Major League Baseball did not have a Wild Card round until 1994. Before then, teams had to win their division in order to qualify for postseason play. Thanks to the Wild Card, teams like 2003 Florida Marlins and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals have their names etched in history. Here we examine the best five players since that era’s beginning.
Everything listed will be considered from 1994 and on:
- Individual achievements
- Team achievements
No. 10: Edgar Martinez
Now serving as the Mariners’ hitting coach, all Martinez did for the Mariners was hit. He was one of the first players to primarily play in the American League’s designated hitter spot. Even before the greatness of Big Papi. Despite starting his career in 1987, some of Gar’s best years came after the creation of the Wild Card round. During the 2000 season, Martinez mashed 37 homers, drove in 145 runners, scored 100 runs and batted at a .324 clip. Oh, not to mention he was 37 years old when he did all of this. If he doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame before David Ortiz, it will be a travesty.
No 9: Andy Pettitte
Pettitte never dazzled in the regular season for the Bronx Bombers or the Houston Astros, but he was undoubtedly their ace. He never really shined until he made it to October and he made it there a lot. Pettitte reached the postseason in 14 of his 19 seasons in the bigs. In those 32 series, he posted a 3.81 ERA and won over 50 percent of his starts. Oh, by the way, he also has five shiny World Series rings. Even though his teams saw much success during his tenure, Pettitte himself did not acquire many accolades or exactly dominate. For those two factors, he’s at nine.
No. 8: Albert Pujols
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What about A-Rod?” Well, his accomplishments have been marred by controversy because of his run-in with steroids. That is also why you don’t see McGwire, Sosa or Clemens on this list either. Plus, Pujols came in during the 2001 season and was an instant contributor for the Cardinals. A member of the 600 homer club and one of the most dangerous hitters in all of baseball, even to this day. Pujols is no slouch. In his rookie year, he smashed 37 homers, drove in 130 runs and scored 112 of them. He won the NL’s Rookie of the Year that season. He is a three-time MVP with two World Series rings and a 10-time All-Star recognition earner. Plus, he did it all without injecting anything.
No. 7: Tie: Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera
These two men are the top two in career saves. Together they total 1,253 saves (Rivera with 652 and Hoffman with 601.) They both have over 100 more saves than the third place man in Lee Smith, a man who was at the end of his career when these two were young guns. Hoffman was the first to break the saves record in 2006 with the Padres, but Mo had the last laugh as he would break Hoffman’s record in 2011 and finished his career as the all-time saves leader in MLB history at 652. It was impossible to leave either one of them off of this list considering how much they dominated their respective leagues.
No. 5: Ken Griffey Jr.
The player known as “The Kid” may not have won a title during his Hall of Fame career, but he is crowned as one of the best the sport has ever known. Despite coming onto the scene in 1989, Griffey Jr. smacked almost 500 home runs in a uniform for the Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, and the Cincinnati Reds. Three years after the Wild Card era started, Ken Griffey Jr. won the AL MVP after slamming 56 homers, driving in 147 runs and scoring 125 times. From 1994 to the end of his career, Griffey Jr. was elected to nine All-Star Games and received six Silver Slugger awards. Not only was Junior great at the plate, he also astounded folks with his glove, as he won six consecutive Gold Glove awards in the outfield. But, the lack of a title leaves Ken Griffey Jr. sitting at No. 5.
No. 4: David Ortiz
Over a 20-year career, Ortiz slapped over 500 home runs, won three world titles, was a 10-time All-Star, a 7-time recipient of the Silver Slugger Award, an ALCS MVP (2004) and a World Series MVP (2013). Big Papi was a fixture in Boston for over 10 years. He produced for the Sox despite playing all the way until he was 40 years old. His stats in his age-40 season? Only 38 homers, 127 RBI, and a 1.021 OPS. Ortiz led the Red Sox to three World Series titles, is a key cog in all of them. that includes his performance in the 2004 American League Championship Series that rocketed the Red Sox over the Yankees in their historic comeback down three games to none.
No. 3: Randy Johnson
Randall David Johnson. Also known as the “Big Unit.” He was as nasty a pitcher as there was since the creation of the Wild Card era. A five-time winner of the Cy Young Award, an honor that id s bestowed upon the best pitcher in both the MLB’s American and National League. Four of his Cy Young awards he won consecutively from 1999 to 2002 and those were his ages 35 to 38 seasons. He is one of six pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both the AL and NL. Johnson won over 200 games from 1994 to his final year in 2009, logging 3,000 innings, striking out almost 4,000 hitters and posting a 3.12 earned run average. Not to mention, in his age-37 season, pitching in five games between the NLCS and World Series, throwing 33.1 innings, striking out 28 and posting an ERA of 1.09. His performance that year earned him a title and the 2001 World Series MVP Award.
No. 2: Pedro Martinez
The only man who could challenge Randy Johnson in terms of filthy stuff during the late 1990s and early 2000s: Pedro Martinez. But, nobody could challenge how dominant Petey was during his prime. In the offense-dominated American League, Pedro Martinez ended his season with an ERA below 3.00 for six straight seasons from 1997 to 2003. During that stretch, Petey even finished with an ERA below 2.00 (1.74). Despite winning only one world title with the Red Sox in 2004, Martinez has won the Cy Young Award three times. Like Johnson, he is part of the six-man club of pitchers who have won the award in both leagues. In his Cy Young year with the Montreal Expos, Petey put a 1.90 ERA, struck out 305 batters to only 65 walks, threw over 240 innings and won 17 games. Martinez also threw 13 complete games out of his 31 starts that year, shutting out four opponents. His lack of postseason success is counterbalanced by his freakish regular season numbers.
No. 1: Derek Jeter
It’s no surprise that The Captain should receive top honors on this list. A mix of the regular season and postseason success that most players in the major leagues can only dream of. Five world championships, a World Series MVP, a 14-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove winner, a five-time Silver Slugger recipient and a handful of unforgettable memories. He was a model of consistency for the Bronx Bombers for 20 years posting a career average of .310, acquiring 200 hits in eight of his 20 years, recording an on-base percentage over .350 15 times and scoring over 100 runs 13 times. The Flip, his dive into the stands against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium and of course his walk-off home run against the Diamondbacks in 2001 that gave him the nickname “Mr. November.” He is one of the three captains in the history of Yankees baseball. An inspiration to players today like Mike Trout and Dansby Swanson and a fixture in baseball forever.