Nolan Ryan delivers a pitch to Hank Aaron during a Braves-Mets game in 1968.
You know the greats. Babe Ruth. Mike Trout. Barry Bonds. Some of them stole 40 bases while hitting 40 home runs, some of them hit more than 60 home runs in a season, and some of them had a sub 2 ERA. In the one hundred plus years of major league baseball, there have been many greats. It seems like an impossible task to choose the best.
Joe Posnanski, author of The Baseball 100, argued that Wille Mays is the best. ESPN argues that the Great Bambino, Babe Ruth, is the greatest; Jomboy Baseball argues it’s Shohei Ohtani. For my rankings, I will use a combination of WAR (wins above replacement), overall OPS+ (a stat that averages OPS, or on-base plus slugging percentages, into a standardized score where 100 is average), and great feats (40-40 season, 60+ home runs, 20 wins in a season). I will be excluding players like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, or Mark McGuire because I think that any feat you have to go to court for after does not count as a feat. I started by pulling up a list of the all-time WAR leaders (it should be noted that pitcher WAR is controversial so pitchers will be separate).
We can see that the top few players according to WAR are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Hank Aaron. Each of them has WARs of around 150+. This means that they had to have averaged 10+ WAR for 15 years. For reference, Ronald Acuña Jr., who hit 40 home runs and stole 70 bases, had a WAR of 8.1 this year. I would like to add Nolan Ryan to that list because of the sheer dominance he held over batters for 28 seasons. Of these players, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, Willie Mays had more than 3,200 hits and 660 home runs, and Ty Cobb had more than 4,000 hits and almost 900 stolen bases. Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs, had more than 3,700 hits, and holds a record 6,856 total bases. Nolan Ryan struck out 5,714 batters in his 28-season career (this is around a thousand more strikeouts than second-place Randy Johnson) and tossed 7 no-hitters. He also holds the single-season strikeout record at an incredible 383. He had by far the longest prime which spanned almost his entire career. Ruth had an OPS+ of 206 (meaning for his entire career he was twice as productive as the rest of the league). Mays held an OPS+ of 155 while Cobb rocked a 168. Aaron had an OPS+ of 155 as well. Ryan held an ERA+ (a stat similar to OPS+ in which it standardized ERA) of 112 with one season with a whopping 195 ERA+.
Considering these different categories, it can be easy to go with Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, although I feel like baseball back then was so much different than what it is today. Pitchers threw slower, and the spitball was still prominent. Willie Mays is arguably the greatest all-around player, as he had stellar defense as well as offense, but Aaron clearly stands out as the greatest offensive player. He hit 755 home runs, a record that stood until Barry Bonds concluded his juiced-up career and hit an incredible 3,700 hits. There are just 4 players in the 3000-hit 700-homerun club, and Aaron clearly stands out. For this reason, I would say Hank Aaron is the GOAT of baseball. It is worth noting that Nolan Ryan is easily the greatest pitcher of all time. He basically invented the concept of a power pitcher. His records and feats stand alone; he is the greatest pitcher of all time. Time will tell if Ohtani has enough resilience to injury to have the career he is hyped up to have. The conclusions of Aaron Judge and Mike Trout’s careers could also influence the list. While I do not expect you to entirely agree with my position, raw stats, and achievements easily point to Hank Aaron being on top. He is the GOAT.