It’s been a curve-ball of a year. Our country has spent the last few months navigating a serious pandemic, putting millions of Americans out of jobs, staving off an economic recession, and now, as we welcome the summer, we’re confronting the deep-rooted systemic racism that has been perpetually threatening and taking the lives of Black Americans for centuries.
Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to the families who have lost their loved ones at the hands of the police or other injustice. We are proud and hopeful as we watch the Black Lives Matter movement expand to every state and we’re cheering on our youth as they peacefully protest in the streets demanding change.
Baseball would not be what it is today without the legendary Black players that left their mark on the sport and the nation forever. To show our support for the BLM movement, we’ve compiled the following list of the top 10 most legendary Black baseball players of all time.
1. Jackie RobinsonAn obvious truth. Jackie Robinson was the first Black American to play in Major League Baseball. He broke the baseball color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947, starting on first base.
Not only did Robinson herald the end of racial segregation in professional baseball, but in his 10-year baseball career, he yielded an abundance of accomplishments. He won the Rookie of the Year Award, was an All Star for six consecutive seasons, won the National League MVP Award, played in six World Series, contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 championship, and was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Outside of baseball, Robinson has been recognized by the NAACP with the Spingarn Medal, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, and honored with statues and national landmarks in his name for the great strides he made for the rights of Black lives.
2. Willie MaysAnother legendary player and obvious choice for our list - William Howard Mays Jr. The “Say Hey Kid”. He spent the majority of his 22 seasons playing for the New York/San Francisco Giants, and then for the New York Mets until his retirement.
Mays also has a long list of accomplishments. He is a two time winner of the National League MVP Award and by the end of his career, he had scored 660 home runs. He also won the Gold Glove Award twelve times, and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.
Like Robinson, Willie Mays also has many accomplishments and tributes in his name outside of baseball. He was honored with the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1975. He received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Yale University and San Francisco State University. He has had several landmarks and even a day of celebration named for him and his legacy.
3. ‘Satchel’ PaigeBaseball would not be the same without the legendary pitcher Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige. He became one of the most famous and successful players from the then segregated Negro leagues playing for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts. He was the first player who had played in the Negro leagues to pitch in the World Series in just 1948. He was also the first electee of the Negro League Committee to be elected in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
Paige went on to play for the Cleveland Indians and then the St. Louis Browns, representing them in the All-Star Game in 1952 and 1953. Some believe his fastball is unmatched to this day.
After retiring as a baseball player in 1968, Paige assumed a position as deputy sheriff in Jackson County, Missouri in hopes of running for a state assembly seat and making some necessary changes. Unfortunately, due to racial tension, he did not make it that far. Paige also has several landmarks, schools and streets named after him in honor of his legacy.
4. Hank AaronNext on our list is Hank Aaron, or “Hammerin’ Hank”. His ML debut was with the Milwaukee Braves of the National League in 1954. He then went on to play for the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League. He is one of only two players to ever hit 30 or more homeruns in a season at least 15 times.
Aaron played the majority of his MLB games in right field. His accomplishments include being an NL All-Star for twenty seasons, an AL All-Star for one season, and he’s tied with Willie Mays and Stan Musial for the most All-Star Games played. He is also won a Gold Glove Award for three seasons and then became an NL MVP Player when the Braves won the World Series in 1957.
That is not all though, Aaron also won NL Player of the Month two different times, once in 1958 and another in 1967, and holds multiple MLB records. He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. Aaron went on to become an executive and later the vice president of the Braves, which named him one of the first minorities in MLB upper-level management.
In addition to his baseball achievements, Hank Aaron was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the nation’s highest civilian honor. He also received the Lombardi Award of Excellence from the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, was named a 2010 Georgia Trustee by the Georgia Historical Society, and awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree by Princeton University.
5. Barry BondsBarry Bonds is another favorite baseball player and legendary left fielder. He started his career in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates playing with them until 1993 when he joined the San Francisco Giants. His accomplishments include earning a record seven NL MVP awards, eight Gold Glove awards for his defensive play in the outfield, a record 12 Silver Slugger awards, and 14 All-Star selections.
Bonds is a record breaking hitter. He holds nearly 20 different MLB records, including most career home runs, most home runs in a single season and most career walks.
