The Best Wisconsin Baseball Players

Wisconsin is best known as America’s Dairyland, but it also has a rich sports culture. Although winter sports such as football and hockey are generally more popular, the Badger State owns its fair share of baseball history. The Milwaukee Braves brought the state its first World Series title in 1957. The Braves’ stint in Milwaukee lasted less than two decades, but the Brewers filled the void soon after. The Brew Crew has often remained competitive since their inception despite still seeking a championship. Along with the nearly 70-year history of Major League ball in Wisconsin, the state has produced many notable players, including some enshrined in Cooperstown. Without further ado, here are the best players born in Wisconsin in the history of MLB.

The Best Wisconsin Baseball Players

10. Ken Keltner

Born: Milwaukee

Career WAR: 33.28

Kicking off our list of the best players from Wisconsin is Ken Keltner. One of the steadier third basemen of his day, he enjoyed seven All-Star seasons with the then-Cleveland Indians in the 1940s. This included five straight All-Star nods from 1940-44. Keltner had two seasons with more than 100 RBI (1938, 1948) and hit 163 career homers.

Today, Keltner is most remembered for helping end Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak. On a July afternoon in Cleveland, he made two great defensive plays on balls ticketed for the outfield. DiMaggio was kept off the board that day before starting a new 16-game streak.

9. Andy Pafko

Born: Boyceville

Career WAR: 36.84

Andy Pafko started his career with the Chicago Cubs, with whom he made five All-Star Games between 1945 and 1950. In two of those seasons, he drove over 100 runs. Pafko finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 1945. After Chicago, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers for parts of two seasons. It was here he got his first taste of postseason baseball. The Dodgers won the 1952 pennant, losing the World Series in seven games to the New York Yankees.

The following year, Pafko returned to his home state to play for the Braves. He spent parts of seven seasons in Milwaukee, and eventually got revenge on the Yankees, winning the 1957 World Series. Although Pafko didn’t have impressive numbers in that Fall Classic, he hit .333 in the 1958 rematch, which the Yankees would win in seven. The Cubs named Pafko to their Hall of Fame and All-Century Team. He lived to the age of 92.

8. Pink Hawley

Born: Beaver Dam

Career WAR: 39.69

The next entry in our countdown takes us back to the 19th century. Pink Hawley had a fascinating career that perfectly encapsulates the dead-ball era. Starting out with the National League’s St. Louis Browns (later the Cardinals), he led the league in losses his last year there with 27 in 1894. The next season, his first with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hawley bounced back, compiling a 31-22 record and leading the NL with a now-unthinkable 444 1/3 innings pitched. He also threw a league-high four shoutouts that year, but also led the league in hit batters (33) for the second straight year.

For his career, Hawley had a 167-179 record, consistent with his up-and-down records through the seasons. He also wasn’t half bad at hitting given his position. In his decade-long career, Hawley slugged 11 homers (including five in 1895) with a .241 average and .615 OPS.

7. Brad Radke

Born: Eau Claire

Career WAR: 45.33

Next up on our list of the best players Wisconsin had to offer is Brad Radke. Although he hails from the Badger State, Radke made a name for himself next door, spending his entire career with the Minnesota Twins. Coming up in 1995, he broke through two years later, finishing third in the 1997 AL Cy Young voting. That year, Radke won 20 games while pitching to a 3.87 ERA. The next season, despite less impressive numbers, he made his only All-Star Game. Radke was the Twins’ best starter in their 2002 ALDS victory over the Oakland Athletics, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA. He compiled a 3.60 ERA across five career postseason series.

6. Addie Joss

Born: Woodland

Career WAR: 45.35

Time to leap into the wayback machine once again for the next Wisconsinite on the list. Addie Joss is the first Hall of Famer to appear in our countdown. Joss spent the entirety of his brief career with the Cleveland franchise, known at that time first as the Bronchos, then the Naps.

While he only pitched in the majors for nine years, he certainly made the most of it. On October 2, 1908, he pitched the second perfect game of the modern era (after Cy Young himself). Joss twice led the AL in ERA (1.59 in 1904 and 1.16 in 1908). His career ERA of 1.89 is the second lowest all-time (behind Ed Walsh). His career WHIP of 0.968 is the lowest ever. Of his 160 career wins, 45 of them were shutouts. Sadly, Joss’ career was cut short when he was diagnosed with tuberculous meningitis during spring training in 1911. This led to his death weeks later at age 31. Joss was eventually enshrined in Cooperstown in 1978 by the Veterans Committee.

