Franchise Four: MLB’s Greatest Living Players


Major League Baseball has decided to conduct a ‘Franchise four’ where fans vote on the greatest players to play for their respective franchises. On top of that, MLB has broadened the exercise to have fans select the four greatest living players, regardless of team. The debate of this topic could go on for days, weeks, even years without true resolution. Fortunately, MLB conducted a vote and the choice for the greatest living players is down to just eight. The choices for the greatest living players are down to: Barry Bonds, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rickey Henderson and Sandy Koufax. While all are certainly legends in their own right, only four can make the Mount Rushmore of Major League Baseball.

Hank Aaron

Apr 10, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Former Atlanta Braves outfielder Hank Aaron is honored prior to the game against the New York Mets at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Hank Aaron is the first selection to the Franchise Four of greatest living players. This was a pretty easy choice as Aaron was the home run king before being dethroned by Barry Bonds, which is still a controversial topic to this date.

Hammerin’ Hank played 23 years in Major League Baseball with 21 of those coming with the Atlanta Braves. In his time with the Braves, Aaron hit 733 of his 755 career home runs. To go along with his 755 round-trippers, Aaron drove in 2,297 runs and collected 6,856 bases—which are the most in Major League history. Of all players with a minimum of 4,000 plate appearances, Aaron ranks third in games (3,298) and hits (3,771), fourth in runs (2,174) and eighth in doubles (624).

Aaron was much more than a hitter though. In his 23-year career, Aaron finished 142.6 wins above replacement—which is the fifth highest among position players. While Aaron wasn’t an elite defender by any stretch, he was serviceable and won three consecutive Gold Gloves from 1958-1960.

The laundry list of awards and accolades for Aaron doesn’t stop with Gold Gloves. In his career Aaron finished with the 1957 National League MVP award, seven top-five MVP finishes, 13 top-10 MVP finishes, two batting titles (1956 and 1959), 1970 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award and 21 consecutive All-Star appearances.

Simply put, you cannot deny the greatness of Hank Aaron. On that elite list of eight players eligible for the Franchise Four, I didn’t have to think twice about Aaron. He is one of the four greatest living players, which is why he earned a Hall of Fame vote on 97.8-percent of ballots in 1982.

Tom Seaver

Jul 16, 2013; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets former player Tom Seaver salutes the crowd before the 2013 All Star Game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Seaver is the second and only pitching selection to the Franchise Four. Seaver played 20 Major League season for New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox.

In his Major League career, Seaver won 311 games with 205 losses. That makes Seaver one of 17 pitchers in baseball history with at least 300 wins. Of those pitchers, Seaver has the eighth best winning percentage. Seaver isn’t just in elite territory when it comes to wins. He is one of ten pitchers in history with at least 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts. That shows that he overpowered hitters for a long period of time and helped his team win games with his performance on the mound. In that elite group, Seaver has the second-best ERA and third-best FIP.

Tom Seaver was one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball history—finishing his career 106.3 Wins Above Replacement—which ranks fifth all-time among pitchers. Seaver’s elite status allowed him to collected the 1967 Rookie of the Year award, three Cy Young awards, nine top-five Cy Young finishes and 11 top-10 Cy Young finishes. Year in and year out, Seaver was dominant. He even finished in the top-10 in MVP voting six times, which includes a second place finish in 1969.

Tom Seaver is a legend, and one of the greatest to ever step on the mound. This was another easy selection to the Franchise Four. Seaver dominated hitters each and every year in the major leagues. His career 2.86 ERA is fifth best among pitchers with at least 4,000 innings. Longevity and domination are two terms synonymous with Tom Seaver and that is why he is on the Franchise Four for Greatest Living Players.

Willie Mays

April 18, 2015 San Francisco, USA; (editors note: caption correction) San Francisco Giants former player Willie Mays with San Francisco Giants chief executive officer Larry Baer during the 2014 World Series championship ring ceremony before the baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ben Margot-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

The ‘Say Hey Kid’ is the third selection to the Franchise Four. Willie Mays is in the argument for the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of spikes. Mays played 22 seasons in the Major Leagues with 21 of those seasons coming in San Francisco.

As previously stated, Mays is in the discussion for greatest MLB of all-time. For his career, Mays hit 660 home runs, which will soon be fifth all-time. Mays was more than a home run hitter, though. In his 22 seasons, he is seventh in runs and tenth all-time in RBI and hits. In terms of OPS, Mays is 25th in among hitters with at least 2,500 plate appearances.
Many link Willie Mays with the over-the-shoulder catch and rightfully so. Not only should that play stand-out as being great, but Mays was spectacular on defense. Of all outfielders to have 2,500 plate appearances, Mays is third all-time in defensive wins above replacement with 18.1. The only players ahead of Mays are Paul Blair and Andruw Jones.

In overall value, Mays 156.2 Wins above Replacement ranks third all-time—trailing only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. As stated above, Mays was an elite offensive player and ranks fifth all-time in home runs while being one of the best defensive outfielders we have ever watched play.

In his illustrious career, Mays collected the 1951 Rookie of the Year award, two N.L MVP awards, 11 Gold Gloves, nine top-five MVP finishes, 12 top-10 MVP finishes and 20 All-Star appearances. These accolades helped Mays earn a vote on 94.7-percent of Hall of Fame ballots in 1979, earning Mays a first ballot selection to Cooperstown.

Barry Bonds

Oct 31, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants former player Barry Bonds waves to the crowd during the World Series victory parade on Market Street. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I have saved the most controversial player for last—Barry Bonds. Now before you read into this in an angry rage, please know that I do not care about the performance enhancing argument. Barry Bonds prior to San Francisco was on his way to Cooperstown. As a five-tool player from Arizona State, Bonds was a star in Pittsburgh.

Ultimately, Bonds, if selected, will go into Cooperstown as a member of the San Francisco Giants. Barry Bonds is the home run king whether the public likes it or not. Bonds hit 762 home runs during his 22-year career. Bonds has the single-season home run record with 73 in 2001. In all-time offensive ranks, Bonds is first in walks and intentional walks, third in runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS, seventh in doubles and 16th in hits.

Barry Bonds was a very unique player in his 22 seasons as a major league baseball player. As stated above, he hit the most home runs in the history of baseball, but he also is one of four players to ever have 40 home runs and stolen bases in the same season. During his career, Bonds was 6.1 defensive wins above replacement, which is miniscule when looking at his full WAR—but still quite good.

In MLB history, Bonds ranks second all-time in Wins above Replacement with 162.4. That trails only Babe Ruth, who was 163 Wins above Replacement. Think about that for a second. We praise Ruth, who played before the game fully evolved, but hate Bonds for playing in multiple eras when the game was at its peak.

Barry Bonds was the most dominant player I ever watched. Bonds’ awards could fill a house of their own. He collected seven N.L. MVP awards, eight Gold Gloves and 12 Silver Sluggers. On top of that, Bonds finished in the top-five of MVP voting 12 times, which included two second-place finishes on top of his seven wins. In his career, Bonds was selected to 14 All-Star games.

The Hall of Fame status for Bonds remains in the air because of his link to performance enhancing drugs. Personally, I would vote for Bonds because the era was full of steroids and other enhancers. Appreciate how great Bonds was before San Francisco, too. Most tend to look at just what he did with the Giants. Barry Bonds is one of the four greatest living players, and he, like his Godfather Willie Mays, is one of the best to ever to step foot on the diamond.

Next: Philadelphia Phillies: Franchise Four

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