While we’re well into the 21st century, many of us baseball fans think about the rich history of America’s pastime and recall watching some of the greatest players of the previous century. Between lights-out pitchers and big boppers, there were iconic players in every decade. We’re not talking about the best players, though, when we say iconic. We’re talking about the ones that had the most star power and the ability to transcend the sport into the mainstream. Let’s take a look back at the greatest stars of the twentieth century and what made them stand out so much:
5. Willie Mays
Among the sweetest swings in baseball history is the one of Willie Mays, a.k.a. The Say Hey Kid. Mays, a two-time MVP, was named to two dozen All Star Games during his long career that started with the Giants in 1951.
Mays is one of the career home run leaders with 660, while also batting an unheard-of .384 over more than two decades. To this day, there are some that consider him to be the greatest hitter of all time.
4. Joe DiMaggio
Whether you call him the Yankee Clipper, Joltin’ Joe, or just Joe DiMaggio, he was one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history. A three-time most valuable player recipient, DiMaggio had a .325 career batting average with 361 home runs. He even missed three seasons of his prime due to World War II, but still managed to be an All-Star in every season he played.
Naturally, you can’t mention DiMaggio without mentioning his mainstream appeal. He was referenced in music, movies, books, and even received attention for his marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe.
3. Alex Rodriguez
Making your Major League debut as a teenager is almost unheard of, but that’s what Alex Rodriguez did in 1994 when he was dubbed as the next big thing for the Seattle Mariners. Instantly becoming a star in baseball, Rodriguez spent the final parts of the 20th century with Seattle where he was a three-time All-Star.
Though Rodriguez made his biggest splash in the following century, even non-baseball fans knew who he was while playing with the Mariners. Rodriguez would end up playing for both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, finishing with 696 career home runs. His post-playing career has involved broadcasting and an engagement to singer/actress Jennifer Lopez which kept him in the public eye.
2. Hank Aaron
Though he’s second in career home runs after being surpassed by Barry Bonds, many consider Hank Aaron to be the true home run king due to playing after baseball became integrated and before the steroid era. There’s certainly a lot of merit to that, as Aaron slugged 733 home runs over his 23-year career, 21 of which were spent playing for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.
Aaron passed away in early 2021, but not before he left his mark on the game of baseball forever. He joined the Braves’ front office and worked in various positions around baseball, while also owning car dealerships and restaurants that bore his name.
1. Babe Ruth
Of course, you can’t talk about the game of baseball without mentioning Babe Ruth. His career started in 1914 and lasted 22 seasons, though his most notable years came when he was a member of the New York Yankees. By the time he retired, “The Babe” was the all-time home run king with 714 career home runs and seven World Series titles.
When you ask someone that doesn’t know a thing about baseball to name the first player that comes to mind, Ruth is usually the first answer. From references in movies like “The Sandlot” to even having a candy bar named after him, Ruth isn’t just a baseball legend. He’s an American cultural icon.