Welcome back to our ongoing series aimed at determining the best of the best at each position in Major League Baseball.
Our goal here is two-fold. First, we determine each current franchise’s best ever player at a position. Then we rank those players 1-30 to determine how they stack up in MLB history.
The only caveat being that the selected player must come from the current incarnation of each franchise. We recognize the Dodgers lineage tracing back to Brooklyn. However, we’ve separated the Washington Nationals from the Montreal Expos because of the complete rebrand. But don’t worry, we’ll throw in bonus players when warranted as well.
To make things more interesting, we also require that no player represents multiple franchises or multiple positions throughout the series.
Today, we’re ranking the left fielders.
The group is strong at the top, with six Hall of Famers among the top 10. The notable exception being Barry Bonds. The home run king may never reach Cooperstown because of the circumstances surrounding his career. But he did make our list. The question is where he ranks among greats like Ted Williams and Rickey Henderson, and whether you agree with his placement.
We won’t keep you waiting. Here are the ultimate left field rankings.
1. Ted Williams — Boston Red Sox
With Red Sox: 19 seasons
Best season: 1941 (10.4 WAR, .406/.553/.735, 37 homers, MVP runner-up)
Sorry, Barry. The top spot belongs to the "Splendid Splinter." Though he missed his age 24-26 seasons while serving in the military, Williams put together a Hall of Fame career that included six batting titles, four home run crowns, two MVPs, 19 All-Star selections and a career .344/.482/.634 batting line. And he did it without a cloud of performance-enhancing drug controversy.
2. Barry Bonds — San Francisco Giants
With Giants: 15 seasons
Best season: 2011 (11.9 WAR, .328/.515/.863, 73 home runs, MVP)
We can’t ignore the controversy that surrounds Bonds. His alleged connections to PEDs have forever tarnished his legacy and likely ruined his chances of reaching Cooperstown. We could not in good conscious rate him ahead of Williams. Though we also couldn’t ignore that, with or without assistance, Bonds put up incomparable numbers. He’s a seven-time NL MVP, 14-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner, and he's currently MLB's all-time home run leader with 762.
3. Rickey Henderson — Oakland Athletics
With Athletics: 14 seasons
Best season: 1990 (9.9 WAR, .325/.439/.577, 28 homers, 65 steals, MVP)
Henderson played 2,421 games in left field over his 25 seasons. Along the way he racked up MLB records in stolen bases (1,406) and runs scored (2,295) en route to Cooperstown. His 81 career leadoff home runs are also the most in MLB history. Henderson moved around a lot, suiting up for nine different teams. But Oakland was always his true home.
Bonus: Carl Yastrzemski — Boston Red Sox
With Red Sox: 23 seasons
Best season: 1967 (12.5 WAR, .326/.418/.622, 42 homers, MVP)
Yastrzemski had the unenviable task of replacing Ted Williams in 1961. No one could have imagined how close he’d come to equaling Williams’ success. “Yaz” won an AL MVP of his own during his Triple Crown season in 1967. He earned 18 All-Star selections, won three batting titles and added seven Gold Glove awards to his long list of accolades. The Hall of Famer is a top five left fielder on anyone’s list and helped give Boston 42 years of greatness at one position.
4. Billy Williams — Chicago Cubs
With Cubs: 16 seasons
Best season: 1965 (7.7 WAR, .315/.377/.552, 34 homers, All-Star)
How did the Cubs not win a World Series in the 1960s? Williams is the fourth Hall of Fame player we've listed from that Cubs era and is legitimately a top five player at his position. During his Cubs tenure, Williams hit .296/.364/.503 with 392 home runs, which ranks third in franchise history. He once played in 1,117 consecutive games, which was the NL record at the time.
Bonus: Tim Raines — Montreal Expos
With Expos: 13 seasons
Best season: 1985 (7.6 WAR, .320/.405/.475, 70 steals)
There's always room for “The Rock." Raines was arguably the greatest player in Expos history. He earned seven All-Star selections in Montreal, won a batting title in 1986 and led the NL in stolen bases four times.
