The state of Washington is known for many things. Beautiful mountain scenery, the Space Needle, and one of the most consistently top-rated college basketball programs in the nation. That said, we are not here to divulge which Gonzaga player is best, or which of the many Seattle-based coffeehouses serves the best cup of joe. No, we are here to dig into the state’s diamond-based history and unearth which man was Washington’s best baseball player. The answers are definitely intriguing.
That said, we do have to adhere to a few rules. As with others in our best-of-each-state series, Baseball Reference WAR is our ultimate metric of judgment. The players also have to be born in Washington. Other than that, everything is fair game. Now, there are some notable names that are not on the list. Some of those honorable mentions include Geoff Jenkins, Michael Conforto, Lyle Overbay, Tim Lincecum, and Jeff Conine. Others that just miss are Blake Snell, Randy Myers, and Todd Stottlemyre. All of these were solid players in their own right. Now, we get to the meat of the list. Here are Washington’s best to ever take the diamond.
Washington’s Best Baseball Player
Grady Sizemore was one of the most underrated players of the mid-2000s. From 2006-2008, the then-Cleveland Indians’ center fielder did not miss an All-Star game. He won two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and finished 10th in MVP voting in ’08. That said, his best season by WAR (6.7) was ‘06. He slashed .290/.375/.533 with 28 homers and 190 hits while playing in all 162 games. A doubles machine, Sizemore led the AL with 53 that season. During his All-Star stretch, he recorded 126 of his 252 career doubles. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his later career. However, for a few brief seasons, he was a perennial All-Star.
In terms of Washington’s best baseball players, pitcher Ed Brandt is not the first name that comes to mind. In fact, the Boston Braves recruit finished his rookie year of 1928 with a league-leading 21 losses. Nevertheless, much as with Sizemore, Brandt had a stretch where he was among the best around. From 1931 to 1934, Brandt had a WAR of 16.1. He posted a record of 68-55 with a 3.23 ERA and a 111 ERA+ over the span. In 1931, he won 18 games with a 2.92 ERA and finished 10th in MVP voting. Two years later, he won 18 contests again and had an even better ERA (2.60). He never quite reached that level of success afterward, but he definitely had his moment to shine.
Earl Torgeson churned out 15 big league seasons and had over 6,000 plate appearances. During that time, he posted a respectable .265 average with 149 homers and 740 RBI. While his statistics don’t leap off the page, he did enough to land squarely in the eighth spot on this list. It was mostly thanks to some of his early work with the Braves, especially in 1950. That was far and away his best season. He hit .290 with 23 homers and 87 RBI, finishing 27th in MVP voting in the process. His patience at the plate was also notable, as he walked 119 times that season and only struck out 69 times.
Michael Brantley represents the only active entry in our search for Washington’s best baseball player. He’s also one of the most highly touted outfielders of recent years. His decade with the Indians saw him reach four All-Star games. He also took home a Silver Slugger and a third-place MVP finish in 2014. Overall, he hit .295 in Cleveland with over 1,100 hits and a 115 OPS+. Since moving to the Houston Astros in 2019, Brantley has only improved. He’s made another All-Star appearance, hit .306, and had nearly 500 hits. While injuries have hampered his playing time, it’s done nothing to halt his upward trajectory.
Free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley in agreement with Astros on one-year, $12M contract, pending physical, sources tell @TheAthletic. On it: @ByRobertMurray
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 18, 2022
Jon Lester leads all Washington-born pitchers in wins with 200. In fact, he’s the only man from the state to come close to that number. Add to that a solid 3.66 lifetime ERA and you have a very worthwhile addition to this list. He’s a five-time All-Star, the most out of any pitcher in Washington history. His 2,488 career strikeouts are the most in Washington history. He finished in the top five in Cy Young award voting three times and is a three-time World Champion. To top it all off, in 2016, he won the NLCS MVP award and helped lead the Chicago Cubs on a historic title run.
