Major League Batting, Fielding, And Pitching Greats

By Don Weiskopf

Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals Batting Great

Stan Musial was one of baseball's greatest hitters for the St. Louis Cardinals for more than two decades. Known as Stan the Man, Musial was a three-time MVP who helped the Cardinals win three World Series championships in the 1940s. He spent his entire 22-year career with St. Louis and made the All-Star team 24 times.

Stan Musial

A pitcher in the low minors until he injured his throwing arm, Musial played in the outfield and first base. He went on to hit .331 with 475 home runs before retiring in 1963. In 1954, Stan became the first player in major league history to hit five home runs in one day, getting three in the opening game of a doubleheader. At age 41, Musial hit .330.

Musial was at the White House in February 2011 when President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor for contributions to society.

At the ceremony, President Obama said, "Stan remains to this day an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate."

Musial never struck out 50 times in a season. He led the National League in most every hitting category, except home runs. In all, Musial held 55 records when he retired in 1963. He played nearly until his 43rd birthday, adding to his totals.

Stan got a hit with his final swing, sending an RBI single past Cincinnati's rookie second baseman Pete Rose, who would break Musial's league hit record of 3,630 some 18 years later. Of those hits, Musial got exactly 1,815 at home and exactly 1,815 on the road. He also finished with 1951 RBIs and scored 1949 runs.

All that balance despite an unorthodox left-handed stance. With his legs and knees close together, Musial would cock the bat near his ear and twist his body away from the pitcher. When the ball came, he uncoiled.

The only year Musial missed with the Cardinals was 1945, when he was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was based in Pearl Harbor, assigned to a unit that helped with ship repair.

Musial was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1943, 1946 and 1948, and was runner-up four other years. He enjoyed a career free of slumps, controversies or rivalries.

Stan was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, his first year of eligibility. "It was, you know, a dream come true," Musial once said. "I always wanted to be a ball player."

Contributing to this story was The Associated Press; and
Photograph by The Associated Press/Patheos;

Stan Musial sequence

Bobby Richardson, Second Baseman, Yankees' 1960s Dynasty Years

Bobby Richardson was the second baseman for the New York Yankees through their dynastic years of the late 1950s and early '60s. He was one of the cleverest performers ever to play second base. Casey Stengel, who managed 10 pennant winners for New York, once declared, "Richardson makes the double play better than any player in baseball."

Bobby Richardson

In Game 3 of the 1960 World Series, Richardson stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. The bases were loaded with one out, and to Richardson's surprise, Stengel called for a sacrifice bunt. He fouled off a couple of attempts before he worked the count to 3-2.

With third base coach Frankie Crosetti telling Richardson to go the opposite way to right field, Bobby got an inside pitch from Pittsburgh right-hander Clem Labine. He turned on the ball and sent it over the left-field fence, much to the delight of 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium.

Richardson set a new World Series record with 12 hits, a .367 batting average, and the '60s Series MVP trophy. He played in seven World Series as part of the Yankees dynasty.

The memories of the 1960 World Series were bitter sweet for the Sumter, South Carolina native. The Yankees lost Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Pirates when Bill Mazeroski hit the most famous walk-off home run in major league history.

Richardson and Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek had played together since 1955 when performing for the Denver Bears under manager Ralph Houk, who later succeeded Stengel. They knew each other like a book, their mannerisms, and how each reacted to various situations.

In 1961, Bobby participated in 136 double plays, topping all American League second basemen in this category over the last 37 years. In 1965, he led both leagues in double plays with 121.

In 1962, when the Yankees defeated the San Francisco Giants in seven games, Richardson caught the final out in a 1-0 victory off the bat of Willie McCovey, who later said it was the hardest ball he ever hit. If it had been a few feet higher, it would have scored the game-winning runs.

Richardson was on the other end of that scenario in his final postseason appearance when he popped up for the final out of the 1964 World Series in Game 7 against Bob Gibson. He went 13-for-32 in that Series, including seven hits off Gibson, another Hall of Famer. "But I didn't get one there," he said, still disappointed.

A seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Richardson struck out only 243 times in his career while compiling a .266 batting average and 1,432 hits.

He retired in his prime at age 30 after the 1966 season to get away from the grind of the game and help raise his family. Bobby returned to his home state and took over as head baseball coach of the University of South Carolina in 1970.

In his seven seasons, Richardson compiled a 220-91-2 record, including an appearance in the 1975 NCAA championship game, where a loss to Texas ended his best season at 51-6-1.

