This is the sixth 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, Left Field.
“You Walk Barry.. You just, walk him.” – Greg Maddux
If you ask most major league coaches to describe a typical left fielder, you’ll typically get a description leading with “not enough…” as in, “not enough range for center, not enough arm for right..” or you’ll get different versions of “great hitter, average fielder on his best day”. This is no slight against this position, but much like first base, a coach doesn’t typically pick that position with defense in mind. That is beside the point though, because when asked to assemble a lineup, coaches eyes can light up when it’s time to decide who to pick, since some of the best hitters to ever play the game occupied the back left quadrant of the diamond, and possessed some of the most prolific bats as well.
Most Complete Hitter: Barry Bonds
- All-time leader in home runs (762), walks (2,558), and intentional walks (688)
- OPS of 1.051 only behind Gehrig, Williams, and Ruth… Ever.
Think what you will about the man (and trust me, I do), but There isn’t another more complete hitter in all of baseball (yet), and it’s by…. a wide margin. Bonds was such a force as a batter, he could single-handedly control a game. It was as close as you could get to a certainty in this game, that when Bonds came to the plate, he was going to get on base. There hasn’t been a hitter since Babe Ruth that has had more impact on the game than Bonds, and there’s even a debate to be had about that! Two home run titles (one of them an all-time record of 73), an obnoxious 6 MVP awards, 14 All Star games, and 12 silver sluggers only make the case even more indisputable
- Honorable Mention: Manny Ramirez
- Closest Active Comparison: No one.. put I’ll put Ryan Braun
Best Defender: Barry Bonds
- 8 Gold Glove awards most among all qualifying LF
- Leader in “Total Zone Runs” among all LF (6th most all-time)
Much has been made of Bonds’s defensive mishaps later in his career, and they’re not completely unfounded. He had lost a step (yes, I know, for many possible reasons), and didn’t contribute positively. Even with that factored in, however, it was really tough to make an argument for, well.. pretty much anyone else without being able to find another stat or metric that put me right back where I started. At his peak, he had it all in the field. He had range, a great glove, and a strong arm for a left fielder. Bonds could do it all, and he did, for a long enough period of time that it’s simply irrefutable. Had I been doing “outfield” as a whole, sure, the conversation changes, but if we are confining it strictly to left fielders, I simply can’t totally justify choosing anyone else.
- Honorable Mention: Carl Yastrzemski
- Closest Active Comparison: Alex Gordon, I guess.
Best Overall: Barry Bonds
- Led the league in OPS 9 times
- most regular season MVP awards ever
- Two batting titles
- Sole member of 400/400 club, and 500/500 club (Home Runs/Stolen Bases)
- led league in On Base Percentage 10 times
Yes, this is happening. I tried, but failed. I tried to sit on my pedestal and make another glaring omission (notice I’ve already run out of eligible places to put Pete Rose?), but I can’t in this particular case. If I were to omit Barry Bonds from a group of the greatest players of the era, and really any era ever, then it would be disingenuous to the cause. When judging a players on the field performance, he simply can’t be touched. If i’m putting a lineup together and my life depended on winning, I would put Barry Bonds in left field every. single. time. Extraordinary plate discipline, effortless power, natural abilities in the field… It’s simply indisputable.
- Honorable Mention: Rickey Henderson
- Closest Active Comparison: No one.