National League: All Time Greatest Team

National League: 1876-Present

A Brief History

The National League was formed in 1876 by William Hulbert. Hulbert felt that the established National Association of Professional Base Ball Players had become corrupt, dominated by gamblers and drunks. Assisted by a former star player, and founder of the sporting goods business that still bears his name, Albert Spalding, he sanctioned franchises in Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Hartford. February 2nd, 1876 was the date the eight teams agreed to organize and play a 70-game schedule, with each team facing all others 10 times. It was agreed that the team winning the most games would be declared the champion. The reward for the championship would be a pennant, that could not cost more than $100.

The league was not an immediate success and anything but stable. Franchises would either fold or be expelled from the league regularly. Buffalo, Milwaukee, Providence, Washington, Indianapolis, Syracuse, Troy, Worcester, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Kansas City would all have franchises over the course of 25 years. Worse than that the franchises in New York and Philadelphia (the nation’s two largest cities) left the league in the early years. It has retroactively been called a Major League, but in reality it did not become the undisputed best league in the land until Adrian “Cap” Anson assumed control of the Chicago White Stockings. Anson scoured the country seeking out the best baseball talent, and when he found them he would sign them for money not previously offered. His White Stockings completely took over the league in the early 1880s and the other teams were forced to follow suit to stay competitive. Some did, but many couldn’t, thus exasperating the forces towards instability. 

When the American Association came into being in 1881, this further escalated the salary demands of the players and put more pressure on the weak franchises. The Association also put teams in both New York and Philadelphia, forcing the National League back into those markets. It was a war to the death between the two leagues, and when the players organized, and then formed their own league (The Players League) in 1890 the market was saturated. 

The Players League was the first to fail. The National then went hardball with the American Association,  pilfering their stronger clubs. First the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (now the Pirates), then the Cincinnati Reds, followed by the Brooklyn Grays (now the Dodgers), then finally, after the collapse of the Association in 1892, the Baltimore Orioles, Louisville Colonels, St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals), and the Washington Senators. This made the National League the only Major League, fielding 12 clubs.

The league stood alone for the next nine seasons. The financial pressures and competitive imbalance caused another crisis in 1899. The league decided to expel three of their weaker franchises (Baltimore, Washington, and Cleveland) and combine two others, Pittsburgh and Louisville. This stabilized the situation, but also left an opening for Ban Johnson to create the American League in 1901. The war between the National League and the American League only lasted two years, and was a complete victory for Ban Johnson and the American League. 

Ultimately the new peace was good for both leagues, leading to the Nationals having the same eight franchises representing the same eight cities (New York, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago) for the next 53 years. Competitive balance was also met, with no franchise winning more than 14 (Giants) or less than two pennants (Braves and Phillies).

Changes came in the 1950s. The Braves surrendered Boston to the Red Sox in 1953 and moved to Milwaukee, then to Atlanta in 1966. Walter O’Malley then abandoned Brooklyn for the west coast in 1958 and took the New York Giants with them (Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively). Rumors of a third Major League forming in the late 1950s led to the League expanding to 10 teams in 1962, adding the New York Mets and Houston Colt 45s (now the Astros). Another expansion in 1969 put teams in San Diego and Montreal, which led to the League creating two 6-team divisions. 

1993 saw two more teams added, the Florida Marlins (changed name to Miami Marlins in 2012), and the Colorado Rockies, whose home is in Denver. With 14 teams the League added a third division in 1995. This is the structure in use today. The Arizona Diamondbacks joined in 1998, at the same time the American League Milwaukee Brewers switched from the American to the National League. The Montreal Expos went bankrupt in the early 2000s and moved to the Nation’s Capital in 2005, where they are now the Washington Nationals. 

With the advent of interleague play in 1997 the two leagues were forced to make one more change to balance the schedule. Each league wanted to go to three five team divisions, but the National League had 16 clubs while the American had only 14. Major League Baseball coerced the Houston Astros to change leagues as part of their approval of the sale of the club in 2011. They moved to the American League West in 2013.

National League: All-Time Greatest Team

Catcher

We start with the assumption that Johnny Bench (NL 1967-1983) is the choice and we’ll judge all others off of him.

Let’s start with the one active candidate, Gerald “Buster” Posey (NL 2009-Present). Posey already has more World Series Rings than Bench, he’s also won an MVP Award (Bench has two), and like Bench, was the best player on his championship teams. These are real accomplishments for “Buster”. He’s only 32, so he has a few years left, but catchers don’t usually age well and there’s already talk of moving him to first base. He’s definitely not there yet and would have to show unusual longevity to challenge Bench.

