Then, this idea came to me. Rather than just producing a simple list of the top ten left fielders to ever play the game, I've created the "All-Left Field Team." That is, a team of players whose primary position was left field, but who also played a significant number of games at a different position.
So, here are the criteria:
- Most importantly, to qualify for the team, a player's primary position must be left field. There are no exceptions to this rule.
- The player must have played at least 100 games at the position that he fills on the team. I had to make one exception to this rule.
Obviously, filling out a lineup of players who all primarily played the same position was not an easy task. But, I did manage to include the five guys who would be pretty clear-cut picks as the greatest left fielders ever. I also was able to find spots for my top six all-time at the position, although my #6 would not necessarily be a consensus pick.
In all, the ten players listed below include seven Hall of Famers and two who are considered by many to be borderline candidates who received much less support than they deserved. So, here they are, the members of the All-Left Field Team:
C - Jim O'Rourke (1872-93, 1904)
2639 H, 62 HR, 1208 RBI, 1729 R, 229 SB*, .310 BA, 133 OPS+, 53.9 WAR
* Stolen bases are incomplete since they're unavailable as a National League statistic from 1876-1885.
Orator Jim played his entire major league career in the 19th century, with the exception of a one-game comeback in 1904, at age 53. In fact, following his last major league appearance prior to 1904, O'Rourke kicked around in the minors for over ten years, so in reality, his baseball career lasted until well past his 50th birthday.
He caught 231 games in his 23 seasons in the majors, but it never was his regular position. Interestingly enough, 131 of those games came after the age of 35.
O'Rourke's career began prior to the inception of the National League. He was signed by the Boston Red Stockings in 1873, and when they joined the fledgling NL in 1876, he earned the distinction of getting the first hit in National League history. He then went on to accumulate the second-most games played, hits, runs, at bats, doubles and total bases over the period of 1876-1892.
O'Rourke was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by the Old Timers Committee, in 1945, joining an exclusive club that included only 26 players at the time.
1B - Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983)
3419 H, 452 HR, 1844 RBI, 1816 R, 168 SB, .285 BA, 129 OPS+, 88.7 WAR
Yaz would be #5 on my list of the all-time greatest left fielders. He played 23 seasons for the Boston Red Sox and was a positional regular for 22 of them: 11 in left field, five at first base, five as DH, and one in center field.
Following in the footsteps of an icon, Yastrzemski managed to produce a pretty legendary career himself, winning three batting titles, seven Gold Gloves and earning 18 all-star game selections. He is also the last player to win a Triple Crown, in 1967.
His tremendous accomplishments earned him a first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame in 1989, the third of 13 consecutive years (1987-1999) I attended the ceremony.
2B - Ed Delahanty (1888-1903)
2597 H, 101 HR, 1466 RBI, 1600 R, 455 SB, .346 BA, 152 OPS+, 74.7 WAR
One of the greatest players of the 19th century, Big Ed Delahanty was the first player ever to bat over .400 three times, accomplishing the feat in the span of just six years (1894-1899). He also ranks #6 on my list of the best left fielders of all-time.
He began his career as primarily an infielder, playing mostly second base in his rookie year, until eventually moving to left field, where he prospered. It total, he logged just 131 games as a second baseman, but that was enough to earn him that position on this team.
Delahanty was a classic five-tool player, long before the term came into existence. He hit for power and average, and was a good fielder with a strong arm and very good speed, even leading the league in stolen bases once, in 1898.
His career ended prematurely and tragically, however, at the age of 35. His personal life in a shambles, and battling a drinking problem, he abandoned his current team, the Washington Senators, while they were on the road in Detroit. He was headed for New York on a train, but was kicked off for unruliness in the vicinity of Niagara Falls.
Attempting to cross the International Bridge on foot, Delahanty fell off the bridge into the Niagara River. His body was found seven days later at the base of the falls. It's unclear whether his death was the result of a drunken accident or a suicide.
A career .346 hitter—fifth all-time—and the career RBI leader at the point of the untimely end of his career, Ed Delahanty was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945, the same year as Jim O'Rourke.
