The search for the best Georgia baseball players takes us all across the state. From the western border with Alabama to the eastern border with South Carolina, no territory has been spared. Just as diverse as their origins within the state, so are the members of this list. One, in particular, helped to promote racial diversity within the game like never before. Another set a big league record. Yet a third rank within the top five yet is the only one not to have a plaque residing in Cooperstown. Yes, indeed, we are definitely dealing with a bumper crop of players all their own.
Yet, even within this group, there lies a definite plurality. Namely, these players all did their best to represent the Peach State in a broader fashion. Some found personal glory while doing so. Others found an even higher scale…the Baseball Hall of Fame. Each of these players helped to map out Georgia’s baseball topography, and they did it with the expertise of Lewis and Clark. Herein, we seek to follow their paths. According to Baseball Reference WAR, these are the top ten players in Georgia’s history.
The Best Georgia Baseball Players
Nap Rucker was a perfect mixture of dominance, luck, and bad timing. From 1907 to 1912, he posted 102 wins, a 2.32 ERA, and over 1,000 strikeouts. He also gave up 572 walks during the span, leading the league with 125 in one season. He wound up with a losing record in the stretch, thanks to the then Brooklyn Superbas being historically terrible. In 1908, he hurled a no-hitter, the same year that he lost 19 games. His best season was 1911 when he won 22 games and finished 27th in MVP voting. It is definitely a roller-coaster way to kick off our list, but the WAR numbers don’t lie.
Over a 20-year career, Kenny Rogers proved why one never gives up. Much like Rucker, Rogers experienced a roller coaster. In fact, he didn’t have any career stability until he was close to his age-40 campaign. However, his tenacity helped him compile a high WAR number, hence his inclusion here. He did win five Gold Gloves and was a four-time All-Star. His best season came when he was 41 in 2006. He won 17 games for the Detroit Tigers, finishing fifth in Cy Young voting and helping guide them to the World Series.
Tony Phillips had an 18-year career that stretched over six different franchises. However, he is probably best known for five seasons with the Tigers. After signing as a free agent during the 1989 offseason, he went on to hit .281 with the team. He improved his OPS+ from 95 with the Oakland Athletics to 120 in Detroit. His patience also came to the forefront. In 1993, he led the American League with 132 walks. He only struck out 102 times that year. When he retired after 1999, he had 1,319 career walks to only 1,499 strikeouts. Though he never posted a WAR above 5.6, Phillips compiled enough solid numbers to make the list.
We have arrived at our first Hall of Famer on this list. Bill Terry was one of the premier first basemen of the 1930s. The New York Giants star finished in the top ten in MVP voting six times, with five coming consecutively. His best season by WAR was 1930 when he won the NL batting title by hitting .401. He also led the league in hits (254) and posted a career-high 129 RBI. A three-time All-Star, Terry holds the distinction of being the first starting first baseman in NL All-Star history. A 1933 World Title is the cherry on top of this story.
Tim Hudson was one of the most consistent pitchers of the early 2000s. He burst onto the scene in 1999 with the Athletics, winning 11 games. The next season, he put up his only career 20-win campaign and finished second in Cy Young voting. All told, he finished in the top ten for the award four times in his career. He was also a four-time All-Star. In 2005, he came back to Georgia, experiencing an extremely successful stint with the Atlanta Braves. He won 113 contests as a Brave, good for 14th on the team’s all-time list.
No list seeking out Georgia’s best baseball player would be complete without Jackie Robinson. One of the biggest names in baseball history, Robinson sparked racial diversity in an age when the game was still severely segregated. But he didn’t just break the color barrier. He was a genuine Hall of Famer. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1947. In 1949, he won the NL MVP Award and the batting title with a blistering .342 average. To top it all off, in the twilight of his career, he won a World Title with the 1955 Dodgers.
Kevin Brown was one of the premier pitchers of the 1990s, yet quite possibly one of the least talked about. He quietly put together a career that saw him make six All-Star teams and win two ERA titles. His WHIP was best twice, his FIP once, and his ERA+ once. In 1992, he tied for the AL lead in wins (21). In 1996, he posted a sparkling 1.89 ERA, finishing second in Cy Young voting in the process. Seven of his 19 seasons finished with ERAs of either three or below. The metaphorical cherry on top was his membership with the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins.
All three members of Georgia’s best baseball player podium are Hall of Famers. Johnny Mize is the first of the recipients. He holds the distinction of having the second most homers in Georgia history (359) and the third most RBI (1,337). He’s a 10-time All-Star and played on five World Championship teams. He led the league in homers four times and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting five times. In 1947, playing for the Giants, he had a league-best 51 homers, 138 RBI, and 137 runs scored. He also won the 1939 NL batting title with the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a .349 average.
In an age of steroid accusations, Frank Thomas let his pure talent do the talking. Over 19 years, his power and prowess at the plate were on display. He retired with the most homers in Georgia history (521) and the second most RBI (1,944). His 16 seasons as an offensive cornerstone for the Chicago White Sox were legendary. He holds 20 different franchise records, including homers (448), RBI (1,465), walks (1,466), extra-base hits (906), and runs created (1,770). He’s a two-time MVP, a five-time All-Star, and a well-deserved Hall of Fame inductee.
Frank Thomas is the only MLB batter since 1935 — in their age 26 and 27 seasons — to record at least 75 HR, 200 BB, 200 RBI, 200 runs, and an OPS+ > 180. He did so from 1994-95, both of which were strike-shortened seasons.
Big Hurt was elected to the HOF on this day in 2014. pic.twitter.com/WUjO2JZq6b
— Austin J. Eich (@Eich_AJ) January 9, 2023
It’s fitting that our search for Georgia’s best baseball player ends with arguably the greatest pure hitter of all time. Certainly, there was no better player during the Dead Ball Era. His .366 career average is the highest in baseball history. He won 12 batting titles, with nine coming consecutively. His 4,189 hits are second only to Pete Rose. He had 897 stolen bases, 724 doubles, 295 triples, and a career OPS of .943. Finally, he hit over .400 three times. While considered controversial by many, Ty Cobb’s achievements on the field cannot be denied. He is far and away Georgia’s best baseball player.
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