The best fielding Centerfielder Ever?

Of course this topic is pretty much a matter of opinion and I'm not trying to change anyone's opinion, but I am going to throw some stats out there that might change some opinions.

Any baseball fan who knows the history of the game knows what players are regarded the best ever.  There's Joe DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and, of course, Willie Mays who is considered the best of all-time by many.  More modern day names are Garry Maddox, Jim Edmonds, Torii Hunter and Ken Griffey.  Going by who I saw play (which I am always using as an argument with my fellow contributors) I saw Mays and Mantle, but only at the end of their careers, in fact Mantle was pretty much playing first base when I saw him.  So the last 4 are the best of who I saw play.  Some will ask, "Where is Andrew Jones?"  I thought he was very good, but not as good as the other 4.  I saw more of Maddux than the others because of growing up a Phillies fan and though he wasn't as flashy as the others, I think he covered more ground than the other 3.  But was he the best of all-time?  Let's go to the stats.

One of the best ways to measure outfielders is by looking at their putout totals.  Centerfielders should have more than left or right fielders.  The measure of a good season by a centerfielder is usually around 350 putouts a season.  More than 400 putouts is considered a great season and 500 putouts is like hitting .400.  Very rarely done.

Mantle and Snider never had more than 400 in a season, Speaker did it twice, Joe Dimaggio did it 3 times, his brother Dom did it 4 and Mays 6 times.  Now all these guys played most of their career in the 154 games season.  Mays did 5 of his seasons before the 162 game expansion.  Of this list so far, Dom DiMaggio is the only one with a 500 or more putout season.  He's also 2nd all-time in putouts per game.  Who's number 1?

Number 1 all-time in putouts per game is also the only guy to have more than one 500 putout season, in fact he had 4.  To go a little further, he also had 5 more seasons of 400 or more putouts. Yet, when you hear talk of the best fielding of all-time, his name rarely comes up.  Of course I'm talking about Richie Ashburn.  Amazingly, all four of Ashburn's 500 putout seasons were done during the era of 154 game seasons. His lifetime record of 2.89 putouts per game is #1.  In comparison, Joe DiMaggio's was 2.62, Speaker 2.52 and Mays at 2.50.  Of the more modern  day players Maddux was at 2.64, Hunter 2.55, Edmonds 2.43 and Griffey 2.35.

Since the seasons were expanded to 162 games 500 putouts in a season has been done only twice; 1977 by Chet Lemon and 1980 by Dwayne Murphy.

Now there's my statistical point of view of who might have been the best.  


  1. Great piece, Hersh. Whitey is easy to overlook and a lot of casual fans would ask why he's in the Hall of Fame - this piece highlights one of the biggest reasons why Ashburn is, in my opinion, a bona fide Hall of Famer. The stats certainly support your argument. Besides putouts, he's also second all-time in RF/G (behind the aptly named 1920's outfielder, Taylor Douthit). I did not watch Ashburn play so I have a question for you- how strong was his arm? The metrics suggest that his arm was average. Although arm strength is probably more important at the corner outfield positions, I'd still factor it into my decision making process (Johnny Damon wouldn't make any all-time defensive teams because of his noodle arm but the guy has as much range as anyone).

  2. PS... one active outfielder that should be mentioned is Chris Young. He's got tremendous range, a strong arm and he's only 27.

  3. Jr. was the smoothest center fielder I have ever seen. It is difficult to judge against the older players as the level of conditioning the athletes are at today is greater than back then. Jim Edmonds may have more highlight catches but Jr. covered more ground

  4. Willie is my favorite, but Joe Dimaggio, whom I also saw play, was in my opinion, the most graceful and smoothest outfielder ever. Fred Lynn, the year he was Rookie of the Year and MVP, reminded me of Joe D. Joe D. always made it look easy. Nonetheless, because of Willie's range and arm, and because he was Willie Mays, he's my number one, though your Richie Ashburn statistics are daunting. Peter Linzer


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