Roy Campanella (1948-1957) was Johnny Bench before Johnny Bench, he drove in tons of runs in his best years with exceptional power. His defense was also excellent, Bill James grades him an “A”. He didn’t catch a game in the Major Leagues until age 26 due to the color of his skin, and was through at 35 due to a horrific car accident. When healthy he was a 3-time MVP, but he sprinkled mediocre years along with his great ones, and doesn’t have enough good ones to supplant Bench.

Gary Carter (NL 1974-1992) had many good years, and caught forever. He was behind the plate for 2,056 games which is 4th all time and significantly more than Bench at 1,742. Carter was a very good defensive catcher (James also gave him an “A”) and won three Gold Gloves. “The Kid” was also very good at the plate, but not quite the level of Mr. Bench. Bench’s best years were also better, winning two well deserved MVP Awards. Carter’s best finish in MVP balloting was 2nd in 1980 and three other times in the top six. It’s not a mismatch, but Bench was better.

Mike Piazza (1992-2006) (AL 2007) is the only candidate against Bench who was a more productive hitter than John. In fact he was the best Major League hitter who’s primary position was catcher (the Negro League’s Josh Gibson was better). He just wasn’t a very good catcher. Catcher has always been a defense-first position, so how much defense are you willing to give up to get that superior bat in the line-up? Not enough to put a “C+” backstop in to replace a 10-time Gold Glove receiver.

The last to be considered is the toughest competition. Charles “Gabby” Hartnett (NL 1922-1941) might have been better than Bench behind the plate (James rates him  an “A+”) and was also a very good run producer. “Gabby” played in the high run 1920s and 1930s, so his numbers need to be discounted quite a bit, but his triple crown numbers were, 236 HRs, 1,179 RBI, and a .297 BA. Bench’s were 389 HRs, 1,376 RBI and .267 BA. In the context of their time, Bench’s were better. It’s really not a tough or brave decision to say Johnny Bench (NL 1967-1983) was the best catcher in National League history, mainly because he was.

First Base

Adrian “Cap’ Anson (NL 1876-1897) (NAOPBP 1871-1875) was the best player  of the 19th century. We freely acknowledge that baseball in that era was not what it would become in the 20th century. Still he was the best. If he was an American Leaguer he wouldn’t even be considered, but he’s not. He was in the National League which was the stronger league during his playing days. His competition in the Senior Circuit are Willie McCovey (NL 1959-1980), Pete Rose (NL 1963-1986), Jeff Bagwell (NL 1991-2005), and Albert Pujols (NL 2001-2011) (AL 2012-Present).

Willie McCovey was very good, but wasn’t even the best player on his team. That’s a little unfair because he was a teammate of Willie Mays. We find no rating method definitive, but we do find Wins Above Average (WAR) and Win Shares (WS) as the two most reliable. McCovey is a split decision with both Anson and Bagwell. His National League WAR of 64.5 is behind both Anson (85.6) and Bagwell (79.9) but his Win Shares is superior to both, 408 to Anson’s 381 to Bagwell’s 287. We give Anson no credit for his time in the National Association of Professional Baseball Players from 1871-1875, but maybe we should. After all, the National League was formed with the most stable franchises from that league. By the metrics we use the three rate: 1. Jeff Bagwell 2. Cap Anson 3. Willie McCovey, but it’s very close. Fortunately we have someone in the 21st century that is also in the mix.

Albert Pujols (NL 2001-2011) (AL 2012-Present) only spent his first 11 seasons in the National League, but in that time his WAR exceeded all three and he won three Most Valuable Player Awards. His Win Shares of 373 is ahead of Bagwell, but trails both Anson and McCovey. The metrics we use puts Pujols ahead of all three. Again it’s close, but Pujols was the best player in the National League between 2003 and 2008. Bagwell was that for a moment in the mid 1990s. Nobody ever considered McCovey as the best. We’ve already stated that Anson was the best player of the 19th century. so it comes down to Pujols and “The Old Captain”. The era matters here. The game Anson dominated was far inferior to the one Albert Pujols (NL 2001-2011) did. We’ll deal with Pete Rose more closely when we discuss second and third base. He did play more games at first base than any other position. He just didn’t put enough runs on the board to be considered here. 

