Ranking the best while considering a number of factors, including steroid use
"The Long Hot Summer" premieres on ESPN this Sunday before moving over to ESPN+. The "30 for 30" documentary tells the story of the exciting 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and the complex feelings about it that emerged afterward in the wake of the steroid scandal.
Debating the best sluggers in MLB history was always a fun topic for baseball fans, but steroid use made it more complicated. That being said, one can factor in things like steroids, the designated hitter, intentional walks, injuries, and military service and still rank sluggers. Here's my attempt at the 25 greatest of all time.
25. Ralph Kiner
Pittsburgh Pirates (1946–53), Chicago Cubs (1953–54), Cleveland Indians (1955)
Home Runs: 369
162-Game Average: 41 HRs, 112 RBIs
Kiner hit more than 40 home runs in five of his 10 seasons, but a back injury forced him to retire early.
24. Juan Gonzalez
Texas Rangers (1989–99), Detroit Tigers (2000), Cleveland Indians (2001), Texas Rangers (2002–03), Kansas City Royals (2004), Cleveland Indians (2005)
Home Runs: 434
162-Game Average: 42 HRs, 135 RBIs
Steroid use allegations clouded a great career that included a run from 1995-98 where Gonzalez averaged more than an RBI per game.
23. Carlos Delgado
Toronto Blue Jays (1993–2004), Florida Marlins (2005), New York Mets (2006–09)
Home Runs: 473
162-Game Average: 38 HRs, 120 RBIs
Delgado holds baseball's all-time record for career home runs for Puerto Rican players and is one of six players to hit 30 home runs in 10 consecutive seasons.
22. Miguel Cabrera
Florida Marlins (2003–07), Detroit Tigers (2008–present)
Home Runs: 477
162-Game Average: 32 HRs, 114 RBIs
One of two active players on this list, Cabrera's feats included a run from 2012-13 in which he blasted 88 home runs, drove in 276 RBIs, and won the Triple Crown.
21. Manny Ramirez
Cleveland Indians (1993–2000), Boston Red Sox (2001–08), Los Angeles Dodgers (2008–10), Chicago White Sox (2010), Tampa Bay Rays (2011)
Home Runs: 555
162-Game Average: 39 HRs, 129 RBIs
Ramirez was a nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner, but his suspensions for violating MLB's policy on performance-enhancing drugs drop him several pegs on this list.
20. Albert Belle
Cleveland Indians (1989–96), Chicago White Sox (1997–98), Baltimore Orioles (1999–2000)
Home Runs: 381
162-Game Average: 40 HRs, 130 RBIs
The only player to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in a season (1995) also drove in more 100 in nine consecutive seasons. Degenerative hip osteoarthritis forced Belle to retire early at 34.
19. Hank Greenberg
Detroit Tigers (1930, 1933–41, 1945–46), Pittsburgh Pirates (1947)
Home Runs: 331
162-Game Average: 38 HRs, 148 RBIs
"Hammerin' Hank" lost three of his prime years due to service in World War II. In 1947, he hit 25 home runs before retiring at 36 to take a front-office job with the Cleveland Indians. Only a handful of players have hit more dingers in their final year.
18. Mark McGwire
Oakland Athletics (1986–97), St. Louis Cardinals (1997–2001)
Home Runs: 583
162-Game Average: 50 HRs, 122 RBIs
McGwire averaged more home runs per 162 games than any other player on this list. However, his admitted steroid use was a contributing factor to that.
17. Harmon Killebrew
Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1954–74), Kansas City Royals (1975)
Home Runs: 573
162-Game Average: 38 HRs, 105 RBIs
The stocky Killebrew hit 40 home runs in a season eight times, and many of them went way past the outfield wall. In 1967, he hit a 520-foot blast at Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium, and it remains the longest home run in Twins history.
16. Sammy Sosa
Texas Rangers (1989), Chicago White Sox (1989–91), Chicago Cubs (1992–2004), Baltimore Orioles (2005), Texas Rangers (2007)
Home Runs: 609
162-Game Average: 42 HRs, 115 RBIs
"Slammin' Sammy" is the only player in MLB history to hit 60 home runs in three different seasons, although he never led the majors in homers in any season. His link to baseball's steroid scandal has kept him out of the Hall of Fame.
15. Jim Thome
Cleveland Indians (1991–2002), Philadelphia Phillies (2003–05), Chicago White Sox (2006–09), Los Angeles Dodgers (2009), Minnesota Twins (2010–11), Cleveland Indians (2011), Philadelphia Phillies (2012), Baltimore Orioles (2012)
Home Runs: 612
162-Game Average: 39 HRs, 108 RBIs
Thome is the all-time leader in career regular-season walk-off home runs with 13.
