

Inner-circle Hall of Famers. The best player in the game today. A couple of PED-tainted superstars. Our ranking of the 100 greatest MLB players of all time comes down to the top 25.

Dozens of ESPN writers and editors submitted more than 20,000 votes (see full methodology here) to determine the final order. So who's too high? Too low? Just right?

Let the debate continue!

The List: 100-51 | 50-26 | 25-1

Key links: Full rankings | Snubs | Debating our selections

Doolittle: The difficult case of Oscar Charleston

Olney: Which current stars are destined to join the list?


25. Christy Mathewson

Team(s): New York Giants (1900-16), Cincinnati Reds (1916)

Stats: 373-188, 2.13 ERA, 2,507 SO, 4,788 IP, 106.5 bWAR

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: The most admired star of the first two decades of 20th century baseball, Mathewson's three shutouts in a five-day span in 1905 remains one of the most heroic feats in World Series history. He won 30 games four times, led the NL five times in ERA and strikeouts, and was one of the five original inductees into the Hall of Fame in 1936. Mathewson relied on impeccable control and a pitch he called a "fadeaway," which some say was a screwball while others suggest might have been more like a modern-day circle change. "Matty was master of them all," reads his Hall of Fame plaque. -- David Schoenfield


24. Randy Johnson

Team(s): Montreal Expos (1988-89), Seattle Mariners (1989-1998), Houston Astros (1998), Arizona Diamondbacks (1999-2004, 2007-08), New York Yankees (2005-06), San Francisco Giants (2009)

Stats: 303-166, 3.29 ERA, 4,875 SO, 4,135 1/3 IP, 101.1 bWAR

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: The "Big Unit" was to lefties what Nolan Ryan was to righties. After a slow start to his career, the 6-foot-10 Johnson harnessed his command and was lights out for the next two decades. Of his 303 wins, 293 came after his age-25 season. Johnson won his league strikeout crown nine times, including two different stretches of four straight. During the latter stretch, he won four straight Cy Young Awards, giving him five overall.

Perhaps the best expressions of Johnson's dominance came during a pair of All-Star Game matchups with left-handed stars. In 1993, his wild pitch over the head of John Kruk had Kruk faking heart palpitations as the dugout erupted in laughter; after that, Kruk wouldn't go near the plate, striking out. In 1997, Larry Walker flipped his batting helmet around and switched to the right side of the plate after getting a look at a Johnson pitch. It was all in good fun, but also an indication of how fearsome Johnson looked to anyone who stepped into the batter's box against him. -- Bradford Doolittle


23. Rickey Henderson

Team(s): Oakland Athletics (1979-84, 1989-93, 1994-95, 1998), New York Yankees (1985-89), Toronto Blue Jays (1993), San Diego Padres (1996-97, 2001), Anaheim Angels (1997), New York Mets (1999-2000), Seattle Mariners (2000), Boston Red Sox (2002), Los Angeles Dodgers (2003)

Stats: .279/.401/.419, 297 HR, 3,055 H, 1,406 SB, 111.2 bWAR

Primary position: Left field

What he's best known for: He was loud, brash, defiant, cocky and electric. He was the greatest base stealer in history, the greatest leadoff hitter in history and one of the greatest trash-talkers in history. Henderson stole 50% more bases than the all-time runner-up, Lou Brock. Henderson hit 81 leadoff home runs, and nobody else has hit more than 54. After being traded to the Yankees, he was asked about wearing the same uniform Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle once donned. "I don't care about them," he said. "I never saw DiMaggio and Mantle play. It's Rickey time." It always was. -- Alden Gonzalez


22. Tom Seaver

Team(s): New York Mets (1967-77, 1983), Cincinnati Reds (1977-1982), Chicago White Sox (1984-86), Boston Red Sox (1986)

Stats: 311-205, 2.86 ERA, 3,640 SO, 4,783 IP, 109.9 bWAR

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: The Cy Young-winning ace of the '69 Miracle Mets, Seaver was one of the most beloved athletes in New York sports history. To this day, Mets fans of a certain age still cry in disbelief that the club traded him away. Known for his power pitching -- his drop-and-drive delivery that stained his right knee with dirt was the iconic motion for a generation of pitchers -- Seaver topped 230 innings pitched in 15 seasons. He would add two more Cy Young Awards after 1969, and when elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992, he received 98.8% of the vote -- the highest ever at the time. -- David Schoenfield


21. Cy Young

Team(s): Cleveland Spiders (1890-98), St. Louis Perfectos/Cardinals (1899-1900), Boston Americans/Red Sox (1901-08), Cleveland Naps (1909-11), Boston Rustlers (1911)

