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Greatest Right Fielders

 

by Aman Verjee

 

1. Babe Ruth

2. Hank Aaron

3. Frank Robinson

4. Mel Ott

5. Roberto Clemente

 

Honorable Mention: Harry Heilmann, Reggie Jackson

Best Defensively: Clemente, Harry Hooper, Al Kaline

 

     The right-fielder is often a team's best hitter; it is not a tremendously demanding position, though it does require a strong, accurate throwing arm and good range, so a good hitter can park here.  So while it's no surprise that a number of the greatest hitters have been right fielders, it is interesting that the top two home run hitters of all time have fielded here:

 

 

1. Babe Ruth

Batting Titles: 1 (7 top five AL finishes)

Slugging Percentage Titles: 13 (13 top five AL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 10 (14 top five AL finishes)

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     There are a lot of ways to describe Ruth's greatness with numbers.  For instance, he led the American League in slugging percentage 13 times in 14 years.  He led the league in on-base average 10 times.  In 1920, when he hit 54 home runs (he broke his own record of 20 from 1919) he hit more homers than the next three players combined (George Sisler, 19; Tilly Walker, 17; and Cy Williams, 15).  His lifetime average slugging percentage of .690 - the highest all-time - has only been breached 5 times in a single season since 1957 and 11 times since Ruth retired in 1934.

     When he retired, his home run total was twice the nearest competitor.  Oh yeah, and he was a pretty good pitcher, too - he won an ERA title in 1916, when he went 23-12 and tossed 9 shutouts, and at one point he posted 29 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play (a record that stood for 42 years).

     Try to imagine an analogue in contemporary sports - Michael Jordan scoring more points than Allen Iverson, Shaq and Karl Malone combined?  Emmitt Smith or Jerry Rice retiring with twice as many touchdowns as anyone else in the history of the sport? - and you can't: Ruth's numbers are just unbelievable.  And that must be how his performance seemed to fans and opponents in the 1920s.

     But you would still miss the big picture.  He was an American original - a product of an orphanage whose popularity saved baseball from the the public loss of confidence engendered by the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  His home runs thrilled fans and packed ballparks, and he became a part of the American culture.  Maybe the only word that describes him is "Ruthian," and maybe that says more than any number could.

     Two facts make Ruth's accomplishments even more amazing.  First of all, he was a pitcher from 1915 to 1919, going 89-46 and posting the third-best ERA in the Al during this period, behind Walter Johnson and Eddie Cicotte.  As a result, his hitting duties were limited to no more 317 at-bats in those 4 years.  Second, he walked 2,062 times in his career (he led the league in walks 11 times) despite hitting in front of Lou Gehrig for much of his career.  Add the lost at-bats of those years to his totals, and give him an extra, say, 500 at-bats for the walks that he drew, and in all likelihood his home run records would be still be undiscovered country.

 

 

2. Hank Aaron

 

Batting Titles: 2 (11 top five NL finishes)

Slugging Percentage Titles: 4 (14 top five NL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 0 (7 top five NL finishes)

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     The first player in the Player Register is "Aaron, Henry," and on April 8, 1974, he became the first name in baseball by passing Ruth in all time home runs.  Imagine a player with good power, who could it for average, had good speed and was the best fielder at his position - now make that player the all-time home run king and you have Aaron.  Although he didn't dominate the game, he was consistently an All-Star (21 selections in his 23 year career) and led the league in home runs, slugging percentage, RBI, doubles and adjusted production 4 times each.  He won 3 Gold Gloves and stole 240 bases.  He was a two-time batting champion and an MVP in 1957.  In short, there wasn't anything on the field he couldn't do.

     His remarkable physical condition allowed him to average 33 HR a year, hitting between 24 and 45 HR for 19 straight years.  He drove in more than 100 runs 15 times, including a record 13 seasons in a row.  Consistent and dangerous, he managed his career high slugging percentage of .669 in 1971, at the age of 37.  At the age of 39 in 1973, he cracked 40, the most HR ever for a player his age, ending the season one homer off the record.  And finished his career tops all-time in HR, RBI, total bases, and extra-base hits, second in at-bats and runs (tied with Ruth), and third in games played and hits (3,771).