Contributing to this story was Neil White, the; and Baseball Play Photograph and sequence-series photographs by Don Weiskopf.

Bobby Richardson

Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame Great

Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame slugger and two-time Most Valuable Player, always maintained his boundless enthusiasm for baseball despite decades of playing on unsuccessful teams. During his 19-year career, Banks hit 512 home runs and was fond of saying, "It's a great day for baseball. Let's play two."

Ernie Banks

Although he was an 11-time Major League All-Star from 1953-71, Banks never reached the post season. The Cubs, who haven't won the World Series since 1908, finished below .500 in all but six of his seasons and remained without a pennant since 1945 until this year.

Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, the first year he was eligible, and was selected to baseball's All-Century team in 1999.

Banks' infectious smile and non-stop good humor despite his team's dismal record endeared him to Chicago fans, who voted him the best player in franchise history.

In 2013, Banks was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The award is one of the nation's highest civilian honors. Banks' No. 14 was the first number retired by the Cubs, and it hangs on a flag from the left-field foul pole at the old ball park.

Banks' best season came in 1958, when he hit .313 with 47 homers and 129 RBIs. Though the Cubs went 72-82 and finished sixth in the National League, Banks edged Willie Mays and Hank Aaron for his first MVP award. He was the first player from a losing team to win the National League MVP.

Banks won the MVP again in 1959, becoming the first National League player to win it in consecutive years. He led the National League in homers again in 1960 with 41, his fourth season with 40 or more. His 248 homers from 1955-60 were the most in the majors, topping even Aaron and Mays.

Though Banks didn't break the 40-homer barrier again after 1960, he topped the 100-RBI mark three more times, including 1969, his last full season. Then 38, Banks hit .253 with 23 home runs and 106 RBIs, and was chosen an All-Star for an 11th time.

On May 12, 1970, Banks hit his 500th home run at Wrigley Field, becoming only the eighth player at the time to reach the plateau.

Banks retired after the 1971 season. He owned most of the Cubs' career slugging records, some of which still stand today.

Known mostly for his power at the plate, Banks was a solid fielder, too. He is best known as a shortstop, where he won a Gold Glove in 1960, but he switched to first base in 1962.

"Ernie was one of the great cross over baseball players of his day," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "His personality was a racial bridge builder. He treated all people with dignity and respect. He never stopped reaching out to bridge the racial chasms."

Photograph by The Associated Press; sequence-series photographs by Don Weiskopf

Ernie Banks sequence

Tom Seaver, New York Mets Hall of Fame Pitching Great

One of the most impressive pitching records in National League history belong to Tom Seaver, the greatest right-hander to pitch for the New York Mets since Christy Mathewson. Like Mathewson, the man he idolized, Seaver was an intelligent analytical student of the mechanics of pitching, the master of a variety of pitches.

Tom Seaver

Seaver joined the New York Mets in 1967 and won 16 games in each of his first two seasons. In 1969, he and his teammates startled the baseball world by winning the pennant and World Series. Tom's contribution was a 25-7 season, a 2.21 earned-run average, plus a key win over the highly favored Baltimore Orioles.

it was the first of five 20-game seasons for Seaver. His major league records include most seasons with 200 or more strikeouts (10), most consecutive strikeouts in a game (10), and a record he shares with Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton, most strikeouts in a game (19).

Seaver's lifetime earned-run-average of 2.82 is one of the lowest for pitchers in the lively ball era (since 1920). He has led the league in ERA 3 times, strikeouts 5 times, and has won 3 Cy Young Awards (1969, 1973, and 1975). In 1985, Tom won his three hundredth major league game.

Aside from his statistics, Seaver has always been a team leader wherever he has played. Such intangibles are important even though they cannot be quantified in numbers.

Perhaps no single player was identified more with one team than Seaver was with the Mets. He helped turn the Mets from loveable losers into formidable foes. Hall of Fame outfielder and Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner recalled, "Tom Seaver was the driving force behind the players, always pushing the team to be better than they were, never letting them settle."

In 1969, when the Mets won their first World Series championship, Seaver's teammate Cleon Jones said, "Tom does everything well. He's the kind of man you'd want your kids to grow up to be like."

One year later in 1970, Seaver tied a major league record, striking out 19 San Diego Padres including a record 10 consecutive to end the game.

Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson, who managed Seaver with the Cincinnati Reds in 1977 and '78, recalled, "My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work."