Stats: 511-315, 2.63 ERA, 2,803 SO, 7,356 IP, 163.6 bWAR

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: Sixty-six years after Young died, his name has remained omnipresent in big league baseball because of the annual award given in his name to the best pitcher in each league. Denton True Young dominated the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, putting up numbers that to the modern eye just don't look real. You could fill a book with a list of them, but here's one: Young had 19 seasons in which he completed at least 30 games. The active career leader in that category is Adam Wainwright -- with 27. Yes, the game has transformed since Young's time, but that's exactly why his career record is something that will never be replicated. -- Bradford Doolittle


20. Rogers Hornsby

Team(s): St. Louis Cardinals (1915-26, 1933), New York Giants (1927), Boston Braves (1928), Chicago Cubs (1929-32), St. Louis Browns (1933-37)

Stats: .358/.434/.577, 301 HR, 2,930 H, 1,584 RBI, 127.3 bWAR

Primary position: Second base

What he's best known for: Any conversation around the greatest hitter in baseball history needs to include Hornsby, whose combination of hitting for average and power is legendary. Hornsby boasts the third-highest career batting average, behind only Ty Cobb and Oscar Charleston. He hit over .400 three times, including .424 in 1924. Two years earlier, he combined a .401 batting average with 42 home runs, an accomplishment no player has ever matched. And it took 50 years for someone (Joe Morgan) to break his record for home runs by a second baseman. -- Alden Gonzalez


19. Frank Robinson

Team(s): Cincinnati Reds (1956-1965), Baltimore Orioles (1966-1971), Los Angeles Dodgers (1972), California Angels (1973-74), Cleveland Indians (1974-76)

Stats: .294/.389/.537, 586 HR, 1,812 RBI, 2,943 H, 107.2 bWAR

Primary position: Right field

What he's best known for: A pioneer as the first African American manager in MLB, Robinson was also a two-time MVP, a Triple Crown winner and one of the toughest and fiercest competitors the game has known. "He plays the game the way the great ones played it -- out of pure hate," famed writer Jim Murray wrote. He stood close to the plate, his head hanging over it, daring pitchers to come inside. In his six seasons as leader of the Orioles, they won four pennants and two World Series. What was his impact? Cincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland all erected Robinson statues outside their stadiums. -- David Schoenfield


18. Mike Schmidt

Team(s): Philadelphia Phillies (1972-1989)

Stats: .267/.380/.527, 548 HR, 1,595 RBI, 2,234 H, 106.9 bWAR

Primary position: Third base

What he's best known for: Schmidt was an ideal third baseman. Power bat, elite reflexes in the field and a strong throwing arm. No one combined these traits better or longer at the hot corner than Schmidt did during a career of near uniform excellence. Schmidt wasn't quite a three-true-outcomes player, as he did have seasons with solid batting averages, but he did put up prodigious numbers in homers (seven times leading the NL), walks (four times in the lead) and strikeouts (also four times in the lead). Tack on 10 Gold Glove awards and you have what Schmidt became: the greatest Phillie of them all. -- Bradford Doolittle


17. Roger Clemens

Team(s): Boston Red Sox (1984-96), Toronto Blue Jays (1997-98), New York Yankees (1999-2003, 2007), Houston Astros (2004-06)

Stats: 354-184, 3.12 ERA, 4,672 SO, 4,916 2/3 IP, 138.7 bWAR

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: Rocket was on a Hall of Fame track in Boston even before signing with Toronto and winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards. He then helped lead the Yankees to four World Series appearances in five years and won another Cy Young -- his record seventh -- as a 41-year-old anchoring the Astros' rotation in 2004. However, Clemens' inclusion in the Mitchell report, which alleged steroid use in the late stages of his career, kept him from Hall of Fame election by the BBWAA. -- Alden Gonzalez


16. Joe DiMaggio

Team(s): New York Yankees (1936-51)

Stats: .325/.398/.579, 361 HR, 1,537 RBI, 2,214 H, 79.2 bWAR

Primary position: Center field

What he's best known for: After Babe Ruth retired, DiMaggio became the icon of the Yankees. Since they won more often than they did even with Ruth, it meant he became an American icon in an era when baseball ruled the sports pages. He hit in 56 straight games, arguably baseball's most famous record. He played in 10 World Series in his 13 seasons -- and the Yankees won nine of them. Hemingway mentioned him ("I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing," the old man said. "They say his father was a fisherman."). Songs were written in his tribute. He married Marilyn Monroe. "Baseball isn't statistics; it's Joe DiMaggio rounding second base," one scribe supposedly said. -- David Schoenfield


15. Mike Trout

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1:06

Is Mike Trout underrated on the top 100 list?