 

 

3. Frank Robinson

 

Batting Titles: 1 (2 top five NL finishes, 4 top five AL finishes)

Slugging Percentage Titles: 4 (7 top five NL finishes, 4 top five AL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 2 (7 top five NL finishes, 4 top five AL finishes)

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     On a Cincinnati Reds team that hit an NL record 221 home runs in 1956, it was a rookie that stole the show - 21-year-old Frank Robinson cranked 38 homers, scored a league-leading 122 runs and slugged .558, a mark that tied Hank Aaron and edged out Willie Mays.  When he was on, Robinson was one of the game's most dangerous hitters - he became the first man to win the MVP in both the NL (1961) and AL (1966), and his Triple Crown in 1966 is a feat accomplished only one time since.  In fact, Robinson appeared to be on his way to a second straight Triple Crown in 1967, but was injured late in the season and ran second in batting average, third in RBI and fourth in home runs, despite missing 25 games.

     An intense competitor, he once slid into Eddie Matthews so hard that he precipitated a bench-clearing brawl - the first between black and white stars.  Booed intensely, he responded with a grand slam.  He was also arrested once for brandishing a gun at a short-order cook who had refused to serve him, probably for race-related reasons.

     He was a capable fielder (he won a Gold Glove) and topped 20 stolen bases three times in his career (he retired with 204 steals).  But he did his damage at bat.  He led the league 4 times in slugging percentage, on-base average twice, and finished in the top five in both categories 11 times each - something which only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb have done.  He also led the league in runs created per 9 innings 3 times - and that's despite the fact that he had the misfortune of being a contemporary of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, both at the peak of their careers.

     Despite playing in an era of depressed run production, he amassed 586 home runs - fourth all-time.

 

 

4. Mel Ott

 

Batting Titles: 0 (0 top five NL finishes)

Slugging Percentage Titles: 1 (11 top five NL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 4 (11 top five NL finishes)

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     A terrific all-around player, Ott was a power hitter with a fine batting eye who could get on base swinging or walking.  He supplemented a lifetime batting average of .304 with 1,708 career walks - that was the NL record until 1982, when it was broken by Joe Morgan - and led the National League in free passes 6 times.  Ott is still 7th in all-time walks and 24th in lifetime on-base average (he led the NL in OBA 4 times).

     The first National Leaguer to hit 500 home runs, he led the league in homers 6 times and his career NL HR record held up until Willie Mays broke it 20 years later.  He is eighth among all major league players with 1,860 career RBI, and ninth with 1,859 runs scored.

     Ott was known as a gentleman, a shy, retiring type.  In fact, he In 1947 Ott was the target of Dodger manager Leo "The Lip" Durcoher's classic quip, "Nice guys finish last."  (Durocher was actually misquoted; he actually said, "Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott?  Or any other Giants?  The nice guys over there are in last place!").

     Ott constructed an odd, snappy swing with a high leg kick and an extreme uppercut that would made most hitting coaches wince.  Still, it was perfectly suited for the Polo Grounds, with it's close right field wall; Ott hit 324 of his 511 career HR there.

 

 

5. Roberto Clemente

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     At bat, Clemente seemed forever uncomfortable, always rolling his neck and stretching his back.  Standing deep in the box, he would pounce on inside pitches, or wait and drive outside deliveries to right field.  Playing in spacious Forbes Field reduced his home run totals, but htere was no denying his effectiveness as a hitter.  A rare combination of hittng and defense, Clemente was a four-time league batting champion who topped .312 in 8 straight seasons, while winning 12 straight Gold Gloves and establishing a ML record by leading his league in throwing assists 5 times.  His precise rifle-arm may be the best ever, and in fielding and throwing he was as good or better than Willie Mays.

     In the outfield, he would track down every ball in range, often making spectacular diving or leaping catches. He played caroms out of the tricky right field corner at Forbes Field faultlessly.  On routine flies, he used the basket catch made famous by his contemporary, Willie Mays.  His baserunning style was marked by effort and determination, with arms and legs pumping and helmet often flying off.  Although he was marked as a bit of a hypochondriac throughout his career, his reckless style of lay probably contributed to the missed games which plagued him during his career.

     In a combination of brilliant scouting and luck, the Pirates claimed the Puerto Rican-born 20-year-old from the Dodgers' Montreal farm club for $4,000 in the 1954 minor league draft.  He joined a club that had suffered through three straight 100-loss seasons and was the laughingstock of baseball.  But Clemente left his mark on the team with a style of play rarely seen in modern ML competition, and succeeded in raising the level of play around him, leading two teams to Game 7 World Series wins in 1960 and 1971.

 

 


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