Second Base

Pete Rose’s (NL 1963-1986) competition at second base are Rogers Hornsby (NL 1915-1933) and longtime teammate on “The Big Red Machine”, Joe Morgan (1963-1983) (AL 1984). A comparison of “Charlie Hustle” and “Little Joe” is easy to make. Morgan’s overall WAR is 100.5 while Rose’s is 79.7, but Rose leads Morgan in career Win Shares 547-512. A split decision. The system we use puts Morgan way ahead, 24,716 to 16,687. Do we have a subjective reason to think those numbers are wrong? No, we don’t. Morgan was the best player in baseball in the mid 1970s, while Rose was never considered the best player in baseball. Since Rose wasn’t as good as his teammate Morgan, he can’t be the top second baseman.

Other top flight second baseman of recent years like Ryne Sandberg (NL 1981-1997) and Craig Biggio (1988-2007) also don’t match up well to Morgan. That leaves Hornsby.

Rogers Hornsby (NL 1915-1933) was the best offensive player in the National League in the 1920s. He also played the key defensive position of second base. That’s a tough combination to be. Morgan was a devastating offensive weapon himself, but not as devastating as “The Rajah”. The problem here for Hornsby is that while he was a second baseman, he was not a good one. Bill James rates him a “C”, but he also rates Morgan a “C”! Hornsby’s ahead in WAR (127.1-100.5) while Morgan is ahead in Win Shares (512-502). As mentioned earlier in this article, our system gives Morgan an astronomical 24,716 points, but Hornsby an even better 28,897. Both players were on several Championship teams. Three National League Championships and one World Series Title for Rogers and four National League Championships and two World Series Titles for Joe. Both had many Hall of Fame teammates while active, Morgan’s were better (Bench, Rose, Schmidt and Carlton). Subjectively we would like to choose Morgan, but the evidence gives Rogers Hornsby (NL 1915-1933) a small but distinct edge. 

Let’s not let this section end without talking about Jackie Robinson (NL 1947-1956). Jackie Robinson was not allowed to play Major League Baseball until after his 28th birthday. From that point on until he retired at age 37 he had a WAR 61.7, 257 Win Shares and 6,425 points in our system. Just for comparison, Rogers Hornsby accrued a WAR of 62 after turning 28, with 234 Win Shares, and with 5,997 points in our system. Robinson was more productive after age 28 than the player we have rated first at this position in the National League. The limitations to this analysis can best be shown by comparing Robinson to the other contender for best National League second baseman. Joe Morgan’s numbers after turning 28 are 68.7 WAR, 324 Win Shares and 11,221 points in our system, much better than Jackie’s. The point we’re trying to make is that Jackie Robinson was more than a civil rights hero. He was a great baseball player.  

Third Base

There really are only two in competition here. Larry “Chipper” Jones (NL 1993-2012) is an all time great, but he played his entire career with the Braves, and he wasn’t even our choice there, Eddie Mathews (NL 1952-1967)(AL 1967-1968) was. Since Chipper spent his entire career in Atlanta, that seems to eliminate him. So the two are Eddie Matthews and Mike Schmidt (NL 1972-1989). Schmidt was a monster at the plate and a 10 time Gold Glove at third. Schmidt and Mathews are #1 and #2 in WAR, Win Shares, and the metrics we use at third, but Schmidt is #1 in all three. Schmidt also won three MVP Awards to Mathews zero. So Schmidt seems to be the answer. The wild card in the ratings is what do we do with Pete Rose (NL 1963-1986)? Rose was a major star for two decades, but what position do we evaluate him at. In his career he played 939 games at first base, 673 in left field, 634 at third base, 628 at second and 589 in right. He is not even in the conversation in left field (Musial and Bonds), first base (Pujols) or right field (Aaron). That leaves second base and third base. He was not better than Mike Schmidt (NL 1972-1989). 