Joon Lee makes the case that Mike Trout should be ranked higher than 15 on the top 100 list.

Team(s): Los Angeles Angels (2011- )

Stats: .305/.419/.583, 310 HR, 816 RBI, 1,419 H, 76.1 bWAR

Primary position: Center field

What he's best known for: Trout turned 30 during the 2021 season, so the text on his eventual Hall of Fame plaque is yet to be composed. Few players have ever burst onto the big league scene with more splendor. Twenty-four players were selected before Trout in the 2009 draft, but three years later, the product of Millville, New Jersey, recorded perhaps the best rookie season of all time. His 10.5 bWAR that year (2012) is the record for a position player. He already has won three MVP trophies and finished in the top five of MVP balloting for nine straight years, a streak that ended last season because of injury. Injuries and being on a franchise that has kept him out of the October limelight seem to be the only things standing in the way of Trout entering the greatest-of-all-time discussion. -- Bradford Doolittle


14. Greg Maddux

Team(s): Chicago Cubs (1986-92, 2004-06), Atlanta Braves (1993-2003), Los Angeles Dodgers (2006, 2008), San Diego Padres (2007-08)

Stats: 355-227, 3.16 ERA, 3,371 SO, 5,008 1/3 IP

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: Few things in baseball are more hypnotizing than a GIF of Maddux's two-seamer. Maddux dominated the 1990s with pinpoint control, unrivaled savvy and a devastating arsenal of pitches, all of which traveled slowly but moved forcefully. Maddux won four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1992 to 1995, while joining John Smoltz and Tom Glavine to form a devastating rotation on dominant Braves teams. He accumulated an NL-best 37 complete games during that stretch. In five of those, he allowed zero runs and threw fewer than 100 pitches. There's a term for that -- it's called a "Maddux." All told, he is the only pitcher to combine 300-plus wins, 3,000-plus strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks. -- Alden Gonzalez


13. Ken Griffey Jr.

Team(s): Seattle Mariners (1989-99, 2009-10), Cincinnati Reds (2000-08), Chicago White Sox (2008)

Stats: .284/.370/.538, 630 HR, 1,836 RBI, 2,781 H, 83.8 bWAR

Primary position: Center field

What he's best known for: He was the face of a generation, the most popular player of the past 30 years. Junior reached the majors at 19, played alongside his dad in the Mariners outfield, wore his cap backward and made imagination-defying leaping grabs at the wall. Mostly, however, he hit home runs with the most beautiful swing you'll ever see. He led his league four times, including back-to-back seasons of 56. We can only imagine that final home run number if he had stayed healthy after leaving Seattle. Some will argue he's too high on this list; don't tell that to kids of the '90s. -- David Schoenfield


12. Honus Wagner

Team(s): Louisville Colonels (1897-99), Pirates (1900-1917)

Stats: .328/.391/.467, 101 HR, 1,732 RBI, 3,420 H, 130.8 bWAR

Primary position: Shortstop

What he's best known for: "The Flying Dutchman" is generally considered to be the best shortstop who ever lived, though his contemporaries usually said he would have been the best in the game at any position except pitcher. If Wagner were a young player today, he would be an odd sight. He was stockily built, with wide shoulders, a barreled chest, bowed legs and huge hands. Yet he did everything well: superb defense, elite average (eight batting titles), elite power (six slugging percentage titles) and was one of the best baserunners ever (723 steals, 252 triples). All that said, Wagner might be best known today for his rare baseball card that recently sold for more than $6 million. -- Bradford Doolittle


11. Pedro Martinez

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1:37

Randy, Pedro or Maddux: How to rank the top modern pitchers?

David Schoenfield details why he gives Randy Johnson a slight edge over Pedro Martinez, while Jeff Passan reminisces about Greg Maddux's dominance.

