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15 greatest center fielders in MLB history

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There are few things more challenging for baseball fans than ranking the best center fielders of all time. Many of the top outfielders in MLB history are also among the greatest CFs ever.

In the history of baseball, center field is a position that’s loaded with star players, not to mention some of the biggest contracts in MLB history for some of the modern stars who are among the best center fielders of all time. In other words, being considered one of the greatest CFs ever puts a player in exclusive company.

Best center fielders of all time

With all of that in mind, we decided to take on the impossible task of ranking the best center fielders of all time.

Frankly, this list could have gone on forever if we wanted to include every noteworthy center fielder. However, we decided to make this an exclusive list and rank only the 15 best center fielders of all time.

15. Richie Ashburn

In the interest of full disclosure, the final spot on our list came down to Richie Ashburn and Robin Yount. But since Yount only played center field for half of his career, we gave the nod to Ashburn.


He spent 12 seasons with the Phillies and remains a legend in Philadelphia. He won two batting titles in his career and finished with over 2,500 hits and a .308 career average. While not much of a power hitter, Ashburn did everything else well and was finally put into the Hall of Fame in 1995 thanks to the Veteran Committee.

14. Bernie Williams

There may not have been a Yankees dynasty in the late 90s without Bernie Williams. He was an integral part of the team’s success, as his five straight all-star selections were almost concurrent with New York’s domination.

Williams also four straight Gold Gloves around the time the Yankees won four World Series in five seasons. Williams was always a fan favorite because he played the game the right way and always produced. In his career, Williams hit .297 with over 2,300 hits and nearly 300 home runs, so he deserves to be mentioned among the best center fielders ever.

13. Jim Edmonds

Jim Edmonds is definitely one of those center fielders who gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. He was known mostly for his defense, winning eight Gold Gloves and becoming a highlight reel waiting to happen.

But Edmonds could hit a little too. He won a Silver Slugger during his career and came close to reaching 400 home runs in his career while batting .284, so he definitely falls into the category of a well-rounded center fielder. 


12. Duke Snider

Despite spending much of his career being overshadowed by players like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, Duke Snider still deserves to be counted among the best center fielders ever.

He was an exceptional athlete who made more than a few highlight reel catches during his career. Snider was also a career .295 hitter who also hit over 400 home runs. He played a key role in helping the Dodgers win two World Series and made the All-Star Team eight times. Somehow, he had to wait until the 11th ballot to get into the Hall of Fame, which is where he belongs.

11. Kirby Puckett

In the modern era, there weren’t many hitters better than Kirby Puckett. He remains one of the fastest players to reach 1,000 hits and one of the fastest to 2,000 hits.

Naturally, he made 10 consecutive All-Star Teams while winning six Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers. Puckett also won a batting title in 1989 and helped the Twins win two World Series titles. An eye issue eventually forced him to retire early, but for a decade, he was one of the elite players in the game.

10. Kenny Lofton

For whatever reason, Kenny Lofton never quite got the recognition he deserved.

He might be the best pure athlete to ever play in the majors. After all, he went to college at the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship. In the majors, Lofton’s speed allowed him to win four straight Gold Gloves and lead the American League in stolen bases in five straight seasons.

Not surprisingly, that stretch coincided with Lofton being an all-star in six straight seasons. While he couldn’t maintain that same level of play for his entire career, Lofton still played 16 seasons in the big leagues, helping his team reach the postseason 11 times. He brought so much to the table, finishing his career with a .299 average and over 2,400 hits on top of his 622 stolen bases and incredible base-stealing prowess.

9. Andruw Jones

With defense being undervalued in the modern era, Andruw Jones doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. He was at another level defensively and might be the best defensive center fielder of all time.

How else do you explain his 10 consecutive Gold Gloves?

But Jones could handle the bat too. He smacked over 400 career home runs and led the majors in long balls in 2005. During the prime of his career, Jones was a two-way center fielder who could hit for power and field his position better than anyone, which is why he’s not too far behind some of the most legendary center fielders of all time.

8. Carlos Beltran

While the cheating scandal with the Astros late in his career tarnished his legacy a little, Carlos Beltran is still among the greatest center fielders ever. He burst onto the scene, winning Rookie of the Year in 1999, and maintained a high level of play for nearly two decades after that.

Beltran is among the best examples of a two-way center fielder, winning three Gold Gloves as an excellent defensive player while being an impactful offensive player. He finished his career with over 2,700 hits and 435 home runs while also being a nine-time all-star. There just aren’t a lot of center fielders in baseball history who can measure up to what Beltran accomplished.