Shortstop

The easiest choice in the article; John “Honus” Wagner (1897-1917) 

Left Field

There are only two candidates for left, Stan Musial (NL 1941-1944, 1946-1963) and Barry Bonds (NL 1986-2007). The metrics we use puts Musial slightly ahead (39,368-33,768), while Bonds leads in both WAR (162.8-128.3) and Win Shares (705-604). All these numbers are huge, indicating that we’re dealing with two of the all time greats. Musial was the best player in the National League every season between 1943 and 1950 except the one year he spent in the service during World War II (1945). He won three National League MVPs and four other times finished second in the voting. 14 times he finished in the top ten. Overall he is second all time in MVP Award shares with 6.96. The problem with his comparison to Bonds is that Barry is first in MVP Award Shares with 9.30 and won a record seven MVPs with two seconds and 17 top tens. What about defense? Bonds won 8 Gold Gloves in left field, but Bill James grades him only a “C”. There were no Gold Gloves awarded for most of Musial’s career, but James rates him a “B” on defense. As great as Musial was, Bonds seems to grade out better, except in our system that puts Musial ahead.

The main difference between our rating system and WAR/Win Shares is we give credit for the success of the teams they played for. Musial was the best player on a team that won four National League Pennants and Three World Championships. The teams Bonds was on never won a World Series, won only one league championship, and six division titles. Is that fair to Bonds? Yes and No. Think about all the players in the discussion as the greatest of all time. Ruth, Wagner, Mantle, Mays, Cobb, Johnson, Williams, Rodriguez, Gehrig, Aaron, Young, Musial, Bonds. Only Williams, Cobb and Bonds never won a World Series Title, and it is always held against them in their evaluations. As distasteful as this choice is, we’re still going with Barry Bonds (NL 1986-2007). The one advantage Musial has (championships) is offset by the fact that three of those championships (1942, 1943,1944) were accomplished during the war years when many of the best players were in the service. Only the 1946 championship was won against first rate competition. Boy it’s hard keeping “Stan the Man” off this team.

Center Field

Another easy choice; Willie Mays (NL 1951-1952, 1954-1973).

Right Field

Frank Robinson (NL 1956-1965, 1972) was great, but he only spent half his career in the National League. Roberto Clemente (NL 1955-1972) is a legend, but he was a direct contemporary of Hank Aaron (NL 1954-1976) who was clearly better. That leaves the only competition for Aaron in right field as Mel Ott (NL 1926-1947). Ott was a monster, the best player in the National League during the 1930s with 511 career home runs, a .304 batting average and 1,860 RBIs. Those numbers are very impressive, but Aaron’s career triple crown numbers are; 755 home runs, .305 batting average and 2,297 RBIs. No ratings system puts Ott ahead of Hank Aaron (NL 1954-1976) and neither will we. Aaron was simply better. 

Pitchers

Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander (NL 1911-1930) is #1. While the “Great Alex” pitched a long time ago (the reason so many today discount his greatness) his record is just too good to ignore. No National League pitcher has won more games than Alexander, Christy Mathewson (1900-1916) ties him with 373, his dominance is unsurpassed. He won four pitching triple crowns (Wins, ERA, Strikeouts), more than any other pitcher in history. His WAR and his Win Shares are more than any other National League hurler. Unless you give him a huge penalty because of when he played he is undoubtedly the best.

 #2 is much tougher. We’ll go with Warren Spahn (1942, 1946-1965). Spahn’s peak value was not even close to that of  Sandy Koufax (NL 1955-1966), Bob Gibson (1959-1975), Steve Carlton (NL 1965-1986) (AL 1986-1988), Tom Seaver (NL 1967-1983) (AL 1984-1986), or even Clayton Kershaw (NL 2008-Present), but he was consistently excellent for 17 years, winning at least 20 games 13 times. That’s more 20 win seasons than the  #3 (Tom Seaver), #4 (Greg Maddux), and who would be #5 (Bob Gibson) combined (13-12). He didn’t do this long ago, but against the likes of Musial, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and Rose. As Bill James points out in his Historical Baseball Abstract, because of World War II he didn’t win his first game until he was 25 years old. He makes the #2 spot with longevity and consistent greatness of peak performance.

The choice gets even trickier at #3. Tom Seaver (NL 1967-1983) (AL 1984-1986) and Steve Carlton (NL 1965-1986) (AL 1986-1988) were contemporaries. They split seven Cy Young Awards (Carlton 4, Seaver 3) between Seaver’s win in 1969 and Carlton’s last win in 1982. Carlton’s monster season in 1972 was the best of the bunch, but while Steve would mix in a bunch of so-so years with dominating years (he went 13-20 the season after he went 27-10!), Seaver was consistently good. Both Win Shares and WAR put “Tom Terrific” in front. Seaver has the edge.

