Ted, Rickey, or Bonds?
by Paul Semendinger
February 8, 2022
Three legends of the game.
Three totally different players.
Three inner-circle Hall-of-Famers (by stats, at least). All who left an indelible imprint and impact of the game.
The story of baseball cannot be told without including these three giants.
and Barry Bonds.
But, who among them, was the greatest?
If one looks to WAR, the answer seems clear enough. It’s Bonds. It has to be:
Bonds (162.7), Williams (122.1), Henderson (111.2)
WAR7 gives a similar, but equally telling, result:
Bonds (72.7), Williams (68.2), Henderson (57.6)
JAWS? (Yeah, the same):
Bonds (117.7), Williams (95.1), Henderson (84.4)
Really, is there no debate?
Barry Bonds wins this by a landslide.
But does he?
What if we went to some traditional stats?
Barry Bonds: .298/762/1,996
Rickey Henderson: .279/297/1,115
Ted Williams: .344/521/1,839
That makes it look a little closer, at least between Bonds and Williams, but, there’s more…
Barry Bonds – All-Time Home Run King
Rickey Henderson – All-Time Leader in Runs Scored and Stolen Bases
Ted Williams – All-Time Leader in On-Base Percentage
Among three of the most important statistics, what matters the most?
If you think it’s home runs, then Barry Bonds wins.
If you think it’s getting on base, the answer is Ted Williams.
If you believe the answer is scoring runs, then you go with Rickey Henderson.
Want to make an argument for Rickey Henderson?
Here it is:
No player dominated games the way Rickey Henderson did with his speed and power.
Rickey Henderson owns the All-Time record for Lead-Off Home Runs.
Rickey Henderson scored the most runs in baseball history.
Rickey Henderson is a member of the 3,000 Hits Club.
The only player to steal more than 1,000 bases in baseball history was Rickey Henderson. He finished with more than 468 steals than the #2 player, Lou Brock. There are 47 players within 468 steals of Lou Brock’s total. Rickey isn’t just the all-time leader here, he shattered the record.
Rickey Henderson played on 8 teams that went to the post season (winning two World Series).
Want to make an argument for Ted Williams?
Here it is:
Ted Williams was the last player to hit .400.
Williams’ lifetime batting average is among the greatest ever and it dwarfs Bonds’ and Henderson’s.
Ted Williams won two Triple Crowns.
Ted Williams basically lost five full seasons to military service. Add in those five years and his numbers are even more impressive. Not only that, three of those seasons were his age 24, 25, and 26 seasons. In Williams’ two years before he served in World War II, he averaged the following: .379/36/128. It is likely that had Williams not lost those years (and two others) that he would have been baseball’s all-time Runs Batted In champion and he might have stuck around the challenge Babe Ruth’s home run title. He would have also had 3,000 hits.
Ted Williams is considered by many to be the greatest pure hitter in baseball history.
Want to make an argument for Barry Bonds?
Here it is:
Just look at the numbers.
He is tied with Babe Ruth for the highest WAR of All-Time
Before he became “superman,” Barry Bonds had the following career numbers:
That would have put him in this discussion, just with those numbers. Plus, he was only 34.
If we take Bonds’ 1999 season and just make that his typical season (34 homers) for the rest of his career (instead of the super seasons he had), Bonds would have ended with 725 homers.
Is it possible that without the PED questions that surrounded Bonds at the end that he might have played another few seasons and broken the home run record anyway? (Hank Aaron averaged 31 homers a year from his age-35 season to the end of his career. Might a “clean” Bonds have done the same?)
Some other thoughts:
Bonds and Henderson were considered plus fielders. Ted Williams was not.
At the tail end of his career, Rickey Henderson bounced around a lot. Bonds played for only two teams, Williams, just one.
In the end, great cases can be made for any of the three.
There may never be a hitter as revered and a great as Ted Williams was
Rickey Henderson might be the most unique baseball player in history with his combination of speed and power and his ridiculous amount of stolen bases. Rickey’s all-time total might never be matched and it seems right now as unapproachable as Cy Young’s 511 wins.
Barry Bonds without steroids might still have become the greatest player ever, but with the PEDS, he probably is, at least statistically.
In these debates, I always want Ted Williams to win. He was my dad’s favorite player. Ted Williams is one of my favorite players. I’m a big Ted Williams fan.
But, after looking at all of this, I believe Barry Bonds was the greatest.
Still, if you want to win (and isn’t that the point of all of this?), you would have to go with Rickey Henderson.
Those three players make for an amazing debate.
Who was the best?
It might just be too close to call.