There are few roles in the game of baseball more important than the leadoff hitter. The head of the snake, the table setter, however you want to frame it; the leadoff batter sets the tone for how your offense begins a game.
Work the count and get on base by any means is usually the name of the leadoff game. But players who are able to provide some pop out of that spot, blasting a leadoff home run strike a different type of fear into opposing pitchers.
With Toronto’s George Springer hitting his 50th leadoff homer on Monday (fourth all time), MLBbros are well represented on the Top 10 all-time list.
The greatest leadoff hitter of all time, naturally Rickey Henderson is number one on this list. The Hall of Famer hit 297 home runs in 25 seasons for nine teams, and went deep to lead off a game for every one of them.
Rickey hit a career high nine leadoff homers for the Yankees in 1986 and did it again in 1990 during his second stint with Oakland. Arguably the coolest player to ever touch a baseball field, Rickey Henderson was truly a one of one.
George Springer – 50 Leadoff Homers – 4th All-Time
George Springer is the only active MLBbro on this list, and with the way he’s raking this season he may end up second all time before 2022 ends. The blast Monday was number 50, and his seventh this year with over half a season to go. One more would give him the franchise record for the Blue Jays.
Now Springer is no stranger to setting franchise records out of the leadoff spot. In 2019, George set the single-season record for the Houston Astros when he put 12 leadoff homers into the seats.
Curtis Granderson hit 344 home runs in his career, and was a valuable weapon for several teams over the course of his big league career. Unfortunately for Curtis, in two of the years he left the yard most, he was in the Bronx hitting behind The Captain.
But before he got to the Yankees, Curtis sent plenty of warning shots to start games for his teams. Granderson hit seven leadoff homers four different times; twice for Detroit in 2007 and 2009, and then went back-to-back for the Mets in 2015 and 2016.
Granderson retired in 2019, and is still the Tigers all-time leadoff homer leader with 24.
Jimmy Rollins – 46 Leadoff Homers – 7th All-Time
Jimmy Rollins did it all for Philadelphia during his 2007 MVP campaign, including hitting nine leadoff homers. Unlike every other MLBbro on this list, Rollins hit all of his leadoff homers with the same ball club.
Some highly-accomplished MLBbro’s are expressing their distaste for certain aspects of the current state of baseball.
Former MLB shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who played in an era when Black players were a bit more plentiful, is the last Black shortstop to win an MVP. When J-Roll entered the league at the turn of the millennium, 12.8 percent of the players were Black and Brown. By the time he finished his illustrious career in 2016, the number had dwindled to a 60-year-low of 6.7 percent.
Despite some signs of life, Rollins is very disappointed in the current percentage (7.6 %) of African-American players in MLB. He thinks the number is too low. As Jackie Robinson Day came and went, Rollins, who should be Cooperstown bound, just couldn’t hold his tongue anymore.
“It’s more than just one thing,” the four-time Gold Glover from Oaktown told The Associated Press. “Marketing. The NBA and the NFL, those guys’ faces are plastered all over the screen. Baseball, there isn’t really a great deal of marketing. Obviously, everyone knows about Mike Trout and rightfully so, but there are some young Black players that deserve some light, too.”
Rollins listed Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds as popular players who freaked the marketing game and captivated him when he was a kid with MLB dreams.
“But when you start going outside of that select few, the sport itself isn’t marketing anyone else in a major way where kids from the inner cities are attracted to it,” said Rollins, who along with his teammate Ryan Howard won consecutive NL Most Valuable Player awards with the Phillies in 2006 and 2007.
Black Knights Ryan Howard & Jimmy Rollins led Phillies to the 2008 World Series
Rollins was the multi-skilled leadoff hitter and a crazy clutch 20-20 guy with a golden web. Howard was the big bopper who batted cleanup, flexing 50-homer potential for a team that won five straight NL East titles, two NL pennants and the 2008 World Series.
But How come these Black Knights didn’t flip their MVPs and World Series success into some major endorsements?
“I remember we…a lot of Black players, had a phone call with Spike Lee years ago,” Rollins said. “We flew out to Chicago. We were with MLB and the union and Spike Lee. We talked about doing commercials. Nothing ever came of that. It was like a one-time thing. Not to knock MLB, but they’re going to do things that, at face value, look great. But the impact is minimal because there’s generally never any true follow-through. That’s not just baseball. A lot of organizations do that.”
Let’s face it. As far as visibility and marketability, kids see the NBA player as the fastest route to celebrity superstardom. We haven’t had a transcending Black or Brown superstar in baseball since Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. We have some contenders, but no player has captured the masses and the casual fan like The Kid — who’s Dad was a damn good major leaguer who introduced him to the game.
Speaking of Dads, Rollins also attributed the decline of Black players in baseball to socioeconomic factors.
“You need space to play baseball,” he said. “You don’t have that in a lot of places. In the country, you can find a field. In the city, kids aren’t playing stickball. A basketball, you could pick up and dribble. It’s easier to find a court. You don’t have to field nine guys to play basketball. You can play one-on-one. The expense, you need the tools, you’ve got to pay for travel teams. In other sports, we know it’s been well documented. They get sponsored and those things don’t happen in baseball.
Also, you look at how baseball’s traditionally passed down from the dad to son. If your father isn’t around, the chances of you being exposed to baseball because it’s more of a team sport, it’s probably less likely to happen.”
Gary Sheffield Can’t Stand To Watch
While Rollins is critical of the limited access to quality baseball and all of the internal and external factors that keep participation numbers down for African-American athletes, former MLB player Gary Sheffield is not even interested in watching the game anymore.
Sheffield, a nine-time All-Star and 1997 World Series champion, was working as a TBS studio analyst during the 2020 postseason, but he doesn’t even do that anymore.