SS - Sherry Magee (1904-1919)
2169 H, 83 HR, 1176 RBI, 1112 R, 441 SB, .291 BA, 136 OPS+, 59.1 WAR
This is where I had to make an exception and choose someone who played less than 100 games at his position. In fact, Magee played 39 of his 40 games at short in one particular season: 1914. Obviously, there aren't very many left fielders who also played shortstop. Delahanty did as well, but finding a left fielder/second baseman was no easy task either, so the Delahanty-Magee keystone combination is what I'll go with.
Magee is one of three non-Hall of Famers on this team, receiving no better than 1% of the vote in eight separate appearances on the ballot. Despite this lack of support, to me he's a borderline candidate, although there are quite a few others who I would take up the torch for before him.
Magee played in the deadball era, so at first glance, his offensive numbers are not eye-popping, but he is the only non-Hall of Famer to lead the league in RBI four times. He also had a career adjusted OPS, or OPS+, of 136, a mark that ranks him better than the Hall of Fame median.
Unfortunately, Magee's career was marred by an on-field incident involving an assault on an umpire. He was suspended for the remainder of the 1911 season, a punishment that was lifted after 29 games served, for punching and knocking out the home plate umpire after being called out on strikes.
I'm not sure if that incident is the reason Magee received so little support in his candidacy for baseball immortality. In my opinion, he's more deserving than quite a few of the left fielders who are able to call themselves Hall of Famers.
3B - Minnie Minoso (1949, 1951-64, 1976, 1980)
1963 H, 186 HR, 1023 RBI, 1136 R, 205 SB, .298 BA, 130 OPS+, 52.8 WAR
Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso played his first professional baseball in the United States in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Minnie signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. He was just 20 years old.
Three years later, Minoso broke into the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians, the team that, two years prior, had made Larry Doby the first black player in the American League. He only played in nine major league games that year, and none the following year, but in 1951 he returned to the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, this time to stay.
Early in his career, he played quite a bit of third base, in addition to left field, recording 116 games total at the hot corner.
A lot of people my age know Minnie more for his distinction of being one of only two players in history—Nick Altrock being the other—to play in five different decades. Brief appearances with the White Sox, in 1976 at age 50 and 1980 at age 54, helped him achieve that notoriety. But, Minoso did put together a near Hall of Fame career.
A lot of folks feel he should be enshrined in Cooperstown, and point to his late start in the majors due to the lack of integration as one of their arguments, but I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong. He's definitely a borderline case, but he did fully arrive in the majors at the age of 25, so I don't really think that affords him any special consideration. Still, as is the case with Magee, his career is more Hall-worthy than at least a few others at this position who are in.
LF - Ted Williams (1939-42, 1946-60)
2654 H, 521 HR, 1839 RBI, 1798 R, 24 SB, .344 BA, 190 OPS+, 125.3 WAR
Williams actually was the Red Sox right fielder during his rookie season of 1939. But, somebody has to play left field on this team, so why not Teddy Ballgame, arguably the greatest left fielder in baseball history? Actually, he's #2 on my list, and if I was actually filling out a lineup with the ten players featured here, Williams would be my DH. But, Williams never played that role, since the DH didn't exist when he was active, so that would break one of my rules.
As is the case with the three players to follow on this team, Williams's accomplishments and statistics pretty much speak for themselves. In addition to those listed above, his career .482 on-base percentage is the best of all-time. Be sure to click over to his page on baseball-reference.com, which is basically covered in black ink, a representation of the fact that he led the league in so many offensive categories throughout his career.
Williams missed almost five seasons due to military service, the entire 1943, 1944 and 1945 seasons (World War II) and most of the 1952 and 1953 seasons (Korean War). His exceptional accomplishments, despite missing this time during his prime years, has me wondering if I should actually rank him first.
Just as his predecessor in left field for the Red Sox was the last player to win the Triple Crown, Williams was the major leagues' last .400 hitter, batting .406 in 1941. Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966, on the first ballot, of course. He received 93.4% of the vote. I suppose I don't have to tell you that means 6.6% didn't vote for him. Hard to believe.
