In the absence of live sports, many fans are reliving past days of glory for their favorite teams and players. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been watching abbreviated games from the Toronto Blue Jays’ 1992 and 1993 World Series championships, which featured many famous names from the past, like John Smoltz, Deion Sanders, Paul Molitor and Rickey Henderson.
This got me thinking about which stars were the best of recent times and how I would rank them. Here are my five favorite MLB living legends.
5. Ichiro Suzuki, OF
Awards and Accolades: MVP; Rookie of the Year; 10x All-Star; 10x Gold Glove; 3x Silver Slugger; 2x BA title; All-Star Game MVP
Ichiro was the second player to receive Rookie of the Year and MVP honors for the same season when he debuted in 2001 after a successful professional career in Japan. He led MLB in hits during seven seasons and finished his MLB career with 3,089 hits. When adding this tally to his 1,278 hits in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, this gives him a total of 4,367 career hits, placing him ahead of the infamous Pete Rose as baseball’s hits leader.
4. Pedro Martínez, P
Awards and Accolades: Hall of Fame; 3x Cy Young Award; Pitching Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA); 8x All-Star; 5x ERA title; All-Star Game MVP; 2004 World Series champion
Martínez dominated MLB in his prime. His 2000 Cy Young season ranks as one of the best pitching seasons of all time thanks to a 291 ERA+, which was the second-highest single-season adjusted ERA ever posted. He also led MLB in ERA (1.74), WHIP (0.737) and SO/W (8.88) that year.
3. Mike Trout, OF
Awards and Accolades: 3x MVP; Rookie of the Year; 8x All-Star; 7x Silver Slugger; 2x All-Star Game MVP
Trout is only 28 years old but has already amassed a Hall of Fame-level WAR total. He is the active career leader in SLG (.581), OPS (1.000) and OPS+ (176), leading MLB in OPS+ during four seasons. The one major milestone that has eluded him thus far is postseason success. The Angels made some major additions over the offseason, acquiring 2019 World Series champion third baseman Anthony Rendon to protect Trout in the lineup. However, the COVID-19 emergency has put the 2020 season in jeopardy, and the Angels may not have a chance to make their first title bid behind Trout.
2. Nolan Ryan, P
Awards and Accolades: Hall of Fame; 8x All-Star; 2x ERA title; 1969 World Series champion
Ryan was not only a flamethrower, but he was also one of MLB’s most durable pitchers, as shown by this stat compiled by Foolish Baseball:
He led MLB with 332.2 IP in 1974 after throwing 326.0 IP the previous season and had 14 seasons with 200+ IP, averaging 232 IP per season over a 27-year MLB career.
Ryan’s longevity and ability to remain effective well into his 40s allowed him to become MLB’s all-time strikeouts leader with a total of 5,714 Ks.
1. Hank Aaron, OF
Awards and Accolades: Hall of Fame; 1x MVP; 25x All-Star (most all-time); 3x Gold Glove; 2x BA title; 1957 World Series champion
Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record of 714 bombs in 1974. Hammerin’ Hank finished with a total of 755 home runs in 1976. This record has since been broken by Barry Bonds.
Aaron was the third player to become a member of the 30-30 club in 1963, behind Ken Williams and Willie Mays. He is also one of the select members of the 30-30 club who has posted at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits during their careers. The only other players to have achieved this are Mays and Álex Rodríguez.
Aaron also owns the all-time records for RBIs (2297) and total bases (6856), leading MLB in RBIs over four seasons.
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