7. Ken Griffey Jr.

If there was an award for the sweetest left-handed swing, Ken Griffey Jr. would probably win that. He also holds a special place among the best center fielders of all time.

The only thing sweeter than Griffey’s swing was the way he went back on the ball and made exceptional plays in the outfield.

That’s how he won the Gold Glove in 10 consecutive years, winning it in literally every season during the 90s. Needless to say, he was the premier defensive center fielder of his generation. He was also a 13-time all-star and seven-time Silver Slugger winner who led the American League in home runs four times. Eventually, Griffey ended up with 630 home runs and over 2,700 hits. Later, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer by a wide margin and among the most well-rounded center fielders in baseball history.

6. Mickey Mantle

Decades after his career ended, Mickey Mantle still stands out as one of the true legends of the game. He was a key figure for the Yankees for nearly two decades, helping the franchise to win seven World Series titles during his career.

Mantle took home one Gold Glove and one batting title during his career but also won three MVPs, including the year he won the Triple Crown. His longevity was something special, as Mantle hit .300 or better 10 times. Mantle is also one of the best postseason hitters in baseball history, coming through in the clutch for the Yankees time and time again. On top of that, there’s little doubt that Mantle is the greatest switch-hitter of all time in addition to being among the best center fielders ever.

5. Mike Trout

With his career far from over, Mike Trout has already done enough to put himself among the best center fielders of all time.

In modern times, Trout vs Betts is a popular debate, but the real debate is where Trout will end up on the all-time list of baseball legends.

He won Rookie of the Year honors in 2012 and has been a perennial all-star ever since. Along the way, Trout has won three MVPs despite playing for a losing team most years and has also won nine Silver Slugger Awards. Somehow, his defense has been overlooked with Trout failing to win a Gold Glove. However, he’s arguably the most well-rounded outfielder of his generation and can go toe-to-toe with almost every other center fielder in baseball history.

4. Joe DiMaggio

In baseball history, Joe DiMaggio was perhaps the first example of a center fielder who thrived on both sides of the ball.

Unfortunately, the Gold Glove award came into existence after DiMaggio’s career, although historians consider him among the best defensive players at his position to ever play.

Of course, DiMaggio was also among the best hitters in baseball history, most notably his 56-game hitting streak. If he hadn’t missed three seasons in the middle of his career during World War II, DiMaggio’s legacy could have been even greater.

Nevertheless, he was an all-star in all 13 seasons he played, winning two batting titles and three MVPs. He also helped the Yankees win nine World Series titles in those 13 years. That success is no coincidence because DiMaggio played a huge role in that success as a center fielder who did everything at a high level.

3. Ty Cobb

While the details of his personal life are somewhat controversial and up for debate, there’s no denying that Ty Cobb is one of the best players in baseball history.

During his career, Cobb set nearly 100 different records, many of which he still holds today. That includes the most batting titles won with 12 and the highest career batting average at .366.

There has probably never been a better pure hitter than Cobb, who also had nearly 900 career stolen bases, leading the American League in that category six times.

Despite only hitting 117 career home runs, Cobb led the American League in homers the year he won the Triple Crown. More importantly, he amassed over 4,100 career hits. The fact that he was a solid but unspectacular defensive player is the only thing keeping him from being the best center fielder of all time.

2. Tris Speaker

While his name is sometimes forgotten because he played so early in the 20th century, Tris Speaker warrants inclusion among the top center fielders ever. He played from 1907 to 1928, amassing over 3,500 hits during that long career.

He also hit .345 for his career despite only winning one batting title. Defensively, the area of the outfield that Speaker patrolled was often called the place “where triples go to die.” He’s also the all-time leader in outfield assists, making him a defensive wizard, as well as the player with the sixth-best career average of all time.

1. Willie Mays

The honor of the greatest center fielder of all time has to belong to Willie Mays. No center fielder has ever dominated in all phases of the game the way Mays did.

He was an all-star every year from 1954 to 1973, winning two MVPs (11 years apart no less) along the way.

While Mays only won a single batting title, he was a career .302 hitter with over 3,200 hits. He also led the National League in home runs four times and stolen bases four times, racking up 660 career home runs and 338 career stolen bases. Of course, it’s the 12 consecutive Gold Gloves Mays won that separates him from everyone else. He was an elite defensive player and made arguably the best defensive play in World Series history. Mays did it all, which is why he’s the greatest center fielder in baseball history. 

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