When Ted Williams died on July 5, Major League Baseball lost arguably its greatest hitter.
“The Splendid Splinter” was the last player to hit . 400, compiling a .406 average in 1941, and his remarkable career included a .344 lifetime average, six batting titles, 521 home runs and two Triple Crowns.
With Williams gone, The Blade has decided to pose the question: Who is the best ex-player living now? Is it Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Pete Rose? Or is it someone else?
It's up to The Blade's readers to settle the issue by casting their votes. If you don't like any of the four choices, you can submit a write-in candidate. Readers also are being asked to select an all-time team from among ex-players still living. The results will appear next Sunday. (Vote online - click here)
Even after all the votes are counted, the debate as to who is the best ex-player still living will continue across America.
Mays probably is the best all-around player on The Blade's final four list, while Aaron is the best power hitter, Musial the best hitter with power, and Rose the best pure hitter.
In 1999 The Sporting News published a list of baseball's 100 greatest all-time players. The publication ranked Mays No. 2 (behind Babe Ruth), Aaron No. 5, Musial No. 10 and Rose No. 25.
That same year Baseball Weekly also published a list of its top 100, and Aaron was fourth, Musial fifth, Mays eighth and Rose 48th.
What say you?
Baseball's all-time home run king, who played for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers during his 23-year career, often is overlooked when fans debate the best player of the 1950s and '60s.
But he shouldn't be. “Hammerin' Hank” was every bit as good as Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and Mays. No player exerted more influence on the record books in the second half of last century than Aaron.
He not only holds the major league record for home runs - 755, 41 more than Ruth's previous record - he also has more RBIs, 2,297, and total bases, 6,856, than anyone else. And he won two batting titles and compiled a lifetime. 305 average while finishing with 3,771 hits, third all-time.
Aaron, who retired after the 1976 season, still ranks first in extra-base hits, 1,477, second in at-bats, 12,364, and runs (tied with Ruth), and third in games played, 3,298.
Aaron batted .300 or better 14 times, and he became one of the top outfielders in the game, winning three Gold Gloves.
Consistency was his calling card - he never hit more than 47 home runs in one season, but he did belt an astounding 20 or more for 20 consecutive seasons, thanks to his lightning-quick wrists.
Aaron won a record eight total-bases titles, one World Series and one MVP award.
On April 8, 1974, Aaron broke Ruth's home run mark of 714, once was thought to be untouchable. Racism, combined with the fans' reverence for the Babe, added to the difficulty of the Aaron's Herculean task. He received hate mail and death threats throughout the chase.
“Thank God it's over,” Aaron said after connecting for homer No. 715 on a 1-0 fastball from left-hander Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Aaron, now 68, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982, receiving 406 votes of the 415 ballots cast (97.83 percent).
The “Say Hey Kid” is considered by some to be the greatest all-around player of all time.
Mays could dominate a game in ways beyond comprehension. His career was highlighted by incredible catches and throws.
He also hit for average and power, had good speed and played great defense. And he was durable, playing in 150 or more games 13 consecutive seasons.
Along with Mantle and Aaron, Mays, 71, was the dominant slugger of the 1950s and '60s. He also was consistent - from 1959 through '65 he knocked in at least 100 runs and scored at least 100.
His eye-popping statistics include 660 home runs (third all-time), 3,283 hits and 1,903 RBIs. He won 11 Gold Glove awards in a row, four stolen base crowns and three triples titles. Not surprisingly, he finished in the top six in MVP voting an amazing 12 times.
Mays, who started his career 0-for-22, hit more than 35 homers 10 times in his career, more than 40 six times, 50 or more twice, and won five slugging crowns.
What could set Mays apart from the rest is his fielding prowess. His 7,095 putouts are the most in major league history. He used his patented basket catch on routine fly balls, and his spectacular, back-to-the-plate catch of Vic Wertz's drive to deep center in the 1954 World Series remains one of baseball's most memorable moments.
Mays served in the Navy for most of the 1952 season, and for all of '53. Had he played those years he almost certainly would have broken Ruth's home run record.
