The 10 Most Underrated Baseball Players of All-Time

Roberto Clemente: Almost criminally underrated and had he not died heroically in a plane crash in 1972, he’d be even less remembered. Despite amassing 3,000 hits, doing his best work at the plate in the 1960s when pitchers reigned supreme, and also being an outstanding right fielder, Clemente was not included in recent books I reviewed about the 25 greatest baseball players of all-time and the 20 greatest hitters.

Honus Wagner: In five or ten years, Alex Rodriguez will retire and debate will begin anew if he was the greatest shortstop ever. Some will say his power can’t be ignored, others will say the best is Derek Jeter who caused Rodriguez to shift to third base, and a few self-righteous sportswriters will probably pen columns saying Cal Ripken Jr. was more consistent– which is funny because Wagner lasted longer than any of those men and his .328 lifetime average and 3,420 hits is better too.

Tim Raines: Raines is Rickey Henderson if he played his best years in Montreal, had a well-documented drug problem, or hadn’t set the stolen base record.

Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker: A pair of great second basemen who were one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates, receiving less than five percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America their only time on the Cooperstown ballot, disqualifying them from future votes.

Ted Simmons: Bill James ranks Simmons, another one-and-done, as the 10th best catcher in baseball history. I have a hunch Simmons and Whitaker might be future Veterans Committee picks, but it’s no sure thing.

Kevin Brown: Fans may remember Brown’s $15 million annual contract from the Dodgers or his prickly personality or his being mentioned in the Mitchell Report after he retired. When Brown hits the Hall of Fame ballot later this year, he may become the best pitcher shunned by voters. If Albert Belle peaked with less than eight percent of the BBWAA vote, I don’t see Brown faring much better, no matter his 211 wins, string of dominance from the late 1990s, or his having one of the best Wins Above Replacement ratings of non-inducted pitchers.

Rick Reuschel: A 214-game winner who had at least 17 victories four years and made three All Star teams, Reuschel received exactly two Hall of Fame votes in 1997. This earns him the nod here over Bert Blyleven, another hurler long since underrated but one who should finally get a call from Cooperstown in January.

Jeff Reardon: I hear talk of Dan Quisenberry being a superb relief pitcher ignored by most Hall of Fame voters. Reardon has over 100 more saves, twice as many strikeouts, and played four more seasons than Quisenberry even as both men debuted in 1979. Like Quisenberry, Reardon was a one-and-done Hall of Fame candidate.

Sammy Sosa: Meet the most underrated player of the Steroid Era. Sosa was the Chicago Cubs in his prime, having a hand in more than 30 percent of their runs in 2001. The New York Times reported Sosa flunked a steroid test in 2003, making him one of many in his era who probably juiced. Then again, most did so with more protection in the batting order.

Related: A compilation of “Best Of” lists I’ve written here

25 thoughts on “The 10 Most Underrated Baseball Players of All-Time

  1. No baseball fan worth his salt undervalues either Roberto Clemente or Honus Wagner. I’m not saying that just because I live in Pittsburgh. Since his death, Clemente’s stature as a player has grown to near-heroic levels. As for Wagner, he was an eight-time National League batting champion and one of the first five inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

  2. I’m not suggesting that Wagner was underrated in his day, just that the modern fan would probably be quicker to say he was on a famous baseball card than offer any other facts about him whatsoever.

  3. It is tough to say Clemente and Wagner are underrated when they are both in The Hall of Fame.

  4. Clemente was voted into Cooperstown in 1973 and Wagner in 1936. I think they’re both underrated today. Revered as each man was in his generation, something seems to have been lost in transit over the years.

  5. Mmmm.. you know, Reardon was an excellent reliever for a while (’79-’85), and he doesn’t really get talked about at all. So I guess he would be more underrated than Quisenberry, who does get talked about. Good catch. I hadn’t thought of that. Although, In save situations, Reardon’s ERA was 3.37, while Quiz had a 2.49. ;-)

  6. Before he became “Roberto Clemente!”, he was generally thought of as sullen, lazy and selfish.

  7. @vinne: No, Pittsburgh sport writers thought of him as “sullen, lazy and selfish”
    In baseball circles, his talents were widely recognized and his teammates valued him. In fact, Clemente was a five tool player. If you question his power numbers (240 HRs), remember that he played in cavernous Forbes Field. Had Clemente played in PNC today, those home run numbers would be well over 400.

