Major League Baseball just announced a 60-game 2020 season will begin the last weekend in July, and most players are returning to training camps this week.
Several athletes, however, have opted out of play this year, citing personal safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross and Ian Desmond. MLB says that more than 100 pages of health and safety precautions have been accepted by the players association to keep players and personnel safe. Only one day after the 2020 season plans were revealed, executives from several MLB teams revealed positive coronavirus test results within their organizations. Under the terms between the league and its athletes, players who decide on an individual basis not to take the field this season would have to forfeit their salaries, unless they are considered high-risk for contracting the virus.
While we await the return of baseball, we’re celebrating history’s top 9 most impactful players in the game, making a lasting impression on baseball as well as beyond the playing field. Read on below and tell us who your favorite is!
- Willie Mays
Many consider Mays to be one of the greatest players in MLB history. His position in baseball history was solidified when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015, and the World Series Most Valuable Player Award in 2017.
- Roberto Clemente
Clemente was not just an outstanding outfielder and the greatest contact hitter of the 1960s, he is also known to be Major League Baseball’s greatest humanitarian. He was famous for hosting free baseball clinics for underprivileged youth. On a trip to deliver aid and relief supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake in late December 1972, Clemente’s plane crashed and, at just 38 years old, he was included among the casualties. Originally known as the Commissioner’s Award, The Roberto Clemente Award is voted on by members of the media and fans of baseball, and granted to the MLB player who embodies “the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s team contribution.” The MLB officially renamed it after Clemente following his death.
- Lou Gehrig
Gehrig is known as the greatest NY Yankees first baseman of all time. He is the first MLB player to have his uniform number retired by a team, and was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. He was forced to retire from baseball at age 36, after a diagnosis of ALS, also known in America as the “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” His farewell from baseball is marked by his famous 1939 “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech. He died in 1941, just two years after his ALS diagnosis.
- Rube Foster
Andrew “Rube” Foster was an athlete, manager and executive who is known as the “father of Black baseball” because he created the Negro National League, an association of black teams modeled after Major League Baseball. The NNL was the first long-standing league for Black baseball players and helped to elevate the game as well as player salaries, operating from 1920-1931. Rube was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
- Babe Ruth
No baseball list of legendary players is complete without mention of the Sultan of Swat. Highlights of his 22 season career in MLB include his famously called shot at the 1932 World Series. He was baseball’s first great slugger and held the record for the most homeruns (714) that was broken by Hank Aaron in 1974. Babe Ruth’s larger-than-life legacy in the sport is almost mythical, and his impact on the game helped to establish the New York Yankees as an iconic brand. In 1936 Ruth was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its first five inaugural members.
- Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB, changing sports forever on April 15, 1947. His first season with the Brooklyn Dodger, he was awarded Rookie of the Year. Throughout his celebrated Hall of Fame career he maintained his political and social activism for racial equality. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that Jackie made his success possible noting that, “Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.” Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
- Lefty O’Doul
Francis Joseph “Lefty” O’Doul is a San Francisco baseball legend who played a pivotal role in establishing professional baseball in Japan. Lefty was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1918, and later brought Yankees teammate, Babe Ruth, to the 1934 postseason tour in Japan. His 11 year major league career brought him to the All-Star team and top three MVP voting two times. Additionally, O’Doul had a long-standing career as a Pacific Coast League manager with the San Francisco Seals, tutoring hitters such as Joe DiMaggio. He was inducted to the San Francisco Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, and was the first American player elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, in 2002.
- Hideo Nomo
Nomo is the first Japanese major league player to permanently relocate to MLB in the United States, when he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as a pitcher in 1995. That same year, he was named a Major League Baseball All-Star and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He’s best known for his distinctive “tornado” pitch windup, and in 1997 became the fastest pitcher in league history to reach 500 career strikeouts. Because of his star status, Hideo is credited with opening the door for other Japanese players in MLB, such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Yu Darvish. He was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
- Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron was nicknamed “The Hammer,” and for good reason. In 1974 he broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record of 714 career home runs. Aaron is still baseball’s all-time leader in RBI and total bases. After retiring as an athlete, Hank became the first Black MLB executive, with the Atlanta Braves, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.
There are so many amazing MLB athletes who have made a lasting impact on the game beyond this list. Did we mention your favorites here? Tell us who you’d make your top 9 MLB players in history in the comments below!
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