I was sitting on a beach in Florida earlier this summer reading a story written by former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Brosnan in the book Sports Illustrated: Great Baseball Writing. Brosnans’s story, published in June 1960, was about the adjustment he had to make to a mid-season managerial change.
Immediately I looked up from the page and thought to myself, “That’s ridiculous. How do you pitch against that part of the lineup?”
It’s been a little over two months since then and, despite the fact that Brosnan got each of the three to hit into outs first time through, I still don’t have a good answer to that question.
But that got me thinking. Surely in baseball’s long history there must’ve been a part of a lineup that could rival the aforementioned Giants trio, right? From there the idea for this post was born.
Why not rank the top hitting combinations of all time?
So I will.
Whenever ranking players, or teams, or anything really, you have to have guidelines or stipulations in order for groups to qualify for your ranking. The stipulation for this ranking being that the trio had to be together for at least three seasons.
Without further ado, here is my list.
- Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris – New York Yankees
From 1960-1963 the New York lineup featured this trio of Yankee legends. Berra, one of the best catchers of all-time and the source of any and all Yogi-isms, won 10 championships during his time behind the plate for the Yankees, including back-to-back titles in 1961, ’62.
Mantle was in the middle of his illustrious career during this four-year stretch, a career that included 536 home runs and over 1,500 runs batted in. Maris, who is most remembered for his 1961 season in which he broke Babe Ruth’s then single-season home run record by blasting 61 balls over the fence, undoubtedly had the best four-year stretch of his career during the early 60’s.
During that time, Mantle and Maris combined for 295 home runs and over 750 RBI’s. Berra supplied 55 long balls and drove in 186 runs over the course of those four years. And not only did Mantle hit home runs and play at a gold-glove caliber in the outfield grass, he also hit for a high average, posting a .304 avg.
In their time together, the trio combined for over 1,300 hits, 350 home runs, and nearly 1,000 RBI’s. They also made it to the World Series in all four years, winning in ’61, ’62. Maris won the American League MVP during consecutive seasons in 1960 and 1961, and Mantle kept the award in Yankee Stadium when he won the award the following year.
These three players are certainly some of the most notable Yankees of all-time, so it makes sense that they make this list.
- Mays, McCovey, Cepeda – San Francisco Giants
Ranking this trio fourth was hard. Think, you have who is probably the greatest center fielder to ever play the game in Mays, possibly the best right fielder to put on a Giants uniform in McCovey, and an under-rated first baseman in Cepeda who was selected to five All-Star teams during his time with San Francisco.
But fourth seemed right, given this trio’s stats compared to the others I have picked. The stats are amazing, though, nonetheless.
These three Giants combined for over 3,000 hits in their seven seasons as teammates from 1959-1965. They also amassed 652 home runs and 1894 runs batted in.
Of those totals, 1,270 hits, 289 home runs, and 797 RBI’s belong to Mays. Mays’ 660 career home runs ranks 5th all time.
Together Mays, McCovey and Cepeda played in 14 All-Star games, and made it to the 1962 World Series, eventually losing to the New York Yankees in seven games.
The only mark against Mays’ unbelievable career was his shortcomings in the post season. He batted just .247 with one home run in 25 career postseason games.
- Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan – Cincinnati Reds
This summer, the MLB All-Star game was hosted at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Upon the many great moments of All-Star weekend was the unveiling of the Franchise Four – the best four players ever for each of the 30 MLB clubs.
Cincinnati, the host team, was saved for last. The Reds best four players ever, as voted by the fans, are Pete Rose, Barry Larkin, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan. Even better yet, Bench was voted as one of the four “Greatest Living Players.”
So it’s no mistake that three out of the four wound up on this list.
No matter your stance on Rose’s betting and Hall of Fame status, you cannot deny he is one of the greatest hitters ever. His 4,256 hits are still the most all time, and no one will catch him any time soon.
Bench is in the discussion for greatest catcher of all time. And why shouldn’t he be? His 191 doubles and 196 home runs just during the seven-year stretch these three Reds greats were teammates together is well over-par for a catcher, not to mention his .266 batting average and .356 on-base percentage during the same time frame.
Morgan, also one of the all-time greats at his position at second base, eclipsed 1,000 hits, and had an outstanding .400 OBP from 1972-1978.
Together, Rose, Bench and Morgan were the three most important cogs in what was known as the Big Red Machine.
As a tandem, they combined for 3443 hits, 675 doubles and 1799 RBIs during their time together. They also won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and ’76, played in 20 Mid-Summer Classics and each won an MVP – Morgan won two.
- Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges – Brooklyn Dodgers
Granted, other than Robinson, the casual baseball fan may not be aware of the other aforementioned Dodgers, however, that should not diminish their impact on the Dodgers, and all of baseball at the time.
Not only did this group usher in a new age of baseball starting in 1947, helping Robinson become the first African American to put on a big league uniform, but they also were the most consistent team at giving the cross-town rival Yankees a run for their money.
In fact it was in 1955, after four previous tries, this nucleus finally did beat the Yankees in the Fall Classic, only to fall to Yankees the following year. It was the first and only World Series crown Brooklyn ever had.
Despite being able to only capture one championship, these Dodgers sure could do it all.
As a group they totaled 5,915 hits, 1,005 doubles, and drove in 3,248 runs. Those statistics on top of their combined 790 home runs and .512 on-base percentage.
With those stats it’s no wonder these four Dodger legends were voted to 28 All-Star games.
- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri – New York Yankees
The Big Red Machine was No. 3, but Murderers’ is No. 1.
For nine seasons what was probably the most feared lineup from top to bottom, also had the best 1-2-3 punch of all time, too.
With possibly the best power hitter of all time in Ruth leading the way, the Yankees made four trips to the World Series, winning three titles between the years of 1926-1934, including back-to-back championships in ’28 and ’29.
Ruth hit over half (399) of his 714 career home runs, and drove in over half (1,258) of his 2214 lifetime RBIs during that time frame. Those numbers all coming in the second half of his career.
That percentage is still .083 points lower than Ruth’s all-time leading .690 career slugging percentage.
Effectively ending the Dead Ball Era, Ruth hit 40 or more home runs in 7 of the 9 years, while Gehrig accomplished the feat four times.
Lazzeri, who was more of a contact hitter than a power hitter, collected 130 or more hits in 7 of the 9 seasons, including 162 his rookie season and a career-high 176 base knocks the following year.