For more than 150 years, Major League Baseball (MLB) has entertained the American public, and the most gifted players have etched their names in sporting history. Read on for a brief look at the lives and sporting achievements of a handful of the most gifted and storied players baseball has ever seen.
Born Henry Louis Gehrig in Manhattan in 1903, Gehrig earned a reputation as “The Iron Horse” due to his durability and hitting prowess. The Triple Crown winner was an All-Star seven consecutive times. He was also named the American League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) twice.
With a slugging average of .632, an on base average of .447, and a batting average of .340, Gehrig hit 493 home runs and had 1,995 runs batted in (RBI) throughout his career.
A Columbia University alumnus, Gehrig debuted for the New York Yankees in 1923 and played his final game in 1939. He set several major-league records in his career, including the most career grand slams and the most consecutive games played, a record that stood unbroken for 56 years.
Gehrig’s career was cut short by a neuromuscular disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Nicknamed “The Georgia Peach,” Cobb is widely considered one of the greatest offensive players in the history of baseball. In his time, he was recognized as one of the sport’s fiercest competitors, and that reputation has endured.
By the age of 14, Cobb was playing alongside adults for his local team in Georgia. He earned numerous awards and accolades throughout his MLB career, including being named the American League’s MVP in 1911. He still has the highest batting average of any player ever, at .366. Cobb set dozens of other records and many of them endured for nearly five decades; his career record for stealing home is still in place. In 1936, he became one of the first players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with a record 98.2% of the votes.
Cobb spent 22 seasons playing for the Detroit Tigers as an outfielder and managed the team from 1921 to 1926.
“Joltin’” Joe DiMaggio was born in Martinez, California, in 1914. He played his entire career for the New York Yankees, debuting in 1936 and making his last appearance in 1951.
With a .325 batting average, DiMaggio hit 361 home runs during his career. He was named an All-Star in all of his 13 seasons and was recognized as MVP three times.
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, DiMaggio set several records throughout his career, including a record-breaking 56-game hitting streak in 1941, when he amassed 90 hits and a .408 batting average with 55 RBIs and 15 home runs. This record still stands today; some commentators and sabermetricians have referred to it as “unbreakable.” The scientist and popular author Stephen Jay Gould called it “the most extraordinary thing that ever happened in American sports.”
Born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934, Aaron showed an early propensity for sports, playing both football and baseball. After hearing a speech by Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the MLB, he chose to focus on baseball.
In 1952, Aaron was signed by the Boston Braves, which later became the Milwaukee and then Atlanta Braves. A standout player from the start, he experienced harassment, segregation, and other hardships during his MLB career, but continued to develop as an athlete.
In 1957, Aaron was voted MVP for the National League. That same year, he led the Braves to victory in the World Series. Later known as “Hammerin’ Hank,” Aaron still holds the record for most career RBIs, with 2,297. In addition, he was selected for the MLB All-Star Game a record 25 times. Such is Aaron’s reputation that the league created an award in his honor in 1999. The Hank Aaron Award honors the National and American League’s best hitters.
Nicknamed the “Say Hey Kid,” Mays was born in Westfield, Alabama, in 1931. He debuted in 1951 for the New York Giants, remained with the team after its move to San Francisco, and finished his career with the New York Mets.
Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, Willie Mays claimed numerous coveted awards throughout his career, including National League Rookie of the Year in 1951 and the league’s MVP in 1954 and 1965. Mays also received the Gold Glove Award 12 times and was named to the All-Star Game 24 times. An exceptionally well-rounded player, he had a career .302 batting average with 660 home runs and 1,903 RBIs.
Mays is known for his remarkable over-the-shoulder catch of a deep fly ball by the Cleveland Indians’ Vic Mertz late in the first game of the 1954 World Series. The play became so legendary that it is now known simply as “The Catch.”
Born February 6, 1895, Babe Ruth is a baseball icon who established numerous records as a slugging outfielder and pitcher. Ruth was one of five players, along with Ty Cobb, who were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when it was first created in 1936.
Ruth’s many records include most home runs in a season — a record he broke multiple times in consecutive seasons, thrilling fans. In total, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in his career, a total that was unbeaten until 1974. His career slugging percentage of .690 still stands as the highest of all time. Before Ruth, home runs were unusual, and games often ended with low scores. His emergence on the scene ended this so-called “dead-ball era” and transformed the game.
Powerful and physically imposing, Ruth was baseball’s first superstar. The press and fans called him “the Great Bambino” and “the Sultan of Swat.” After selling Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 at the end of 1919, the Boston Red Sox were plagued by the “Curse of Bambino,” probably the most famous “curse” in sports history. Though they had been highly successful, once they sold Ruth, the Sox failed to win the World Series until 2004.