5. Joe “Ducky” Medwick — St. Louis Cardinals
With Cardinals: 11 seasons
Best season: 1937 (8.5 WAR, .374/.414/.641, Triple Crown, MVP)
The Cardinals have two Hall of Famers to choose from in left field. Lou Brock had a longer career in St. Louis, but only a slightly higher WAR (41.8 over 16 seasons to 39.8 over 11 seasons), so we’ll side with Medwick. His .335 batting average is third in Cardinals history behind Rogers Hornsby (.359) and Johnny Mize (.336).
6. Ralph Kiner — Pittsburgh Pirates
With Pirates: 8 seasons
Best season: 1949 (8.1 WAR, .310/.432/.658, 54 homers)
Here's a former Pirates left fielder that actually is in Cooperstown. Kiner's career only lasted 10 seasons, but during his seven full seasons with Pittsburgh he led the NL in home runs every single year. Kiner is a six-time All-Star who also averaged more than 100 walks per season.
7. Minnie Miñoso — Chicago White Sox
With White Sox: 12 seasons
Best season: 1954 (8.2 WAR, .320/.411/.535, All-Star)
Miñoso was the first black player in White Sox history and quickly became one of the franchise's most beloved players. In his MLB debut on May 1, 1951, Miñoso homered on the first pitch he saw. He went on to become a six-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner.
8. Zack Wheat — Los Angeles/Brooklyn Dodgers
With Dodgers: 19 seasons
Best season: 1924 (6.7 WAR, .375/.428/.549, third in MVP)
Wheat played his entire career during the Brooklyn era. As long as they were the Dodgers, he qualifies. Perhaps he’s overqualified considering he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959. Wheat hit better than .300 in 14 seasons, including back-to-back .375 campaigns in 1923-24.
9. George Foster — Cincinnati Reds
With Reds: 11 seasons
Best season: 1977 (8.4 WAR, .320/.382/.631, 52 homers, MVP)
How awesome were the "Big Red Machine" Reds in the 1970s when a force like George Foster is the fourth or fifth guy we think about from that lineup? He was especially awesome from 1976-78, hitting a collective .303/.368/.570 with 121 homers and 390 RBIs in 460 games. Foster won MVP in 1977 and was selected to five All-Star games.
10. Ryan Braun — Milwaukee Brewers
With Brewers: 13 seasons
Best season: 2011 (7.7 WAR, .332/.397/.597, 33 homers, MVP)
We can already hear fans outside Milwaukee booing Braun being on this list. We get it. We really do. But he's still a prime choice having won NL Rookie of the Year (2007) and MVP (2011), while being selected to six All-Star games. Braun is also the Brewers’ all-time home run leader with 344.
11. Sherry Magee — Philadelphia Phillies
With Phillies: 11 seasons
Best season: 1910 (6.8 WAR, .331/.445/.507, batting champion)
The Phillies’ long and illustrious history is filled with gems that modern fans might not know much about. Among them is Sherry Magee. The longtime left fielder was with the Phillies from 1904-14. He debuted at 19, won the batting title in 1910, and on four occasions led the NL in RBIs. He also played three seasons for the Boston Braves and Cincinnati Reds.
12. José Cruz — Houston Astros
With Astros: 13 seasons
Best season: 1984 (6.3 WAR, .312/.381/.462, 22 steals)
We thought Lance Berkman would be a cinch. Then we dug into the numbers and discovered that Cruz had a higher WAR (51.4 to 48.1) in just one more season with the Astros. When we factored in that Berkman moved around the diamond and Cruz primarily played in left, we had to pivot. Sure, Berkman had some monster seasons, but Cruz was darn good too, racking up 335 homers and 288 stolen bases for Houston.