Team(s): Los Angeles Dodgers (1992-93), Montreal Expos (1994-97), Boston Red Sox (1998-2004), New York Mets (2005-08), Philadelphia Phillies (2009)

Stats: 219-100, 2.93 ERA, 3,154 SO, 2,827 1/3 IP, 86.1 bWAR

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: Martinez was listed, generously, at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he used a big fastball and a hellacious changeup to lead the league in strikeouts three times and in ERA five times. His two best years, 1999 and 2000, came at the height of one of the highest-scoring eras in history. Martinez won the AL Cy Young Award after both those seasons, combining for a 1.90 ERA in 430 1/3 innings. The major league average in that stretch: 4.62. In 2000, he registered a 291 ERA plus -- an adjusted stat accounting for ballparks and era, with the average being 100 -- that stands as the best since at least 1893. -- Alden Gonzalez


10. Stan Musial

Team(s): St. Louis Cardinals (1941-63)

Stats: .331/.417/.559, 475 HR, 1,951 RBI, 3,630 H, 128.7 bWAR

Primary position: Left field/right field/first base

What he's best known for: "He could have hit .300 with a fountain pen," cracked Joe Garagiola. And hitting .300 is what Musial did year after year. He topped the mark in each of his first 17 seasons in the big leagues, winning seven batting titles. His 1948 MVP season (his third MVP award) is one of the best ever: .376/.450/.702, 39 home runs, 18 triples, 46 doubles (that's 103 extra-base hits). He's second all-time in total bases, third in runs created (behind Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth) and in the top 10 in numerous other categories. He hit from an awkward-looking, hunched-over stance, but it worked: He was The Man. -- David Schoenfield


9. Walter Johnson

Team(s): Washington Senators (1907-27)

Stats: 417-279, 2.17 ERA, 3,509 SO, 5,914 1/3 innings, 164.8 bWAR

Primary position: Starting pitcher

What he's best known for: Johnson contemporary Ping Bodie said of Johnson's stuff, "You can't hit what you can't see." It's hard to say there is a consensus about who should own the title of "best pitcher ever." However, it would be impossible to have that discussion without the "Big Train" at the center of it. Estimates of how hard Johnson threw are all over the place, but we can safely say that at the very least, for his time he was off the charts. To the velocity, you can add a side-whipping, almost underhand arm slot, and hitters of his time had no chance. Today's hitters might not fare much better against peak Johnson. The numbers he compiled are staggering. Of them, perhaps the most illustrative of Johnson's dominance is his 110 shutouts -- 20 more than any other pitcher. -- Bradford Doolittle


8. Barry Bonds

Team(s): Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-92), San Francisco Giants (1993-2007)

Stats: .298/.444/.607, 762 HR, 2,935 H, 2,558 BB, 162.7 bWAR

Primary position: Left field

What he's best known for: There might not be a more polarizing figure in baseball's modern era than Barry Lamar Bonds. He was a five-tool, Hall of Fame-caliber outfielder even before his neck widened and his numbers inflated, posting a .981 OPS while averaging 33 home runs and 34 stolen bases on the way to three MVPs from 1987 to 1998. Then Bonds became superhuman after allegedly starting to use PEDs. He broke the single-season home run record, passed Hank Aaron to become baseball's new home run king and put up these numbers from 2001 through 2004, his ages 36 to 39 seasons: 1.368 OPS (292 points higher than the runner-up), 209 home runs (17 more than the runner-up), 755 walks (307 more than the runner-up). -- Alden Gonzalez


7. Mickey Mantle

Team(s): New York Yankees (1951-68)

Stats: .298/.421/.557, 536 HR, 1,509 RBI, 2415 H, 110.2 bWAR

Primary position: Center field

What he's best known for: He was the center of the baseball universe, back when New York ruled the baseball world and the Yankees ruled baseball. He combined breathtaking raw power from both sides of the plate -- did he really hit a 565-foot home run? -- with blazing speed, at least until his knees went bad. He won a Triple Crown in 1956 and won three MVP awards -- and frankly could have won a few more (he led the AL nine times in offensive WAR). He hit 18 home runs in the World Series. Let's see somebody break that record. Asked if he went up to the plate trying to hit home runs, Mantle said, "Sure, every time." -- David Schoenfield


6. Lou Gehrig

Team(s): New York Yankees (1923-39)

Stats: .340/.447/.632, 493 HR, 1,995 RBI, 2,721 H, 113.7 bWAR

Primary position: First base

What he's best known for: Society remembers Gehrig for the disease that took his life and bears his name, and for the courage he displayed when facing it. From a strictly baseball standpoint, the "Iron Horse" is remembered as a constant, a player who showed up every day and produced at a level few have. His legendary consecutive-games streak of 2,130 is his most-cited statistic and is the number responsible for turning the name of poor Wally Pipp, Gehrig's predecessor with the Yankees, into a verb. The yin to Babe Ruth's yang, Gehrig was perhaps baseball's best RBI man. His 1,995 ribbies rank seventh all-time despite the abrupt end to his career. -- Bradford Doolittle


5. Ted Williams

Team(s): Boston Red Sox (1939-42, 1946-60)