5. Ken Griffey Jr.Legendary designated hitter, outfielder and left fielder, and another favorite on our list is Ken Griffey Jr. Also known as Junior or the Kid, Griffey’s career achievements include winning AL MVP in 1997, NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, receiving All-Star selections 13 times, winning a Gold Glove award 10 times, winning Silver Slugger 7 times and being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
From his debut in 1989 until his last game in 2010, Griffey graced the fields with his talents with the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago White Sox. He comes in 7th for most home runs in MLB history and is tied for the record of most consecutive games with a home run.
Following his career as a player, he became a special consultant for the Mariners. Griffey also has his hand in philanthropy, including his charity work for The Ken Griffey Jr. Family Foundation that supports several causes including Boys & Girls Clubs of America and children’s hospitals across the US. He also is an honorary chairman of the AOPA Foundation’s Hat in the Ring Society for aviation safety and education.
6. Bob GibsonBob Gibson, also known as “Gibby” or “Hoot”, made his debut in 1959 for the St. Louis Cardinals. A talented pitcher, Gibson went on to play 17 seasons until retiring in 1975. His career achievements include winning NL Cy Young award 2 times, NL MVP in 1968, becoming a World Series champion 2 times and an All-Star selection 9 times. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
Gibson is known for his competitive nature and always intimidating the opposing batters he was up against. The Cardinals retired his uniform number 45 in 1975, and he was inducted into the team Hall of Fame in 2014. After retiring as a player, he didn’t return to baseball until 1981 when he started coaching.
There is a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame of Gibson to honor his legacy, as well as statues of him and landmarks in his name.
7. Reggie JacksonFrom 1967 to 1987, the Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, NY Yankees, and CA Angels were blessed with the talents of Reggie Jackson. As a designated hitter, right fielder and outfielder, Jackson led his teams to first place 10 different times over his 21-year career.
Jackson’s career achievements not only include winning two Silver Slugger Awards, a Babe Ruth Award, AL MVP in 1973 and being selected for All-Start 14 times, but also becoming a 5 times World Series Champion, and 2 times World Series MVP. Some believe he is one of the greatest New York Yankees of all time.
8. Ernie BanksAnother legend who is regarded as one of the best baseball players of all time is Ernie Banks. He was a shortstop and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs starting in 1953 until 1971. And just like the other legends we’ve discussed, he has a long list of accomplishments.
Banks was an NL All-Star for 11 seasons, two time winner of NL MVP in 1958 and 1959, and won a Gold Glove award in 1980. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. After retiring, he became a coach for the Cubs, founded a charitable organization, became the first black Ford Motor Company dealer in the US and was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to sports.
9. Frank RobinsonIn his 20 year career as a professional baseball player, Frank Robinson played for five different teams, and achieved several accomplishments. He is the only player to be named MVP of both the National and American Leagues. As a right fielder, outfielder, and left fielder, he was a 14 season All-Star, 1966 World Series MVP, 1956 Rookie of the Year and won the Triple Crown in 1966.
Robinson was a record breaking MLB player, and also became the first Black manager in big league history, as the Cleveland Indians’ player-manager. After retiring as a player, he went on to have a successful managing career. He has several bronze statues to honor him for the different teams he brought to victory. Robinson also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, and received the first Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award at George Washington University.
10. Rickey HendersonLast but certainly not least is the Man of Steal himself, and the greatest leadoff hitter and baserunner, Rickey Henderson. He made his MLB debut in 1979 for the Oakland Athletics. He holds some of the major league records for career stolen bases, runs, unintentional walks and leadoff home runs. Some of his other accomplishments include becoming a 1990 AL MVP, a 10 time All-Star selection, a 12 time AL stolen bases leader, and the lead-off hitter for two World Series championships for the Oakland Athletics in 1989 and for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993.
Henderson’s 25 year long career as a legendary player put him in the top ten of several categories, including career at-bats, games, and outfield putouts and total chances. He is also considered one of the most dynamic players of his era because of his high on-base percentage, power hitting and stolen base and run totals. He played and set records for 11 different teams in his career, until he retired as a player in 2003 and started a coaching career.
In ConclusionWe are continuously inspired by the legendary stories of baseball players from all walks of life and the way that baseball has the power to bring people together. We look forward to the return of baseball and the day we can all join together again. Until then, we hope you can channel that baseball energy and spirit to lift each one another up and fight for a home run for justice.
And remember - no matter where you are from or what color your skin is, we are all playing for the same team!