Earl Averill is the first Hall of Famer to grace our search for Washington’s best baseball player. Indeed, Averill was one of the most consistent bats of the 1930s. It’s no wonder that one of his nicknames was “Rock.” He made six consecutive All-Star Games from 1933-1938, including the inaugural edition. His best season by WAR came with the Indians in 1936. That year, he hit .378 with 28 homers while leading the league in hits (232) and triples (15). A potently patient batter, Averill only struck out 518 times in over 6,300 career at-bats. Though never a World Champion, The Earl of Snohomish definitely earned both of his nicknames.
Upon reaching the big leagues full-time in 1973 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ron Cey immediately made an impact. His 124 hits were fourth among NL rookies and he finished sixth in Rookie of the Year balloting. He only got better from there, amassing 316 homers and 1,139 RBI in his 17-year career. The former is the second-most in Washington state history. In 1975, he posted his best career WAR (6.7) while hitting .271 with 25 homers. Three years later, he had his first and only 30-dinger campaign, finishing eighth in MVP voting. From 1973 to 1986, he only had two seasons where he did not crack 15 home runs.
Washington’s best baseball player podium begins with something of a quiet entry. John Olerud spent 17 seasons establishing himself as a very steady bat, yet he’s not in a lot of conversations surrounding the best players of the 1990s. Olerud was a key component on the back-to-back Toronto Blue Jays World Championship teams in 1992 and ’93. However, it was the latter season that got the baseball world’s attention. He won the AL batting title with a scorching .363 average. He also led the league in doubles, on-base percentage, OPS, and OPS+. Speaking of doubles, Olerud has the Washington record, posting 500 in his career. Add to that two All-Star nods and three Gold Gloves and Olerud is a natural selection for this list.
Our silver medalist is someone who is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word. He’s also someone that every Cubs fan can probably quote stats from. Ryne Sandberg was one of the premier all-around second basemen of the 1980s. Offensively, he had eight seasons where he hit .300 or better. He also nabbed seven Silver Sluggers, led the league in runs scored three times, and triples once. Defensively, he won nine consecutive Gold Gloves and retired with a 13.5 career dWAR. Overall, he picked up 10 straight All-Star nods and, to top it all off, took home the 1984 NL MVP Award. Finally, he had a 30-homer season, a 40-homer season, a 200-hit campaign, and eclipsed 300 total bases five times.
The title of Washington’s best baseball player goes to a man who, much like Sandberg, is synonymous with the Cubs. Ron Santo spent 14 of his 15 seasons on the North Side, helping a Cubs team that, by and large, was an afterthought. However, that didn’t stop Santo from gutting out a Hall of Fame career. He was selected to nine All-Star teams, won five Gold Gloves, and had four consecutive 30-homer seasons. His 1967 campaign (.300 avg, 31 HR, 176 H, 9.8 WAR) netted him a fourth-place MVP finish. Santo is, by WAR, the second-greatest player in Cubs franchise history. Only Cap Anson has a better mark. In light of that, he’s definitely earned his spot as Washington’s best baseball player.
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Geoff Jenkins, Michael Conforto, Lyle Overbay, Tim Lincecum, Jeff Conine, Blake Snell, Randy Myers, Todd Stottlemyre, Grady Sizemore, Ed Brandt, Earl Torgeson, Michael Brantley, Jon Lester, Earl Averill, Ron Cey, John Olerud, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Cap Anson
Caleb Begley is a 26 year old lover of all things sports, but especially our nation's great national pastime. He holds a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, and hopes to use it to create a career within the sportscasting realm. While in school, he was able to write and edit for the school paper's sports section, while also helping to anchor and produce the student newscast. As far as baseball itself is concerned, he is always willing to talk about the history of the game, and the statistics and stories that go along with it. He is thrilled to be able to be a part of the Last Word on Baseball team, and he hopes that he is able to contribute something that is both factual and interesting.