Seaver no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978 and in 1981 became the fifth player in history to record 3,000 strikeouts. In 1985, he returned to New York as a member of the Chicago White Sox and won his 300th major league game at Yankee Stadium.

Seaver finished his career with a 311-205 won-loss record for a .603 winning percentage, with 61 shutouts and 231 complete games, 3,640 strikeouts and a 2.86 E.R.A.

Contributing to this story was Donald Honig. Photograph by The Associated Press. Sequence-series photographs by Don Weiskopf

Tom Seaver

Brooks Robinson, A Master Craftsman at Third Base

Brooks Robinson is widely accepted by baseball authorities as the greatest third baseman in the history of the game. Robinson, who thrilled millions with his dazzling glove, was a master craftsman at his position. He was soft-handed, accurate-armed fielder who did with reflexes and intelligence what can't be achieved with just quickness and a strong arm.

Brooks Robinson

Rarely was there a Baltimore Orioles game in which Brooks did not come up with a fielding gem. He was called "Hoover" because he cleaned up the field like a vacuum.

Robinson did not develop overnight as a super-fielder. His fielding skills were sharpened by the ground balls he fielded since he put on his first fielder's glove at the age of three. As a boy growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Brooks possessed great desire to become a major league ball player.

Robinson's glove was always at its magical best during the World Series. In the third game of the 1970 World Series, Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds drove a savage liner into the hole, and it seemed there was no way anyone could prevent the ball from going into left field for a single. Diving headlong, Brooks speared the ball, skidded to a halt, and raised his glove to let the umpires know that "seeing was believing."

In the following game, Robinson dove and wound up in foul territory, the ball nestling in his glove. A conservative estimate would be that Brooks stole a total of 20 bases from the Reds in the 1970 World Series.

Robinson won a record 16 consecutive Gold Gloves while manning the hot corner for the Orioles. He earned 15 straight All-Star Games starting assignments. Upon his retirement, Brooks held almost every major fielding record for third baseman, including most games (2,870), highest fielding average (.971), most putouts (2,697), most assists (6,205), and most double plays (618).

The modest, low-keyed, likeable Robinson could hit, too. He was one of the most respected clutch hitters in the game. In 1964, he batted .317, led in RBI's with 118, and was voted the league's Most Valuable Player. He hit more than 20 home runs 6 times. In 1970, after hitting .583 in a three-game sweep against the Twins, he dominated the World Series against the Reds, hitting .429, including the winning home run in Game 1 and with his phenomenal fielding at third base.

In 23 major league seasons, Robinson collected 2,848 base hits, 268 home runs, and 1,357 RBI. Although he topped the .300 mark only twice, his career average was .267.

After retiring in 1977, Robinson became a baseball broadcaster in Baltimore. He was voted into the Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. Personable and very popular among baseball fans everywhere, Robinson's induction in 1983 drew one of the largest crowds ever. His plaque at Cooperstown, New York reads: Established modern standard of excellence for third basemen.

Contributing to this story was Don Weiskopf's illustrated article in the Athletic Journal coaching magazine, January, 1972. Photograph by The Sporting News, and sequence-series photographs by Don Weiskopf

Brooks Robinson

Sandy Koufax, Dodgers Hall of Fame Pitching Great

Sandy Koufax was one of baseball's great pitchers with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a strikeout artist with low ERAs and a .732 winning percentage. He put together one of the most dominating stretches of pitching in baseball history. Of his 165 wins, 40 were shutouts, four were no-hitters, the most any pitcher ever threw, and one was a perfect game.

Sandy Koufax

In his first year of eligibility, Koufax became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Koufax's 27-9 record in 1966 earned him the distinction of being the National League's most winning left-hander in the century. He became the first major league pitcher ever to post 300 strikeouts in three different seasons, setting an all-time strikeout record in 1965 by fanning 382 hitters.

Koufax started only five games in 1955, showing bursts of brilliance surrounded by intervals of wildness. His schooling continued for the next two seasons, when he got 10 and 13 starts and received much of his work out of the bullpen. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles before the 1958 season, and Koufax posted an 11-11 mark with a 4.40 earned run average in 26 starts and 40 appearances. In 1959, he had 23 starts, an 8-6 mark, and a 4.05 ERA in 1959. He was 8-13 with a 3.91 ERA in 1960.