  8. Joe. Please don’t take that as a knock on him. All I was pointing out was that in his first few seasons, he not only wasn’t the Roberto Clemente he became, but that the perception of him throughout baseball at that time was quiet different, and I still have old baseball magazines where all these negatives were pointed out against him.
    Even in the early 60’s he was viewed as the third best right fielder in the NL behind Aaron and Frank Robinson. His lack of home run power(We know what Forbes did to that.) plus an inability to communicate with the writers and his penchant for having continuous nagging injuries didn’t help him either.
    He didn’t really become the team leader until the mid sixties when his talents that seemed to be more unharness potential than reality, blossom forth into full blown greatness on the field and people began to develop an appreciation for how hard he played and the passion he brought with him to every game and each at bat.
    There were actually three Clemente eras. The first was the young player with all that potential playing on a team that was always finishing at or near the bottom of the standings. That Clemente, except for 56 didn’t hit for much average and his power was yet to come. Frank Thomas, Dale Long, Bob Friend, Dick Groat and to some extent, Vern Law, Bob Skinner and Bill Virdon we all considered as good or better.
    The second era was with the winning of the world series. The outstanding play the country saw began to gain him recognition and appreciation, but not the acclaim for greatness that would come in the middle 60’s.
    That third era is the one by which we judge his overall achievements. All components of his game fully developed and equal to the best in the game. His leadership defined by his aggressive play and dedication to winning.
    If I’ve missed anything or mistated the case, feel free to correct me. After all, you’re from there and are better aware than I of how your hometown saw and evalutated him.

  9. @Vinne: Good overall assessment of Clemente. BTW, there is a Roberto Clemente Museum in town about 20 minutes from PNC Park that opened two years ago. Well worth a visit for people coming to Pittsburgh.

  10. Thanks Joe. You can be sure if I get out that way, I’ll make it a point to visit. Can I count on you for a tour though?

  11. If anything Clemente is overrated. Kaline, his almost exact contemporary, was just as good if not a little better.

  12. Graham, I believe you mistakenly put one of the most Overrated players of all time on your list of the most Underrated. Anyone can a mistake!

    I’m referring to Roberto Clemente. Clemente was an
    excellent player whose untimely death has elevated him to an almost mythical status. He had marginal power, exceeding 19 homers once and topping out at 29. His onbase percentage was under .370 for 11 of his 18 seasons and he never walked more than 56 times. He only reached double figures in steals once. His lifetime average of .317 was excellent, no doubt, but in part due to the cavernous Forbes Field outfield which suppressed homers but increased batting averages, doubles, and triples. He only drove in 100 runs twice and he only scored 100 runs 3 times.

    And yet he is always spoken of in hushed tones as some kind of baseball god. Underrated? I think not.

  13. I want to correct a mistake in my previous comment. I said Clemente exceeded 19 homers once. I meant to say Clemente exceeded 19 homers THREE times, topping out at 29. Either way, not especially impressive.

  14. Graham, it must be more amusing to you to see these ‘nonsense’ remarks about ‘The Great One’ esp. in lieu of your Googleing:1) ‘Clemente played in an airport’ and 2)Roberto Clemente-BR Bullpen. Somehow, the stat geeks don’t get Clemente was the best player in baseball when baseball peaked. More ex-players/coaches say either Mays/Clemente are the true elite of the game. The ’71 series had Roger Angell say: ‘There was Clemente playing a level of baseball that NONE of us had ever seen before…throwing and running and hitting at something close to the level of absolute perfection..playing to win,but playing as if it was a form of punishment for everyone else on the field.’
    Baseball has to market like never before ‘hiding’ Roberto is simply part of the marketing equation! The greatest defensive player in history and the most successful hitter against hall of fame pitchers in the SAME body…that can’t be, can it?

  15. If you want a player who, unlike Clemente, is really underrated today, you’d have to go with Frank Robinson. Not many people realize that Robinson was almost – but not quite – as good as Mays and Aaron. Clemente has become a mythic figure because of how he died. Today, we have people pushing for the retirement of his number throughout baseball. He was certainly unappreciated for much of his career, but at this point the myth has left reality behind. Clemente was a great player and a deserving Hall of Famer, but his career achievements do not put him anywhere near the level of Hank Aaron or Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle.

  16. Hi Greg,

    Maybe you’re right. Whatever the case, Clemente seems to be a polarizing figure here. There are readers who’ve bashed me in the past for not giving him enough due, and others who mocked me for including him in this post. Can’t please everyone I guess.

    Anyhow, thanks for reading, and feel free to stop by again soon.

    Graham Womack

  17. SABR(home run happy) dudes want their stats to trump the reality that 5 tool players should reign supreme in a game that rewards ALL tools.Baseball is flawed..outfield defense was all but eliminated when they put up walls! Line drives have always been more perfect contact esp. in Clemente’s case where on the few occasions when he DID elevate(less perfect) he has tape measure shots. Heavy bat, long arc and along with T. Williams unbelievable contact he generated more “bat energy” than SABR cares to admit.The 3 most feared left handed hitters according to infielders at that time were McCovery, B. Williams and Roberto(to the opposite field no less!!) Sadly, perhaps just plain provincialism has the most complete player ever not the top 25 by standards no one who played the game to a reasonable level can comprhend. The natives probably did become burned out drunks when they lost King Kong;Sabr dudes needn’t take it so hard to admit the truth about Roberto….