Stats: .344/.482/.634, 521 HR, 1,839 RBI, 2,654 H, 122.1 bWAR

Primary position: Left field

What he's best known for: Williams was probably the greatest hitter who ever lived, largely because of the astronomical numbers he put up but also because of how he revolutionized the approach to hitting. His book, "The Science of Hitting," came out in 1970 and is still referenced frequently today, preaching modern-day concepts such as swinging with a slight uppercut, letting the hips lead and focusing on the parts of the strike zone where hitters can do the most damage. Williams boasts the highest on-base percentage in baseball history and is the last hitter to reach a .400 batting average. At ages 39 and 40, in 1957 and '58, he won the AL batting title. And his career totals could have been even higher had he not missed three prime seasons to serve in World War II. -- Alden Gonzalez


4. Ty Cobb

Team(s): Detroit Tigers (1905-26), Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28)

Stats: .366/.433/.512, 117 HR, 1,944 RBI, 4,189 H, 151.5 bWAR

Primary position: Center field

What he's best known for: In an era when batting average reigned supreme, Cobb was the greatest of 'em all: He won a record 12 batting titles, hit .400 three times and finished with the highest lifetime average in MLB history. He played a game where you had to outthink the opponent, not outslug. Nearly 100 years since he played his final game, the image of Cobb remains vivid: the sharpened spikes, the aggression, the fiery temperament. Through the years, it became difficult to separate fact from fiction. "They were all against me," Cobb wrote in his autobiography. "But I beat the bastards down and left them in the ditch." Babe Ruth put it this way: "Cobb is a p---k. But he sure can hit. God Almighty, that man can hit." -- David Schoenfield


3. Hank Aaron

Team(s): Negro Leagues (1951, Indianapolis Clowns), Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1954-74), Milwaukee Brewers (1975-76)

Stats: .305/.374/.555, 755 HR, 2,297 RBI, 3,771 H, 143.1 bWAR

Primary position: Right field

What he's best known for: 7-5-5. Even today, if you ask a lifelong baseball fan how many homers Aaron hit, they'll probably be able to tell you. You ask how many Barry Bonds hit, and they might have to whip out their smartphone. When Aaron's pursuit of Babe Ruth's career homer record culminated in No. 715 on April 8, 1974, it was an iconic event in American history. And yet, Aaron was not really a home run hitter. He was a great hitter, period, as evidenced by his .305 lifetime average and 3,771 hits. Aaron's 2,297 RBIs remain the career record, one that is probably safe for a long time to come. When Aaron died just over a year ago, he was even more lauded for his presence off the field. And few did more on the field than Henry Aaron. -- Bradford Doolittle


2. Willie Mays

Team(s): Negro Leagues (1948, Birmingham Black Barons), New York/San Francisco Giants (1951-52, 1954-72), New York Mets (1972-73)

Stats: .301/.384/.557, 660 HR, 1,909 RBI, 3,293 H, 156.1 bWAR

Primary position: Center field

What he's best known for: For playing a shallow center field at a cavernous Polo Grounds, sprinting toward the center-field fence and making an improbable over-the-shoulder basket catch at the warning track with the score tied late in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. It's a play known simply as "The Catch," and it epitomized Mays -- the athleticism, the grace, the ingenuity. Mays went on to win 12 Gold Gloves, but he was also an elite hitter, averaging 40 home runs per season from 1954 through 1966. And he ran with the best of them, leading the majors in stolen bases for four straight years from 1956 to 1959. His unmatched collection of skills made him the greatest center fielder who ever lived. -- Alden Gonzalez


1. Babe Ruth

Team(s): Boston Red Sox (1914-19), New York Yankees (1920-34), Boston Braves (1935)

Stats:

As a hitter: .342/.474/.690, 714 HR, 2,214 RBI, 2873 H, 162.7 bWAR

As a pitcher: 94-46, 2.28 ERA, 488 SO, 1,221 IP, 20.4 bWAR

Primary position: Right field/left field

What he's best known for: Home runs. The baseball we watch today is Babe Ruth's game. Many players make an impact, a few become folk heroes, but nobody changed a sport like Ruth did when he joined the Yankees and transformed baseball into a game of power. No player dominated his era like Ruth. He led his league in home runs 12 times, often out-homering entire teams, and 13 times in slugging and OPS. He slugged .690 ... for his career. He slugged .744 in 41 World Series games. He won all three of his World Series starts as a pitcher, one of them 14 innings. He called his shot. Or maybe he didn't. Does it matter? -- David Schoenfield