In spring training of 1961, Dodgers catcher Norm Sherry advised the hard-throwing Koufax to slow his delivery, to throw changeups and curveballs, concentrate on control, and to relax. Following that advice, Sandy recorded his first record over .500, going 18-13 and leading the league in strikeouts with the eye-popping total of 269.

For the five-year period from 1962 through 1966, Koufax dominated the National League like no other pitcher before or since.

In 1962, Koufax had developed a frightening numbness in his left index finger. He could make just 26 starts. He was 14-7 with a league-leading 2.54 ERA that year, and pitched a no-hitter.

The 1963 major league season was his triumph. Koufax went 25-5, leading the National League with 25 wins, a 1.88 ERA, 11 shutouts, and 306 strikeouts. He won both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards. He tossed his second no-hitter, and won two games in the Dodgers' World Series victory.

In 1964, Sandy was 19-5 with a league-best 1.74 ERA. That year, a deteriorating arthritic condition in his left arm first became conspicuous. He continued to pitch with the help of cortisone shots and ice for two more seasons, winning Cy Young awards in 1965 and '66. He had league-best ERA's of 2.04 and 1.73, and he won 26 and 27 games. He also tossed two more no-hitters, including a perfect game.

Koufax was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1972.

Contributing to this story were Don Weiskopf's article in Athletic Journal, Pitching Styles, and the book, Players of Cooperstown, Baseball's Hall of Fame. Photograph by Los Angeles Dodgers. Sequence-series photographs by Don Weiskopf

Sandy Koufax sequence

Pete Rose, Cincinnati Reds Batting Great

Known as "Charlie Hustle" for his hard-charging style, Pete Rose became one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. He made his major league debut in 1963 and won the National League Rookie of the Year award. He was known for his all-around ability and enthusiasm.

Pete Rose

In 1965, Rose surpassed 200 hits for the first of a record 10 times. winning batting titles in 1968 and '69. He won Gold Glove awards for his outfield defense in 1969 and '70.

The 1973 season was perhaps his best. With an average of .338, Rose won his third batting title. He was named the National League's most valuable player, and collected a career-high total of 230 hits. He set an NL record with a 44-game hitting streak in 1978.

Rose was an integral part of the famed "Big Red Machine," Cincinnati teams that won back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and '76.

From 1970 to 1976, the Reds won five division titles, four NL pennants, and World Series championships in 1975 and 1976. The Reds were widely known as one of the greatest teams ever, with Hall of Famers Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez in the starting lineup.

In the year 1975, Rose earned the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year, and Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award. The following year, Rose was a major force in helping the Reds repeat as World Series champions.

On May 5, 1978, Rose became the 13th player in major league history to collect his 3,000th career hit, with a single off Montreal Expos pitcher Steve Rogers. Rose got a hit in every game he played until August 1, making a run at Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hitting streak. He eventually tied Willie Keeler's 1897 single season National League record at 44 games.

Rose was granted an unconditional release from the Phillies in late October 1983. Phillies management wanted to retain Rose for the 1984 season, but he refused to accept a more limited role. Months later, he signed a one-year contract with the Montreal Expos.

On April 13, 1984, the 21st anniversary of his first career hit, Rose doubled off the Phillies' Jerry Koosman for his 4,000th career hit, becoming the second player in the 4,000 hit club, joining Ty Cobb.

Rose was traded back to the Reds on August 15 and was immediately named player-manager, replacing Reds' manager Vern Rapp. Though he only batted .259 for the Expos, his average jumped to .365 with the Reds, as he managed them to a 19-22 record for the remainder of the season.

On September 11, 1985, Rose broke Ty Cobb's all-time hits record with his 4,192nd hit, a single off San Diego Padres pitcher Eric Show.

Because Rose broke Cobb's record, ABC's Wide World of Sports named Rose its Athlete of the Year that year. Rose accumulated a total of 4,256 hits before his final career at-bat, a strikeout against San Diego's Rich Gossage on August 17, 1986.

Rose finished his playing career with a number of Major League and National League records that have lasted for many years. Rose, always proud of his ability to hit .300 or better in 15 of his 24 playing seasons, had a lifetime .303 batting average.

Remaining with the Reds as a non-playing manager after retiring as a player, Rose led the team from August 15, 1984 until August 24, 1989. With a career record as a manager of 426-388, Rose ranks fifth in Cincinnati Reds history for managerial wins.

Contributing to this story was Wikipedia;; Encyclopaedia Britannica; and Athletic Journal coaching magazine. Photograph and sequence-series photographs by Don Weiskopf

Pete Rose

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