Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Tennessee’s Best Baseball Players

Tennessee's Best Baseball Players

Tennessee’s best baseball players is one that, this writer is fairly sure, not a lot of people have had. Let’s face it. Baseball prospects from the state simply aren’t spoken of very often. This is also true, despite the Tennessee Volunteers and Vanderbilt Commodores finding excellence on the diamond in recent years. In fact, it’s not so much of a stretch to say that these two schools field some of the best baseball teams in the nation. However, we’re not here to speak of them. We’re here to flesh out which Major Leaguer is Tennessee’s best baseball player ever.

The ten players found on this list have been ranked in terms of WAR, according to Baseball Reference. They are a mixture of pitchers and batters alike. Some on the list are fairly obvious. Others are surprises. Still, others have been left off the list that are a bit surprising in their own right. Names like Bill Madlock, David Price, R.A. Dickey, and Tim McCarver are not here. They were all good players from Tennessee. However, we are seeking Tennessee’s best baseball player. Let’s get started.

Tennesse’s Best Baseball Players

Steve Finley
Born: Union City
44.23 WAR

 Steve Finley ranks second on the all-time Tennessee home run list (304). He was a terror in his prime, posting 12 straight double-digit dinger campaigns. His defense was sparkling as well, netting him five Gold Glove awards. In 1996, playing for the San Diego Padres, he hit .298 with 30 homers and a career-best 348 total bases. Yes, Finley is a very appropriate choice to kick off our search for Tennessee’s best baseball player.

Noodles Hahn
Born: Nashville
44.58 WAR

 Noodles Hahn was the definition of a workhorse. In eight years, he pitched well over 2,000 innings. From 1899-1901 he led the league in strikeouts. In 1901, he made 42 starts. All but one of them were complete games. That year, he faced over 1,500 hitters and struck out 239 of them. However, his best overall season came one year later, when he won 23 games with a sparkling 1.77 ERA. His career ERA of 2.55 is the best out of any Tennessee-born pitcher with at least 200 career starts.

Red Lucas
Born: Columbia
44.68 WAR

 If there’s one thing a list seeking Tennessee’s best baseball player needs, it’s good, old-fashioned grit. Pitcher Red Lucas had that, carving out a 15-year career among four different teams. He retired after the 1938 season, picking up 157 victories in over 2,500 innings of experience. Another of his claims to fame is his lack of walks. In fact, he walked under 500 batters in his entire career. Add to that a career .281 average and 404 career hits and you have one of the greatest dual threats of all time. This list would not be complete without him.

Jim Gilliam
Born: Nashville
45.11 WAR

 In 1953, Jim Gilliam broke into the big leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had spent three years playing for the Negro League’s Baltimore Elite Giants. After standing out there, the Dodgers came calling. He responded by winning Rookie of the Year in a dazzling performance. Thus began the career of a multi-time All-Star and four-time World Series winner. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice as well. His best season came in 1956 when he hit .300 with a 6.1 WAR and 178 hits in 153 games.

Turkey Stearnes
Born: Nashville
49.75 WAR

 Surprisingly enough, our search for Tennessee’s best baseball player only includes one Hall of Famer. This is that man. A Negro League legend, Stearnes etched out an 18-year career built upon speed and precise batting. He hit over .370 six times during that span. His best year by WAR was 1926 when he hit .383 with 21 home runs for the Detroit Stars. He won two batting titles, including an incredible 1929 that saw him hit .390. In terms of players from Tennessee, you couldn’t do much better than Stearnes.

Tommy Bridges
Born: Gordonsville
50.46 WAR

 During the Great Depression, Tommy Bridges helped anchor the Detroit Tigers’ rotation. From 1934 to 1937, he did not miss an All-Star game. Overall, he made six All-Star appearances and finished in the top 15 in MVP voting twice. In 1936, he led the league with 23 victories and 175 strikeouts in 38 starts. He also played on two world championship teams. To top it all off, in 1944, he, along with many others, sacrificed baseball to help with the effort during World War II. An MVP contender on the field and off, Bridges definitely belongs on this list.

Vada Pinson
Born: Memphis
54.18 WAR

 There are very sound arguments for Vada Pinson making the Hall of Fame. His time with the Cincinnati Reds is of particular note. In 11 years, his 47.7 WAR ranks him in the top ten in their franchise history. He also ranks in their top ten in hits (1,881). For the purposes of our list, his 2,757 career hits are the best of any player from Tennessee. He could hit for power as well, launching 256 career homers and 485 career doubles. Yes, the arguments for Pinson in Cooperstown are many. However, his exclusion from this list would be downright criminal.

Mookie Betts
Born: Nashville
56.40 WAR

 The only active player on our list, Mookie Betts is often considered one of the finest outfielders in the game. He’s a former MVP, a six-time All-Star, a six-time Gold Glove winner, and a two-time world champion. He also boasts a batting title and five Silver Sluggers. In 2018, with the Boston Red Sox, he hit .346 while slugging .640 and posting a WAR of 10.7. He has finished in the top ten in MVP voting every year since 2016 except one. Betts’s position on this list will probably vault upwards as his career continues.

Bob Caruthers
Born: Memphis
59.51 WAR

 Bob Caruthers was born during the Civil War and has one of the most fascinating stories in baseball history. There’s no time to recount it here, but suffice it to say that he was a terror during the 1880s. As a pitcher, he won 40 games twice, had a sub-three ERA four times, and pitched over 2,800 innings in only nine seasons. Not only that, but he played right field as well, retiring with a .282 lifetime batting average and 695 hits. The game has definitely evolved away from this, but for his time, Caruthers was basically Shohei Ohtani.

Todd Helton
Born: Knoxville, Tennessee
61.75 WAR

 This one was something of a foregone conclusion. In an era dominated by accusations of steroid usage and cheating, Todd Helton is Tennesse’s best baseball player as he achieved greatness without controversy. His 2000 campaign was legendary. He hit .372 with 42 homers, 147 RBI, and a staggering 405 total bases. Aside from that, he was a five-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger, and a three-time Gold Glove winner. His 369 homers, 1,406 RBI, and 592 doubles are all best from the subject state. At its core, our search for Tennessee’s best baseball player was merely a hike up a mountain leading to Helton at its summit. Now, we may rest and properly acknowledge all ten of these men and their accomplishments.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images

Players mentioned:

Bill Madlock, David Price, R.A. Dickey, Tim McCarver, Steve Finley, Noodles Hahn, Red Lucas, Jim Gilliam, Turkey Stearness, Tommy Bridges, Vada Pinson, Mookie Betts, Bob Caruthers, Shohei Ohtani, Todd Helton


More Posts

Send Us A Message