He returned in 1954 and won the MVP award after leading the league in slugging percentage (.667), average (.345), home runs (41) and RBIs (110).
Mays played in 24 All-Star games during his 23-year career with the New York/San Francisco Giants and Mets.
At the age of 40 he showed his true greatness. He led the league in walks, belted 18 home runs and was 23-for-26 in stolen bases.
Mays, the first man to hit 50 homers and steal 20 bases in a season, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979, receiving 409 votes on the 432 ballots cast (94.68 percent).
When Musial retired at the end of the 1963 season, after a 22-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, he owned 17 major league records and 29 National League marks.
Musial had Aaron's extra-base power, Williams' batting eye, the grace of Joe DiMaggio and the competitive spirit of Rose.
His unique, corkscrew hitting stance produced seven batting crowns and three MVP awards. He finished with a lifetime .331 batting average, 3,630 hits, 1,951 RBIs and 475 home runs.
Musial, now 81, hit plenty of ringing line drives, pounding out 725 doubles and 177 triples en route to 1,377 extra-base hits, which is second only to Aaron on the all-time list.
Nicknamed “Stan the Man,” Musial was a good-hitting pitcher in the minor leagues, but his career on the mound ended when he injured his left shoulder while attempting to make a diving catch in the outfield.
Musial appeared in 12 games with the Cardinals in 1941, then joined the team full-time the next year. In his first four major league seasons, St. Louis won four pennants and three World Series championships.
Musial, who topped the .300 mark 17 times, won his first MVP award in 1943, leading the NL with a .357 batting average, 220 hits, 48 doubles and 20 triples.
After serving in the Navy in 1945, he returned in '46 to win his second MVP award and help lead St. Louis to the World Series title.
Musial won his final MVP award in 1948, when he fell one home run shy of winning the Triple Crown. He had a .376 average, 230 hits, 46 doubles, 18 triples, a career-high 39 homers, 135 runs and 131 RBIs.
In 1956 Musial was named player of the decade for the period of 1946 to 1955, beating out stars such as Williams and DiMaggio.
Musial, who finished second in the MVP voting four times, was a solid defensive player, first in the outfield and later at first base. He played in a record-tying 24 All-Star games, hitting a record six home runs. He won his final batting title in 1957, hitting .351 at age 37. Musial batted .330 in 1962, when he was 42.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, receiving 317 votes on the 340 ballots cast (93.24 percent).
There's no question that baseball's all-time hits king is the best player - living or dead - not in baseball's Hall of Fame.
He was banned from the game by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 for betting on baseball while he was managing, and thus is ineligible for Cooperstown. He also has served a five-month prison sentence for income tax evasion.
Make no mistake, “Charlie Hustle” was arrogant and cocky, but he enjoyed a remarkable, 24-year career that ended with a record 4,256 hits, 65 more than Ty Cobb's former mark of 4,191.
Rose, who employed a crouched, coiled batting stance, also owns the major league mark for games played, 3,562, which never may be broken. That record also previously belonged to the legendary Hall-of-Famer Cobb.
The switch-hitting Rose, now 61, holds 11 major league records and 19 NL marks, including at-bats (14,053), singles (3,315), seasons with 200 or more hits (10), seasons with 600 or more at-bats (17) and seasons with 150 or more games played (17).
The only thing Rose didn't do was hit for power - he had just 160 career home runs.
He is the only player in major league history to play more than 500 games at five positions - first base (939 games), second (628), third (634), left field (671) and right field (595). He also played 70 games in center field.
Rose was rookie of the year in 1963, NL MVP in 1973 and World Series MVP in 1975. He won Gold Gloves in 1969 and 1970 and put together a 44-game hitting streak in 1978, still second only to DiMaggio's 56-game streak in 1941. He played in 17 All-Star games.
Rose also played on World Series championship teams with the Cincinnati Reds, in 1975 and '76, and on one with the Philadelphia Phillies, in 1980.
Rose, the last player-manager in baseball, batted .303 in his career, scored 2,165 runs, collected 746 doubles and 1,314 RBIs. His career fielding percentage of .991 ranks second all-time in league history for an outfielder.