This is the seventh of a nine part series, detailing my personal opinion on the best retired players at each position in the “Modern Era”, or 1960’s – Present. Next, Center Field.
“We’ve been looking for a hero for a long time, and we finally found one.” – Curacao Tourism Official Jobi Henriques on Andruw Jones
It’s no wonder that if you ask many coaches to point to where on the diamond the best “athlete” on the team goes, most will point right to center field. It requires speed to cover all the ground, a great eye to read the ball off the bat, a strong arm to throw out baserunners, and an astute knowledge of the game, in order to make split decisions in backing up other fielders, making the correct throws, and directing other players around the diamond. If short stop is the “field general”, then the center fielder is the lieutenant silently guiding from behind him. This list includes some of the best all round outfielders to have played the game.
Best Defender: Andruw Jones
- 10 Consecutive Gold Glove awards
- 24.1 Defensive WAR best all time among CF’s (20th all time at ANY position)
“The Curacao Kid” debuted for the Atlanta Braves in 1996 as a 19 year old, and made an immediate impact smashing two home runs in his World Series debut. From there, it was his glove that made him a household name (though his bat was also fairly impressive), and the talk of the league for years to come. His ability to chase down balls hit behind him was a skill that had never, or has yet again been duplicated. He captured every gold glove award for center field from 1997 through 2006, and accumulated 5 All-Star nominations as well. Probably his most impressive defensive metric, however, is his “Total Zone Runs” score of 243, which is 2nd in history, only behind Brooks Robinson. A defensive resume that just about anyone will need a historic career to duplicate.
- Honorable Mention: Torii Hunter
- Closest Active Comparison: Lorenzo Cain
Best Athlete: Kenny Lofton
- Led MLB in steals 5 consecutive seasons
- 4 Gold Glove awards
Ok, this category is more of a “see with your eyes” type of deal. Kenny could hit (career .299 average, batting title in 1994), Kenny could field (4 gold gloves), Kenny could run (622 career stolen bases), but you couldn’t run on Kenny (4 time leader in assists at CF), and you couldn’t sleep on Kenny (I don’t have a stat for this), because if you didn’t pay attention, he would change the course of a game, no matter what he was doing. Lofton was one of a few players in history that you simply didn’t want the ball near them if you were on the other team. He is one of the most criminally underrated players in history, accruing 6 All-Star nominations along the way, but it should have been many more if it was based on merit. Sort of the “silent assassin” of modern baseball, Lofton deserved a superlative.
- Honorable mention: Andre Dawson
- Closest Active Comparison: Ender Inciarte
Best Overall: Ken Griffey Jr.
- Career .907 OPS is most among all eligible CF’ers
- 630 Home Runs is 6th all time
The kid simply known as, well… “The Kid” has been described as a once-in-a-generation type of player. His swing was some thing like poetry, his home run stance the most imitated of all time. The way he played the game, with such kid-like recklessness and fun made 24 the most coveted number on little league teams across America for decades. He led the league in home runs 4 times in his career, hitting 56 two years in a row. He has drawn many comparisons to Mickey Mantle, another player who could very well had been the best of all time, had injuries not limited him to only “one of” the very best. 13 All-Star games, 10 Gold Glove awards, and an MVP to go along with it, make him one of the best hitters to ever play the game.
- Honorable Mention: Andre Dawson
- Closest Active Comparison: Mike Trout