13. Luis Gonzalez — Arizona Diamondbacks
With Diamondbacks: 8 seasons
Best season: 2001 (7.9 WAR, .325/.429/.688, 57 homers)
Gonzalez only played eight of his 18 seasons in Arizona, but did the majority of his damage there, launching 224 of his 331 career home runs. Gonzalez also provided the D-backs’ biggest moment when he singled home the winning run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
14. Albert Belle — Cleveland Indians
With Indians: 8 seasons
Best season: 1995 (7.0 WAR, .317/.401/.690, 52 doubles, 50 homers)
Don’t worry. Manny Ramirez’s day is coming. Belle just spent more time in left field with Cleveland. His 242 homers rank second in team history behind Jim Thome's 337, and they actually came in 1,880 fewer plate appearances. Belle was a four-time All-Star who finished in the top three in the AL MVP balloting three times.
15. Bobby Veach — Detroit Tigers
With Tigers: 12 seasons
Best season: 1919 (6.7 WAR, .355/.398/.519, 17 triples)
Veach was a remarkably consistent hitter during the Dead Ball Era, posting a .311/.370/.444 line over 12 seasons with Detroit. Despite that, he was never a favorite of teammate Ty Cobb. In fact, Cobb eventually traded Veach when he became manager.
16. Charlie Keller — New York Yankees
With Yankees: 11 seasons
Best season: 1941 (6.7 WAR, .298/.416/.580, 33 homers, All-Star)
There’s an argument to be made for Charlie Keller, Brett Gardner and Roy White. We give Keller the nod because his average WAR with New York was 3.8 compared to Gardner’s 3.5 and White's 3.1. Keller was also a five-time All-Star who played on three Yankees championship clubs (1939, 1941 and 1943).
17. Carl Crawford — Tampa Bay Rays
With Rays: 9 seasons
Best season: 2010 (7.0 WAR, .307/.356/.495, Gold Glove, All-Star)
Crawford was a fixture in Tampa's lineup for nine seasons. He's the franchise leader in batting average (.296), hits (1,480), stolen bases (409) and triples (105). However, he only posted a collective 3.6 WAR in six seasons with the Red Sox and Dodgers, which is why his overall ranking isn’t higher.
18. Garret Anderson — Los Angeles Angels
With Angels: 15 seasons
Best season: 2002 (5.1 WAR, .306/.332/.539, 56 doubles)
Anderson had longevity with the Angels and he was very consistent, hitting between .280 and .321. every season from 1995-2008. That his best season coincided with the Angels’ World Series win in 2002 means he will always be a franchise legend.
19. Matt Holliday — Colorado Rockies
With Rockies: 6 seasons
Best season: 2007 (6.0 WAR, .340/.405/.607, batting title, 36 homers)
Holliday is probably best known as the guy who may or may not have touched home plate in the 2007 NL tiebreaker game. That same season, Holliday won the NL batting title, led the league in RBIs and finished as runner-up in MVP balloting. One year later, the Rockies traded him for Carlos Gonzalez.
20. Alex Gordon — Kansas City Royals
With Royals: 13 seasons
Best season: 2011 (7.3 WAR, .303/.376/.502, 23 homers, Gold Glove)
If only Bo Jackson had stayed healthy. Let's not take anything away from Alex Gordon. He has been a cornerstone for the Royals through tough times and good times — including the 2015 World Series — and now tough times again. He's a three-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, including each of the last three seasons.
21. Don Buford — Baltimore Orioles
With Orioles: 5 seasons
Best season: 1971 (5.1 WAR, .290/.413/.477, 19 homers, All-Star)
After being traded to Baltimore for Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio, Buford became a key member of the Orioles’ three consecutive AL pennant-winning teams from 1969-71. Buford served as Earl Weaver's leadoff man, posting a solid .270/.385/.405 line over his five seasons.