The game has gone stale for the former shortstop turned All-Star outfielder, who says it’s almost unrecognizable.
“I was kind of forced to watch baseball because I was working with TBS,” he said. “And so I had to remember, really find out who these players were. I’ll tell you the secret now: I never watched the games during the season. I would get educated on it when I got there. … It’s not something that I could watch, based on what I’m seeing, because I’ll be a complainer. … This is the first time I’ve ever said that out loud, but I’m just truly disappointed with what I watch.”
Sheffield ranks 26th all-time with 509 home runs. And get this kids…he swung hard enough to pull his own shoulder out of the socket, but he never struck out more than 83 times in any of his 22 seasons.
“(It was exciting) when I was playing. They implemented all these rules now and they’ve changed the game so much, they’re making it more hitter-friendly — even without having success. These guys can go out there and strike out 180, 190 times, and it’s OK. And then all of a sudden they show a home run. Now, a home run is less appealing, when a home run was a big deal and more appealing (when I played) because it wasn’t happening as often as it is now…
“When I see a pop-up player that everybody gravitates to — he’s the face of the team, the face of the city — and he has 100 strikeouts in April. When I see stuff like that, I’m not one of those older players that scoffs at the game and then talks about the game in a negative light. I just speak on facts. But what I do is meet these kids where they are at. That’s the way the game is played today, that doesn’t mean I have to watch it.”
Mr. Cub is probably the greatest African-American shortstop to grace the MLB diamond. Banks not only set the standard for black shortstops, but he was the first true power-hitting shortstop in MLB. Banks was A-Rod before A-Rod, an icon who changed the game by providing uncanny power at a position previously reserved for slap hitters.
Banks played 19 years for a losing Cubs franchise and was Wrigley Field’s only bright spot for two decades as he clubbed 512 career homers. In his prime from 1957-1960, averaged a .293 batting average, 44 HR, 123 RBI and won back-to-back NL MVP awards in ’58 and ’59.
“El Capitan” is one of the greatest winners MLB has ever seen. He was the Captain and clutch catalyst for a Yankees Dynasty that won five World Series rings between 1996 and 2009 and lived in the postseason.
Jeter, a 14-time All-Star, is the Yankees all-time hits leader with a whopping 3,465. He has a .310 career batting average and has won five Gold Gloves. His stats are Hall of Fame worthy, but don’t begin to tell the story of his marketing and cultural impact as the flawless face of baseball for 20 years. He led the Yankees to the top of the sports landscape by performing at his best in the biggest moments. “Ice in the veins” should be Jeter’s middle name.
He is arguably the greatest postseason hitter of all time, with a career .308 BA, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 18 SB line in 158 postseason games, earning the name “Mr. November.”
3. Barry Larkin
He was a Black Knight in beast mode as the premier National League shortstop of the 1990s. Larkin was a consistent offensive boss and formidable glove for an inconsistent Cincinnati Reds lineup. He was elected to the All-Star team every year from 1988-2000, winning eight Silver Slugger awards during that span.
Larkin, who played every one of his 19 seasons with the Reds, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012, with a .295 career average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs scored and 379 stolen bases. Larkin scored at least 80 runs in a season seven times, hit 30-plus doubles in six seasons, and stole 30-or-more bases five times. He won his three Gold Glove awards at shortstop en route to a career fielding percentage of .975 and won nine Silver Slugger awards.
Larkin won a World Series in 1990 and then did something that Jeter couldn’t accomplish when he took home NL MVP honors in 1995.
The Wizard is simply the greatest defensive infielder in MLB history and his 43.4 career defensive WAR is the best by any player at the position. Even with the defensive metrics on smash, his .978 fielding percentage and 13 Gold Gloves support his claim to the title of glove king.
Smith is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime talent that you would never understand based on numbers. He was truly a magician with the glove. He was also a huge personality in the game and understood the essence of entertainment as he began each game with his patented backflip.
Smith had artistry, flair, and athletic superiority that put him in another stratosphere. His fielding was so good that people often dogged him for his hitting, which is not shabby at all. Smith had a .262 career average and 2,460 hits. He’s also among the greatest base stealers of all-time with 580 career swipes.
“J-Roll” is one of the most offensively prolific shortstops the game has ever seen. He has 2,455 hits, which includes 511 doubles (53rd all-time), 115 triples, and 231 home runs. He ranks 103rd in career total bases and 83rd in extra-base hits. He’s also stolen 470 bases, good for 46th in MLB history. His 1,421 runs are good for 86th and 936 RBI from pretty much always being in a table-setting position is pretty solid as well.
He makes the all-time Top 20 in almost every offensive statistic for a shortstop and was the centerpiece of a Phillies team that won two NL pennants and a World Series in 2008. He has four Gold Gloves and four seasons of at least 10 Defensive Runs Saved.
J-Roll was a true soul patroller. His 2007 NL MVP award was the stamp that at some point he was the best at his position. Standing a diminutive 5-foot-7, 175-pounds, Rollins defied the odds and continues to be a living example of skills over scales when it comes to the sport of baseball.
Honorable Mention: Maury Wills
Wills didn’t get his Hall of Fame props from the writers, but he was an MLB pioneer and one of the fastest players in history.
Wills was finally nominated by the Golden Era committee in 2014, which could induct managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players for possible election in 2015, but he fell three votes short.
The barn-burner made a living off of his superior wheels as he stole 586 bases in his career, good for 20th all time.
The lack of respect for his career is indicative of the lost appreciation in the modern game for the stolen base, which was a staple of black excellence in baseball ever since No. 42 broke the color barrier in ’47. In 1960, Wills won the first of six straight National League stolen base crowns.