Speaking of big seasons, Bob Gibson in 1968 was nearly unhittable, posting a 1.12 ERA with 13 shutouts. He had four other 20 win seasons. The problem rating Gibson is that he was born the same year as a pitcher whose peak was even higher. From 1963 to 1966 the peak Sandy Koufax (NL 1955-1966) reached was higher than any other National League pitcher. He was the unanimous selection for the Cy Young award in three of those years and was third then fourth when an injury forced him to shut down his season in mid August. This is when there was only one Cy Young Awarded for all of baseball every year. Randy Johnson (NL 1998-2004, 2007-2009) (AL 1988-1998, 2005-2006) topped Koufax by winning four Cy Young Awards in a row between 1999 and 2002 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Johnson only spent eight years in the league and was only throwing between 249 and 272 innings a year during that stretch. Koufax was over 311 innings in his three Cy Young years, peaking at 336 in 1965. That’s why Koufax had two second place finishes and a first in the MVP voting, while Johnson never finished higher than 7th. Carl Hubbell (NL 1928-1943) won two MVPs for the Giants in the 1930s, winning 20 or more games five years in a row, but his peak wasn’t as high as Koufax, Carlton, Gibson, or Mathewson, and he “only” won 253 games in his career. 

That brings us to Greg Maddux (NL 1986-2008). Maddux also won the National League Cy Young Award four consecutive years (1992-1995), but he only won 20 (exactly 20) twice and never threw more than 268 innings in any one year. His total innings for his career was 5,008, which puts him ahead of Mathewson, Hubbell, Gibson, Seaver, and Koufax, but behind Kid Nichols, Spahn, Alexander, and Carlton. It’s very close between those nine for the last three spots. Charles “Kid” Nichols (1890-1901, 1904-1906) WAR of 116.3 is second to Alexander in National League history, but he played even before Pete. We still can’t just dismiss him. Denton “Cy” Young (1890-1900, 1911) and him were rivals in the National League in the 1890s and early 1900s. Both came up in 1890 and pitched against each other until Young jumped to the American League in 1901. Nichols was more effective in the National League during their time together, winning 311 games to Young’s 286 with an ERA under 3.00 while Young’s was just over 3.00. Young’s career value was obviously greater, but he only had about 87% of Nichols’ value while in the Senior Circuit. That’s enough for Nichols to be in the conversation with the more modern pitchers for the 4th spot. We know we rated Nichols ahead of Maddux when making our All Time team for the Braves/Beaneaters, and that both hurlers were the best players on dominant teams. We put Maddux ahead of Nichols here because only 62% of Maddux’ value was with the Braves, while 92% of Nichols’ value was with the Beaneaters.  Greg Maddux (NL 1986-2008) total contributions were higher. 

Cy Young along with Randy Johnson (NL 1998-2004, 2007-2009) (AL 1988-1998, 2005-2006) NL WAR 57.1 (101.1) and Nolan Ryan (NL 1966-1970, 1980-1988) (AL 1972-1979, 1989-1993) will be in the discussion when we choose the top four pitchers of all time. All three don’t make the cut here because they divided their time between the two leagues. The best pitcher of this generation is Clayton Kershaw (NL 2008-Present). He hasn’t yet reached the level to be considered, but since he’s only 32 he has several years to add to his resume. Check back with us in 2025.

Manager

There are three candidates who’s teams had the best success while they were at the helm. They are; Adrian “Cap” Anson (NL 1879-1897), John McGraw (1899-1932), and Walter Alston (1954-1976). Let’s dismiss the man who we know its not going to be first, Walter Alston. Alston is a very underrated manager, he’s rarely mentioned in the same conversation as Leo Durocher or Tony LaRussa or Earl Weaver. The fact that his success exceeds all of those men doesn’t seem to impress the modern journalist. The teams he managed won seven pennants and four World Series. That makes him second to John McGraw in pennants and first in World Series Titles. That’s a record that’s hard to ignore. Critics dismiss him because he managed the Dodgers at a time when they were producing talent at a rate seldom seen in the history of baseball. But consider this; the Dodgers have won six World Series in their 130 year history, and Alston was in charge for four of them. He guided them to their only Series win in Brooklyn with the Boys of Summer (1955), he won his second with a team of old men and kids (1959), and then he won two more (1963, 1965) when the only two Hall of Famers on his team were Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. He won in different eras with many different types of teams. He was a great manager. The reason he’s not in the picture with McGraw and Anson is that he wasn’t instrumental in putting his teams together. The Dodgers were an incredible organization in his time, and upper management supplied the players and Alston was told to win with them (which he did). The other two we’re considering were not only great game managers, but also were responsible for selecting the players.