14. Mickey Mantle
New York Yankees (1951–68)
Home Runs: 536
162-Game Average: 36 HRs, 102 RBIs
One of the most mythicized players in MLB history holds World Series records for most home runs (18) and RBIs (40).
13. David Ortiz
Minnesota Twins (1997–2002), Boston Red Sox (2003–16)
Home Runs: 541
162-Game Average: 36 HRs, 119 RBIs
Ortiz recorded the most home runs (485) and RBIs (1,569) for a designated hitter and hit 11 regular season and two postseason walk-off home runs in his career.
12. Frank Thomas
Chicago White Sox (1990–2005), Oakland Athletics (2006), Toronto Blue Jays (2007–08), Oakland Athletics (2008)
Home Runs: 521
162-Game Average: 36 HRs, 119 RBIs
"The Big Hurt" is the White Sox's all-time leader in home runs (448) and RBIs (1,465), and he's the first in the history of the franchise to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Thomas also advocated for drug testing early on in the steroid era.
11. Mike Schmidt
Philadelphia Phillies (1972–89)
Home Runs: 548
162-Game Average: 37 HRs, 107 RBIs
Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times and his 548 dingers are the most by any player who spent his entire career with one team.
10. Alex Rodriguez
Seattle Mariners (1994–2000), Texas Rangers (2001–03), New York Yankees (2004–13, '15–16)
Home Runs: 696
162-Game Average: 41 HRs, 121 RBIs
A-Rod posted amazing numbers during his career, but his issues with performance-enhancing drugs that included a suspension for the entire 2014 season keep him lower on this list.
9. Barry Bonds
Pittsburgh Pirates (1986–92), San Francisco Giants (1993–2007)
Home Runs: 762
162-Game Average: 41 HRs, 108 RBIs
When you take baseball's best player and ply him with steroids, you get Barry Bonds run in the 2000s... allegedly. In Bonds' first 13 seasons, he hit 411 home runs. In his last nine seasons, he hit 351.
8. Ken Griffey Jr.
Seattle Mariners (1989–99), Cincinnati Reds (2000–08), Chicago White Sox (2008), Seattle Mariners (2009–10)
Home Runs: 630
162-Game Average: 38 HRs, 111 RBIs
After hitting 249 home runs between 1996 and 2000, Griffey began suffering from injuries that nagged him for the rest of the career. Had he remained healthy, there is no telling how high he would be on this list.
7. Willie Mays
New York/San Francisco Giants (1951–52, '54–72), New York Mets (1972–73)
Home Runs: 660
162-Game Average: 36 HRs, 103 RBIs
Mays hit 30 home runs in a season 11 times in his career. When you look at his amazing numbers, it is important to remember that he missed more than 260 games for military service in his second and third seasons.
6. Albert Pujols
St. Louis Cardinals (2001–11), Los Angeles Angels (2012–present)
Home Runs: 656
162-Game Average: 38 HRs, 119 RBIs
The only other active player on this list, Pujols is sixth all-time in home runs and fourth in RBIs.
5. Jimmie Foxx
Philadelphia Athletics (1925–35), Boston Red Sox (1936–42), Chicago Cubs (1942, '44), Philadelphia Phillies (1945)
Home Runs: 534
162-Game Average: 37 HRs, 134 RBIs
Foxx was the inspiration for the Tom Hanks character in "A League of Their Own" and led the American League in home runs four times.
4. Ted Williams
Boston Red Sox (1939–42, 1946–60)
Home Runs: 521
162-Game Average: 37 HRs, 130 RBIs
One of the best pure hitters in MLB history missed nearly five seasons for service in World War II and the Korean War. Had that not happened, he would likely be baseball’s all-time leader in career RBIs.
3. Lou Gehrig
New York Yankees (1923–39)
Home Runs: 493
162-Game Average: 37 HRs, 149 RBIs
"The Iron Horse" hit 23 grand slams in his career and still has the highest average in runs scored plus RBIs per 100 plate appearances (35.08) and 100 games (156.7).
2. Hank Aaron
Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1954–74), Milwaukee Brewers (1975–76)
Home Runs: 755
162-Game Average: 37 HRs, 113 RBIs
Aaron hit 30 home runs in 15 of his 23 seasons and is MLB's all-time leader in RBIs (2,297) and total bases (6,856).
1. Babe Ruth
Boston Red Sox (1914–19), New York Yankees (1920–34), Boston Braves (1935)
Home Runs: 714
162-Game Average: 46 HRs, 143 RBIs
Even with all of the other factors that have arisen in the last century, Ruth's numbers still dwarf every one of the other players on this list when looking at how he performed in the amount of time he played. For example, Ruth hit 49 home runs in his first six seasons with the Red Sox when he was primarily a pitcher. After being traded to the Yankees, he averaged 44 home runs a season over the next 15 years. No other player in MLB history has accomplished such a feat.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)