Given baseball’s place as America's pastime, it’s not difficult to name the 10 most famous baseball players of all time. Many of baseball’s greatest players come from its golden age, before it was replaced by football as the most American popular sport. Players from the modern era have benefited from mass media coverage and some from playing in the huge media market of New York. Stan Musial does not make this list, but had he played in New York, he likely would have been considered greater than Lou Gehrig or Joe DiMaggio.
- Babe Ruth. The Babe was larger than life and will forever be perhaps be the most famous athlete ever. He was a home run hitter before it was fashionable, in many years he hit more home runs himself than entire teams. He is without a doubt the most famous baseball player of all time.
- Hank Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank passed the Babe as the all-time home run leader in the mid-1970s, becoming one of the most famous baseball players of all time, and unfortunately had to endure racist threats and taunts during his career. These days, baseball fans everywhere recognize Aaron as the home run king.
- Pete Rose. If Ruth and Aaron were the home run kings, Rose was known as the “hit king,” finishing his career with more hits than anyone in the history of baseball. Mr. Hustle defined baseball for many fans and was easily one of the most famous baseball players of all time.
- Ty Cobb. Cobb defined baseball in the early part of the century as much as Rose did in the latter, and it was Cobb’s hit record that Rose broke. Dominant in every phase of the game and known for a tenacious competitive streak, Cobb was not to be messed with on the field.
- Reggie Jackson. Noting the benefits of playing in New York, Jackson once said, “If I was playing in New York, they’d name a candy bar after me.” He was traded to the Yankees not long after, and the Reggie Bar appeared, cementing Jackson’s place as one of the most famous baseball players of all time. “Mr. October” later joined Ruth as one of only two players to hit three home runs in one World Series game.
- Nolan Ryan. The Ryan Express threw balls past batters for ages, notching a no-hitter at the age of 44, the seventh of his career, a major league record. Also a record: his 5,700 strike outs, far and away the best, making him perhaps the most famous baseball pitcher of all time.
- Lou Gehrig. Gehrig played in the same “Murderer’s Row” line up with Ruth, and supplanted him as team leader. The “Iron Horse” set a record for consecutive games played while being a home-run and RBI machine, leading the Yankees to the World Series seemingly every year.
- Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio followed Gehrig as the Yankees leader and was for decades the epitome of a great baseball player. This outfielder, one of the most famous baseball players of all time, once said, when asked why he hustled so hard on every single play after all his years in the big leagues, “There might be someone in the stands who’s never seen me play.”
- Ted Williams. Williams is the last player in the majors to bat .400 over a season and were it not for five years of his career interrupted to be a decorated pilot during World War II, he would have some of the greatest offensive numbers in history. "The Splendid Splinter’s" last at bat was a home run and he is certainly remembered as one of the most famous baseball players of all time.
- Mickey Mantle. Mantle followed DiMaggio in the lineage of Yankee greats and was a rare combination of speed and power. He led the Yankees to the World Series nearly every year of his career.
Resource: Vecsey, George. "Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game." Modern Library, 2008.