Adrian “Cap” Anson had complete control of his team, both personnel wise and game strategy wise. At least from 1879 until 1891 he was the best at it. His record in those years was 897-522 (.632) with five National League Flags. He was bombastic, egotistical, and shrewd, but his players responded to him and his teams won. The big black mark on Anson was his involvement in excluding blacks from Major League Baseball. Anson was a racist and did not want to compete against black players, but as we stated in an earlier article on Anson, he was not in the position to ban anybody, and when directly challenged he would back down. As good as Anson was, John McGraw (1899-1932) was the best manager in National League history, and it’s not a tough conclusion. He started off in Baltimore, but after one good year there the Orioles were eliminated in the National League consolidation after that season. He then signed with the American League Orioles in 1901, but shocked the baseball community by bolting to the National League and the New York Giants halfway through the 1902 season. He would remain there for the next 31 years, winning 10 National League Pennants and three World Series. He was in total control of personnel in his time, and a master at game strategy. The dominant figure in the National League for the first quarter of the 20th century. We’ve not mentioned Harry Wright (1876-1893) here because of his six teams that won league championships only two were in the National League. We’ll deal with him when discussing the Greatest Manager of All Time.

MVP

With apologies to the other ten front line Hall of Famers (except Pujols will be there as soon as he’s eligible), the choice for greatest player in National League history comes down to John “Honus” Wagner (1897-1917),  Willie Mays (NL 1951-1952, 1954-1973), and Barry Bonds (NL 1986-2007). They are from three distinct generations, but were all considered the best player in baseball during their time. Wagner was a shortstop, Mays a center fielder and Bonds a left fielder. Wagner and Mays played in eras where runs were scarce while Bonds flourished during the run-happy 1990s. Let’s first decide who was the better offensive threat. Current analysis put an emphasis on On Base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SP) and On Base Plus Slugging (OPS). Wagner’s career numbers in those three categories was .391/.467/.858, Mays was .384/.557/.941 and Bonds was .444/.607/.1.051. Bonds’ numbers are clearly superior, but you have to remember that he played in the best hitter era of the three. If we look at how many times each player led the league in one of those three categories it looks like this; Wagner OBP 4 times, SP 6 times, and OPS 8 times. Mays OBP twice, SP 5 times, and OPS 5 times, Bonds led in OBP 10 times, SP 7 times and OPS 9 times. So the evidence indicates that Bonds was the best offensive force of the three, Wagner was next, and Mays third.

The order is nearly reversed when evaluating defensive value, Bonds, as a left fielder, was the least valuable, while Mays rated an “A+” as a center fielder, and Wagner an “A+” as a shortstop. So the order of defense is Wagner, Mays, Bonds. How do the three ratings systems we’ve been using judge the three? Bonds leads in WAR with 162.8, followed by Mays at 156.2, and Wagner is third at 130.8. Bonds also leads in Wins Shares with 705, followed by Wagner at 655 and Mays at 642. The metrics we use have Bonds at 33,768, Mays 46,593 and Wagner 45,434. The reason Bonds’ number is so low is because his team never won a championship. Is that fair to Bonds? In this case we think, yes. How could the greatest player in National League history win only one National League Pennant and no World Series. Wagner’s teams won four National League Pennants and one World Series (he also won championships with the Pirates won in 1901, and 1902 were before the modern World Series), and Mays was also on four teams that won the National League with one of those winning the World Series. As far as Bonds is concerned, there is a huge elephant in the room, his association with performance enhancing drugs. It’s close between the three, with the statistical evidence narrowly favoring Bonds. Subjectively we think both Wagner and Mays were more valuable. Willie Mays was the most complete player this writer ever saw, a Gold Glove center fielder (he won 12 Gold Gloves) who hit like “Willie Mays”. Instinctively that seems more valuable than Barry Bonds. As for Wagner, he played a long time ago, and baseball has obviously improved since his day, but you have Ozzie Smith at shortstop who hits better than Willie Mays. What’s that player worth? John “Honus” Wagner (1897-1917)  

Want to know more?

Read about Cap Anson and his Chicago White Stockings here.

Want to know more about our MVP, Honus Wagner read here.

You can also look at our greatest players in each team here in our baseball section or here in our greatest of all time.

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