The Top 10 Candidates for Baseball’s Mt. Rushmore

What do Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Shohei Ohtani, and Ted Williams have in common? Those were Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts’ choices for his “Baseball Mt. Rushmore,” the four men who epitomize the sport.

We’ll overlook the selection bias of Betts picking Ohtani, a current teammate, on account of his two picks (Jeter and Rivera) from the New York Yankees — Betts’ arch-rivals for the bulk of his career when he played with the Boston Red Sox from 2014-19.

The problem with Betts’ list is the problem with every “Baseball Mt. Rushmore” list: It’s impossible to narrow the choices down to four. Any sport with its professional roots in the 19th century is bound to overlook someone monumental unless you broaden the mountainside canvas.

It’s also tough to narrow the list to four on account of the many criteria one might prefer. Are the four choices based on pure talent? Name recognition? Cultural significance? Something else?

With all due respect to Betts, here’s a list of 10 other candidates for baseball’s “Mt. Rushmore” who together tell the story of the game even better (in one case, literally) than his chosen four. If you must leave off six of them, good luck, but you can’t go wrong regardless of which four you pick.

10. Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson (1919 – 1972) of the Brooklyn Dodgers rounds third base during a home game at Ebbets Field, New York, New York, 1950s.

Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images

In terms of cultural significance, it doesn’t get any bigger than the player who integrated the major leagues for Black and Latin American players forever. “Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of Robinson in 1962, “he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom.” A Hall of Famer on the field, Robinson was a six-time All-Star, MVP, and Rookie of the Year Award winner for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947-56.

9. Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth (George Herman Ruth, 1895 – 1948) hits his first home run during his tour of Japan at Miji Shrine Stadium, Tokyo, Japan.

New York Times Co./Getty Images

Ruth’s celebrity almost single-handedly raised the New York Yankees — and the sport of baseball itself — to national prominence in the 1920s. The prototypical power hitter, Ruth’s single-season (60) and career (714) home run records endured past his death in 1948. Even more enduring was Ruth’s legacy as a rare two-way talent, an elite pitcher for the Boston Red Sox before he turned his attention to hitting full-time. Ohtani has achieved things Ruth has never done pitching and hitting simultaneously, but he’ll be hard-pressed to match Ruth’s sustained cultural impact.

8. Bullet Rogan

Kansas City Monarchs Bullet Rogan
Either on a barnstorming trip or a spring training stay, the Kansas City Monarchs of 1934 pose for a team photo. Bullet Rogan is posed in the middle of the front row.

Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Rogan’s Baseball Reference page tells you what many Negro Leagues historians formed a consensus around long ago: Rogan’s decade of dominance with the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1920s represented the pinnacle of two-way talent. Rogan toiled out of the mainstream spotlight at a time when Ruth gained fame by focusing on hitting, but it’s his legacy — not Ruth’s — that Ohtani is truly chasing on the field.

7. Roberto Clemente

Pittsburgh Pirates Roberto Clemente
Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Roberto Clemente takes his turn in the batting cage prior to game 5 of the 1971 World Series.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Clemente’s 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates included one MVP award, four batting titles, 12 All-Star seasons, and 12 Gold Glove awards. More important was the legacy he left for all future Latin American-born baseball players, for whom Clemente’s number 21 is as powerful a symbol as Robinson’s number 42. His death at age 38 on a humanitarian mission was a tragic ending to a Hall of Fame career.

6. Sandy Koufax

Los Angeles Dodgers Sandy Koufax
Dodger pitcher, Sandy Koufax, in action against the Minnesota Twins during the fifth game of the 1965 World Series. Koufax hurled the Dodgers to a 7-0 shutout victory to put them in the lead, three…

Bettmann/Getty Images

Koufax’s prime years with the Dodgers allow him to lay claim to the title of the best left-hander of all time. Going 97-27 with a 186 ERA, 31 shutouts, and 89 complete games from 1963-66 is only half the story. He rarely started a postseason game on full rest and tossed shutouts in Games 5 and 7 of the 1965 World Series three days apart. The toll it all took on his elbow ended Koufax’s career at age 30.

7. Hank Aaron

Milwaukee Braves Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron #44 of the Milwaukee Braves bats during an MLB Spring Training game circa March, 1957 in Bradenton, Florida.

Hy Peskin/Getty Images

Aaron’s 715th home run broke Ruth’s all-time record in April 1974, cementing his place in baseball history — and his cultural impact. A more conspicuous (but no less intentional) civil rights icon than Robinson, Aaron’s 2,297 RBIs still stand as an all-time record. In his 23-year career, Aaron started a record 14 All-Star games, a testament to his sustained excellence from 1954-76.

4. Rickey Henderson

Oakland A's Rickey Henderson
Oakland A’s Rickey Henderson leads off first base before notching his 109th stolen base of the 1982 season against the California Angels.

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Henderson’s career (1979-2003) spanned four decades, nine teams, and several eras. Through it all he made the stolen base, arguably the game’s most exciting play, look easy. Henderson stole a record 1,406 bases (130 in 1982 alone) and even led the league in steals at age 39, with 66 in 1998. A career .401 on-base percentage and underrated power made Henderson more than a one-trick pony. His personality made him a star on any team in any market.

3. Nolan Ryan

Houston Astros Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros on the mound preparing to throw a pitch during the Major League Baseball National League East game against the Chicago Cubs on May 29, 1988 at Wrigley Field, Chicago,…

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images

Ryan set an unattainable standard by pairing a triple-digit fastball with a devastating breaking ball in a Hall of Fame career. His excellence as a teenager with the New York Mets and a 46-year-old with the Texas Rangers allowed him to set a record for longevity. In between, Ryan struck out a record 5,714 hitters and threw seven no-hitters. As today’s pitchers chase speed and strikeouts, it’s clear that none can approach Ryan’s endurance over 27 seasons.

2. Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey
Branch Rickey, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, studies reports in his easy chair during the 1949 National League season.

Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Rickey became a prototype for the modern general manager after his unspectacular career as a player and manager. Beginning his executive career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1926, Rickey used his office to effectively invent the minor league feeder system as we know it today. Already an innovative coach and forerunning sabermetrician, Rickey cemented his place in Cooperstown as the Dodgers’ GM when he signed Robinson and promoted him to the majors in 1947.

1. Vin Scully

Vin Scully
Vin Scully the play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers sings “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” song, which has become the unofficial anthem of baseball, during the seventh inning of the baseball game…

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A broadcaster on baseball’s Mt. Rushmore? Scully’s 67 years with the Dodgers set a record for longevity, excellence, and familiarity as the most recognizable voice ever to call play-by-play on a local or national level. Consider that Scully called a World Series game at 25 — still a record — and spent more seasons in a booth (34) after being honored with the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award than he did before (33).