The 10 greatest hitters that ever lived

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 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 to finish 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.

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, where according to MLB Cobb hit .385 to edge out Lajoie .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 Deadball 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. Hornsby ranks second all-time 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 RBIs led the NL. In fact he led the league 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, Dodger 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. 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 Glove Awards, 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 AL Rookie of the Year in 1967, 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. 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-hand hitting batting champs to wear a Red Sox uniform, Wade Boggs, below, won five AL batting titles, and four in a row from 1985 to 1988 — .368, .357, .363 and ..366. Boggs, a third baseman, was later traded to the Yankees, where 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 Brown, Sisler hit .402 in 1920 and .420 in 1922 to lead the American League in batting. He had 257 hits in 1920, a record that stood up for nearly 90 years before 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, 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 player. 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.


2 Comments on “The 10 greatest hitters that ever lived”

  1. Tony says:

    How can you possibly not have Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx in the top 10? Those guys were infinitely better than Carew, Boggs, and Gwynn. Other honorable mentions include Al Simmons,Tris Speaker, Bill Terry, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, Paul Waner, Frank Robinson, and Mickey Mantle

    • SportsLifer says:

      Tony, thanks for the feedback. You gotta balance the generations — every guy you mentioned started his career 50-60 years ago…or more.

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