22. Cliff Floyd — Miami Marlins
With Marlins: 6 seasons
Best season: 2001 (6.6 WAR, .317/.390/.578, 31 homers, All-Star)
Try as we might, we just can't find a spot for Jeff Conine. He was in consideration along with Floyd, Marcell Ozuna and even Josh Willingham, which tells you how random some of these outfield positions can be. As for Floyd, his best run came in Miami. Over six seasons, he hit .294/.374/.523 with 110 homers.
23. Rico Carty — Atlanta Braves
With Braves: 8 seasons
Best season: 1970 (5.8 WAR, .366/.454/.584, 25 homers, All-Star)
Rico Carty, Sid Gordon and Ron Gant all make strong cases for the Braves spot, but Carty's excellent 1969 and ‘70 seasons give him a leg up. Carty posted a collective .357/.434/.570 those two seasons, which included a batting title in ‘70. Unfortunately, a fractured kneecap in 1971 would set him back for several seasons.
24. George Bell — Toronto Blue Jays
With Blue Jays: 9 seasons
Best season: 1987 (5.0 WAR, .308/.352..605, 47 homers, MVP)
Two things surprised us here. First, Bell barely edged Shannon Stewart in WAR with the Blue Jays (21.3 to 18.7). The other? Reed Johnson had the highest single season WAR among Jays left fielders (5.1 in 2006). Bell did win the Blue Jays’ first MVP award in 1987, which cemented his case.
25. Rusty Greer — Texas Rangers
With Rangers: 9 seasons
Best season: 1996 (5.4 WAR, .332/.397/.530, 18 homers)
Since most of Frank Howard's production came during the Washington Senators' era, we’ll give Rusty Greer the nod. Greer was a driving force for three division-winning teams in 1996 and '98-99, knocking home at least 100 runs in each season. Over his nine-year career, which was spent entirely with the Rangers, he hit .305.
26. Raúl Ibañez — Seattle Mariners
With Mariners: 11 seasons
Best season: 2006 (4.5 WAR, .289/.353/.516, 33 homers)
Ibañez had three separate stints in Seattle totaling 11 seasons. His second stint secured his spot on this list. From 2004-08, Ibañez hit .291/.354/.477 with 113 homers and 174 doubles. His lone All-Star appearance came in 2009 for Philadelphia.
27. Juan Soto — Washington Nationals
With Nationals: 2 seasons
Best season: 2019 (4.6 WAR, .282/.401/.548, 34 homers)
Just 266 games into his MLB career, Juan Soto is already the WAR leader (7.4) among left fielders in Nationals history. His impact has been undeniable. He became the main man after Bryce Harper left in free agency and instantly raised his game to help Washington to its first World Series title. It won’t take him long to rocket up this list.
28. Kevin McReynolds — New York Mets
With Mets: 6 seasons
Best season: 1988 (4.5 WAR, .288/.336/.496, 27 homers, third in MVP)
Cleon Jones might be a more popular choice among Mets fans, but McReynolds did nearly as much damage in half the time. In six seasons, McReynolds hit .272/.331/.460 to produce 15.8 WAR. Jones' 18.1 WAR is the highest among Mets' left fielders, but that was accumulated over 13 seasons.
29. Shane Mack — Minnesota Twins
With Twins: 5 seasons
Best season: 1992 (6.5 WAR, .315/.394/.467, 16 homers)
Mack was never an All-Star or a real standout overall, but his run with Minnesota (1990-94) was stellar. Over those five seasons, Mack posted a .309/.375/.479 batting line in 633 games while hitting 71 of his 90 career home runs.
30. Gene Richards — San Diego Padres
With Padres: 7 seasons
Best season: 1980 (4.6 WAR, .301/.363/.385, 61 steals)
Even though he only spent three seasons in San Diego, we'd be tempted to pick Rickey Henderson again if we could. We can't, so we'll acknowledge Gene Richards. Over seven seasons, he slashed .291/.357/.387 with San Diego while stealing 242 bases.
Previously in this series:
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