This is a debate that will be sure to rage on as long as baseball is played. That is the great thing about baseball, the game hasn’t changed as much as others have through the years. The Deadball Era, lack of African-American players, Steroid Era were factors that could either hurt or help you, but in the end being a complete hitter was most important to me. You may be a great singles hitter but I lean towards a high batting average that includes extra base hits more than just a straight up singles guy.
7) Rod Carew – Carew won seven American League batting titles, including four-straight from 1972-75. Carew hit a career-high .388 in 1977 and wound up with a .328 lifetime average and 3,053 hits. He was selected to 18-straight all-star games.
6) Honus Wagner – Honus won eight NL batting titles, tied for the most in NL history with the legendary 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.
5) Tony Gwynn – Since the retirement of Ted Williams, Gwynn has been the best hitter in baseball. 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 the next three years, respectively. Gwynn finished with 3,141 hits and a .338 lifetime batting average. Gwynn was selected to 15 All-Star Games and helped lead the Padres to the World Series in 1984 and again in 1998.
4) Rogers Hornsby – Hornsby is a man that is seemingly on every baseball historian’s top 5 hitters list, and yes, he is on mine also. Hornsby has the highest single-season batting average in baseball history, .424, in 1924. Between 1922 and 1925, Rogers 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 in history with a .358 lifetime average. Hornsby won a pair of triple crowns in 1922 and 1925. Hornsby was also the first National Leaguer to notch 300 career Home Runs.
3) Stan Musial – Musial was a great hitter and I have him this high on the list because he also hit with great power, belting 475 Home Runs in his career. Musial stands fourth all-time with 3,630 hits. The most amazing statistic in all of those hits is the fact that he had 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road. Musial won seven batting titles and ended his career with a lifetime batting average of .331 and almost 2,000 RBI’s.
2) Ty Cobb – The “Georgia Preach” as he was known, was one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game. His reputation was unjustly soiled by a drunken sportswriter named Al Stump and later Ken Burns in his PBS Documentary Baseball. But the truth about Cobb was he was as good a man as he was a baseball player. Beginning in 1907, Cobb won an unprecedented nine-consecutive AL batting titles. Then after losing the 1916 race, he won three more in a row starting in 1917. He is second all-time in base hits at 4,191 and has the highest lifetime batting average in Major League Baseball history at .367. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that he batted over .400 three times, hit above .300 for 23 straight seasons, and won the 1909 triple crown.
1) Ted Williams – This is a no-brainer selection for me. The “Splendid Splinter” could do it all. The most amazing stat may be the fact that Williams lost five of his best years to military service and still put up numbers that are unmatched. Williams hit .344 lifetime and won six American League batting titles, and was the last man to hit over.400 for an entire season. Williams won the triple crown not once but twice in 1942 and 1947. He won his final batting title at the age of 39 when he hit an amazing .388. To me, number one was undoubtedly the “Splendid Splinter”.