CF - Barry Bonds (1986-2007)
2935 H, 762 HR, 1996 RBI, 2227 R, 514 SB, .298 BA, 181 OPS+, 171.8 WAR
Bonds is the greatest left fielder of all-time, with or without the cloud that will forever be hanging over his head. But, if you want to argue Ted Williams over Bonds, based on the purity of his accomplishments, I can't say that I blame you. In fact, we'd have to just respectfully agree to disagree on that one.
Bonds was the Pirates' starting center fielder in his rookie season of 1986, but moved to left field when Pittsburgh traded for Andy Van Slyke the following year.
In addition to being the all-time home run leader, Bonds tops the career list in walks, and his seven MVP awards are more than twice that of any other player in history—nine different players have three. I think he'll eventually end up in the Hall of Fame. It's just really hard to say how the process will play out, and exactly when his day will come.
RF - Stan Musial (1941-44, 1946-63)
3630 H, 475 HR, 1951 RBI, 1949 R, 78 SB, .331 BA, 159 OPS+, 127.8 WAR
For some reason, I just want to be able to say that I think Stan Musial is better than Ted Williams, but I really can't. The thing is, though, Williams is only a tiny bit better, but you wouldn't know it based on the difference in notoriety that the two receive. As far as I know, nobody ever calls Musial the greatest anything, but Williams's name is certainly thrown into that discussion a lot.
Just as Williams lost time to World War II, so did Musial, but the latter lost only one year compared to the nearly five that Williams served. So, I guess that settles my personal Williams-Musial controversy. Stan the Man will have to settle for being the third best left fielder ever.
Inducted in 1969, the 90-year old Musial isn't even the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame. Bobby Doerr (92) and Monte Irvin (turns 92 this month) are older.
DH - Rickey Henderson (1979-2003)
3055 H, 297 HR, 1115 RBI, 2295 R, 1406 SB, .279 BA, 127 OPS+, 113.1 WAR
If I was filling out a lineup card based on these players, I would probably have Bonds—arguably the best defensive left fielder of all-time—in left, Williams at DH, and Henderson in center, where he's more experienced than Bonds. Rickey was the Yankees' starting center fielder in 1985 and 1986, and played 446 games there in his career, to Bonds's 171. But, since that would break my own rules, Henderson will fill the final non-pitching role on this team.
Besides being the all-time leader in stolen bases, Rickey scored more runs than anyone else in baseball history. So, it should come as no surprise that he's my leadoff hitter. While we're on that subject, this team's batting order would go something like this:
Henderson, #4 on my all-time list of left fielders, was immortalized in Cooperstown in 2009, the 9th consecutive year in my second longest streak of attending the induction ceremony. That streak currently stands at 10 and counting.
P - Nixey Callahan (1894, 1897-1905, 1911-13)
901 H, 11 HR, 394 RBI, 442 R, 186 SB, .273 BA, 93 OPS+, 99-73 W-L, 3.39 ERA, 1603 IP, 109 ERA+, 21.8 WAR
James Joseph Callahan was a versatile player who logged 489 games in the outfield, 110 at third base, 62 at second base, 22 at shortstop, and also pitched 1603 innings in 195 games, mostly as a starter. But, he was primarily a left fielder, of course. However, he was arguably more successful as a pitcher than a hitter, as evidenced by his 109/93 ERA+/OPS+ comparison, and that's the role he fills on this team.
Callahan began his career with the Philadelphia Phillies and then the Chicago Colts/Orphans, the team that eventually would be named the Cubs. In 1901, he became one of the first players to switch to the upstart American League, moving to the south side of town to play for the White Sox. Two years later, he became the team's player/manager.
His playing career was interrupted by a five-year period (1906-10) in which he ran a successful Chicago-based semi-pro team, the Logan Squares. This venture essentially got him banned from the major leagues, but he was reinstated—after paying a $700 fine—in order to return to the White Sox in 1911, at age 37.
I've read that he didn't go by the name "Nixey" during his playing days. It was a childhood nickname that only newspaper reporters referred to him by as an adult. But, to make this team as the only non-Hall of Fame worthy player, you have to have a cool moniker. So, Nixey it is, rounding out this celebration of some of the greatest players who ever played Left Field.
Much of the biographical information and statistical data for this post comes from the SABR Bio Project and Baseball-Reference.com.