5. Lave Cross

Born: Milwaukee

Career WAR: 46.45

In keeping with the mostly old-school theme of this list, Lave Cross was born Vratislav Kriz in 1866 to Bohemian immigrants in Milwaukee. Starting his career in 1887 as a catcher, Cross became a third baseman for most of his 21 major league seasons. Roughly half of his career was spent in Philadelphia, first with the Phillies and then the A’s, whom he captained to two AL pennants (1902, 1905). Cross racked up 2,651 career hits and 1,378 RBI, especially impressive totals for the dead-ball era. At the time of his retirement in 1907, he was in the top 10 all-time in several offensive categories.

4. Ed Konetchy

Born: La Crosse

Career WAR: 46.49

Next up is Ed Konetchy. A reliable contact hitter, he broke the .300 mark four times in 15 seasons. Starting out with the Cardinals in 1907, he played seven seasons in St. Louis. In 1911, he led the NL in doubles with 38. Konetchy went to the Pirates in 1914, then spent the following season with the Pittsburgh Rebels of the short-lived Federal League. Later career stops included Boston (Braves), Brooklyn, and Philadelphia (Phillies). Konetchy accumulated 2,150 hits in his career, but his penchant for speed and excellent defense at first base superseded his reputation as a hitter.

3. Burleigh Grimes

Born: Emerald

Career WAR: 52.82

Our list of the best Wisconsin baseball players will be rounded out by a trio of Hall of Famers. First up is Burleigh Grimes. Nicknamed “Ol’ Stubblebeard,” Grimes is best remembered today for being the last major league pitcher officially allowed to throw the spitball. Despite the banning of the pitch in 1920, its use was grandfathered in for 17 active pitchers. Of this group, Grimes was the last to retire in 1934. His habit of not shaving on gamedays lent him an intimidating presence on the mound to go with the edge the spitter gave him.

Pitching 20 years for seven different teams (mostly in the NL), Grimes won 270 games. This included five campaigns with 20 or more wins. He twice led the NL in wins and won the 1931 World Series with the Cardinals. Grimes was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1964.

2. Al Simmons

Born: Milwaukee

Career WAR: 68.16

Al Simmons’ 20-year Hall of Fame career was spread among seven different teams. However, his best years were with the Philadelphia A’s. A premier hitter from the jump, Simmons hit over .300 and drove in over 100 runs in each of his first 11 seasons. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1930 and 1931, and he helped the A’s to back-to-back World Series titles in 1929-30. In those two seasons, Simmons had 157 and 165 RBI, respectively. With the Chicago White Sox, Simmons was an AL All-Star for the first three years of the Midsummer Classic’s existence (1933-35).

In terms of games played, Simmons remains the fastest player in history to attain both 1,500 hits (1,040 games) and 2,000 hits (1,393 games). He was also an outstanding defensive outfielder with a .982 career fielding percentage but is most remembered as one of the greatest pure hitters in history. Simmons joined the Hall of Fame in 1953.

1. Kid Nichols

Born: Madison

Career WAR: 116.29

With an all-time great like Al Simmons coming in second on this list, the best Wisconsin baseball player must be one of the immortals. Despite not being the most well-known player in this top 10, Kid Nichols certainly meets that qualification. Spending his first dozen seasons starting in 1890 with the Boston Braves, Nichols won 30 or more games an astonishing seven times. In all but two years of his tenure in Boston, he attained 20 or more wins. This helped him become the youngest pitcher in major league history to join the 300-win club, doing so at age 30.

His career ERA of 2.96 shows it was more than just luck or run support that helped Nichols win so many games. He retired third all-time in wins with 362, a mark that currently stands at seventh all-time. Nichols also ranks 11th all-time with 5,067 1/3 innings pitched. Doing all this in only 15 years is likely the reason for his sky-high career WAR of 116.29, landing him atop our list of Badger State greats. His rate of production also landed him in the Hall of Fame in 1949, four years before his death.

Main photo:

Erik Williams – USA Today Sports

Players mentioned:

Ken Keltner, Joe DiMaggio, Andy Pafko, Pink Hawley, Brad Radke, Addie Joss, Cy Young, Ed Walsh, Lave Cross, Ed Konetchy, Burleigh Grimes, Al Simmons, Kid Nichols