  18. What about Darrell Evans (whom I believe Bill James considers the most underrated player in baseball history)?

  19. Stratobill and some others here use very one-sided choices in their unfair derision of a great player. Strato claims that Clemente’s average was boosted by playing in Forbes Field. What he doesn’t get is that Clemente hit even better in the much smaller Three Rivers than he did in Forbes Field. His idea that Clemente had only marginal power is also mistaken. While he did not have the power number of a Mays or Aaron, he was known by many of his contemporaries, as quoted by Joe Morgan, as the most powerful hitter of his time. No one hit the ball harder than Clemente. Even the great Willie Stargell only hit a high of 33 homers in a season while playing at Forbes. Clemente’s high was 29. Stargell in his tenure at Forbes hit 180 homeruns which with a short porch of 300 feet for a pull-hitter like Stargell was quite cozy. Clemente, not going for power in the same years, hit 146 homeruns. Also, Kiner being the only one in Pirate history to hit over 50 homers, played in a much cozier Forbes field which included drawing in leftfield 30 feet.

    Strato also ignores the incredible fielding and throwing skills that Clemente had that perhaps only Mays could equal in all-round skill on the field. It’s funny that people know to give great fielders like Maz and B. Robby their due, but when comparing Clemente to his peers they always only talk about power. He was the greatest fielding rightfielder of his time and any other. Clemente was a superior fielder to Mantle, F. Robby and Aaron by far. I would truthfully rank Mays, Aaron, Mantle and F. Robby as better all-round players no doubt. But Clemente would be a step behind them. This is much the same way that Hank Greenberg and Jimmy Foxx stood behind Lou Gehrig. They are all great. But why should the splitting of hairs occur with Clemente? There’s something more here to the polarization of a great player and man.

    Clemente also had great speed and was an excellent baserunner. Stats for stealing bases is only one component of what base-running is about.

    He also hit for the highest average of the decade of the 60’s and the highest batting average of all the great contemporaries in right field like Aaron, Robinson and other outfield stars like Mantle. Clemente also had almost as many injuries in his career as the great Mantle did and still performed at a very high level. Clemente’s injuries ranged from severe spinal damage the winter before he joined the Pirates to malaria. The car accident he sustained the winter of 1954 was another reason why Clemente’s power numbers were restricted in his career. The fact that Clemente had to suffer the insulting treatment he got from many reporters who quoted him like a moron and called him a jaker had more to do with racism towards blacks and latins. In this case Clemente had two strikes against him. Clemente, Cepeda, Power, Oliva and Minoso were the forerunners for Latin players, but Clemente was the one who spoke out all by himself and took a great deal of abuse that made it easier for Cepeda, Oliva and all those who came after. He also went out of his way to help Latin and Black players not only on his own team but elsewhere.

    The problem for many so-called experts is that all they have today are stats. But in order to measure a players greatness, you have to consider the point of view of those who saw Clemente play and those who played with him and against him. Time and again Clemente is oraised as one of the greatest and the list of those people are long and a great deal more credible than all of us here.

  20. Alvy5521…there’s something more here than the polarization of a great player and man.Nixon/watergate/Deep something!

  21. heres someone you didnt mentions Jim Thome. Hes the underrated of the underrated. Hes one of the most consistant dominante hitter of all time, 9th (probably going to be 8th) on the all time home runs list, and nobody talks about him. Hes never been thought of using PED. Hes never one a world series, mvp. Hes been in 5 all-star games, he avraged 40 home runs per 162 games, 40! hes close to 2250 hits, hes got a lifetime BA a little under .380, an ops over .950, and scored over 1500 runs, and nobody thinks of him as one of the greatest. I am a HUGE Jim Thome fan, i watched him when he was in Philly and only seeing him for those 3 years, i knew he was one of the greatest, and i wasnt even 10 yet. If he returns next year, he most likely will hit his 600th homer, and might pass Sosa if he hits 21. Hes one of the greatest and no body considers him.

  22. Quote from Straobil: “I’m referring to Roberto Clemente. Clemente was an
    excellent player whose untimely death has elevated him to an almost mythical status.”

    What is funny here is that I’ve seen this comment a few places; but only since Bill James said the exact same thing in his book. I’m sorry, but just because Mr. James says it, doesn’t make it true and it sure won’t change the mind of the hundreds of players, coaches, managers, old-timers and yet to be players, and thousands of fans that saw Clemente play. No stat book or stat guru’s opinion can change the fact of what people saw first hand. The same would go for other underrated or now forgotten or overlooked greats like Frank Robinson, Al Kaline and Jimmie Foxx to name a few.

  23. I’ve barely ever heard of Sosa, I have always thought Clemente was very underrated, and I first heard of Wagner in the Guinness Book of World Records 2006 (A baseball card depicting him was worth $2.8 million). I’ve never heard of the rest.

  24. Robert Clemente isn’t underrated. He struck out twice as much as he walked, wasn’t a threat to steal bases, and wasn’t a huge homerun hitter. He was a great player, but not top 25 all-time. Anyway… Sosa, Reardon, Reuschel and Wagner also don’t belong on a list of underrated players. Honus Wagner is known as one of the all-time greats.

    Moises Alou – .303, 332 homeruns, 6 time all-star, 2-time silver slugger, etc…
    Albert Belle – obvious…
    Larry Walker
    Luis Tiant
    Vida Blue

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