While baseball has and will always be a team sport, reliant upon the efforts and prowess of nine players working together to accomplish a common goal, it’s also a game of nuance, a game of precision and a game of inches. But baseball is also a game fueled by the long ball. Boil everything down and putting a bat on a ball is the aspect of the game that eclipses all others. It’s simple really; see the ball, hit the ball. The principle taught to 10-year-old little leaguers with oversized helmets and baggy jerseys, is the very thought used by hitters at the highest level. So while baseball is about pitchers painting corners and bang-bang double plays, it is ultimately about seeing a ball, and hitting it. Whoever does that best, typically succeeds. Of all the great players who have excelled at the art of hitting, these are 10 who did it better than anyone else.
With this list, one single statistical category won’t be taken into consideration alone. We’re looking for jaw-dropping stats across the entire stat line. So, for example, Roger Maris’ 61 home run season won’t make the cut because of his paltry .269 average.
10. Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals (1948)
.376 AVG, 230 H, 135 R, 46 2B, 39 HR, 131 RBI, .450 OBP, .702 SLG
Stan “The Man” Musial was both a baseball player and a World War II veteran. Among his many talents, he will be forever known for his sweet, effortless stroke; a swing that powered Musial to a career .331 average, three world championships and MVP awards, along with one of the greatest hitting seasons ever seen. That season was in 1948, when Musial sprayed 230 hits in just 155 games, good for a .376 average. Musial didn’t just hit for average, either. He also added 39 dingers and 131 RBIs – both career highs.
9. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals (2003)
.359 AVG, 212 H, 137 R, 51 2B, 43 HR, 124 RBI, .439 OBP, .667 SLG
To our knowledge, Albert Pujols is a clean mark on what was otherwise a scarred offensive era of baseball. Having excelled in an era defined by cheating, Pujols thrived without any asterisks attached to his name. By all accounts, Pujols is the greatest drug-free hitter in the modern era. Now in his 14th MLB season, Pujols has already had himself a Hall of Fame career, racking up three MVP awards, two world championships and more than 500 home runs. But Pujols had his best season at the ripe age of 23 for the St. Louis Cardinals. After being drafted in the 13th round just a few years earlier, Pujols proved he was a force to be reckoned with in 2003 by posting a .359 average while drilling 43 home runs and batting in 124 runs. Pujols would finish second in the MVP race that season to Barry Bonds, but has remained the most consistent offensive force in baseball for years.
8. Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs (2001)
.328 AVG, 189 H, 146 R, 34 2B, 64 HR, 160 RBI, .437 OBP, .737 SLG
Because this is a list of the greatest hitting seasons ever, it’s only fair to include the very best statistical seasons in MLB history. But before we proceed, it’s also appropriate to point out the marred steroid-riddled era in which Sammy Sosa thrived. Sosa, widely reported to have been a steroid-user, bashed the baseball like no one had ever before seen. Of all the monster offensive statistics in the steroid era, Sosa’s 2001 season was incredible – second only to Barry Bonds’ historic 73 home run season. While Bonds was stealing headlines in 2001, Sosa quietly hammered 64 home runs and 160 RBIs, all while hitting for a steady .328 average.
7. Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees (1956)
.353 AVG, 188 H, 132 R, 22 2B, 52 HR, 130 RBI, .464 OBP, .705 SLG
Another Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle, won seven world championships and three MVP awards in pinstripes. With 536 career home runs and a combined .298 batting average, Mantle was renowned for his ability to hit for power and average. No season exemplified that trait more than his 1956 season, when Mantle hit for a .353 average, while mashing 52 dingers and 130 RBIs.
6. Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees (1927)
.373 AVG, 218 H, 149 R, 52 2B, 47 HR, 173 RBI, .474 OBP, .765 SLG
In New York – baseballs’ winningest city – a laundry list of legends are fondly remembered and etched into Yankees’ lore. But perhaps the greatest pinstripe-clad player in Yankees’ history was Lou Gehrig, who downright mashed for the original bombers of the Bronx. In 1927, Gehrig owned baseball, hitting .373 with 47 home runs, 53 doubles, and an unprecedented 173 RBIs – a record at the time. That season, Gehrig powered his Yankees to a 110-44 record and an eventual World Series victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates; the first of Gehrig’s six world championships in New York.
5. Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals (1922)
.401 AVG, 250 H, 141 R, 46 2B, 42 HR, 152 RBI, .459 OBP, .722 SLG
The live-ball era signaled the first golden age for hitters. Following the dead-ball era when hurlers ruled, the live-ball era saw the introduction of a new baseball and new rules favoring hitters. Rogers Hornsby rung in the live-ball era in 1920 with a .370 batting average and 94 RBIs. But he was just getting started. Over the following six seasons, Hornsby hit for a combined .396 batting average, eclipsing the .400 mark three times in that stretch. While Hornsby’s .424 average in 1924 is still the highest batting average ever posted since the start of the live-ball era, his 1922 season was one of the strongest all-around offensive performances ever seen. In 1922, Hornsby had 250 hits and a .401 batting average, while posting 42 home runs and 152 RBIs. Always a mark of consistency, Hornsby’s career .358 batting average remains second only to the great Ty Cobb all-time.
4. Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers (1911)
.420 AVG, 248 H, 147 R, 47 2B, 8 HR, 127 RBI, .467 OBP, .621 SLG
Ty Cobb practically wrote the record books in his days as a ball player. He is known for setting 90 MLB records in his 22 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, and still holds records for career batting average (.366), batting titles (12), career steals of home (54), and times batting over .400 (3). Cobb was famous for his unparalleled will to succeed. Cobb was a man possessed in 1911, redefining what it meant to be ‘aggressive’ in baseball. Cobb’s mentality was to be the player that ‘wanted it’ more. In a style of play that likely would be shunned in today’s game, Cobb was ruthless and even dirty on the bases, frequently stretching singles into triples, and letting opponents meet the bottom side of his cleats. Cobb also had one of the purest swings in baseball. In fact, the MLB logo used today is based directly off of Cobb’s hitting stance. While Cobb was consistently dominant over the course of his 24-year career, his 1911 season trumped them all. That year, Cobb tallied 248 hits, a .420 batting average, and 83 stolen bases. Though he wasn’t powerful – only recording 8 home runs – he also knocked in 127 runs.
3. Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants (2001)
.328 AVG, 156 H, 129 R, 32 2B, 73 HR, 137 RBI, .515 OBP, .863 SLG
A list of the greatest offensive seasons ever has to include Barry Bonds – the single-season home run leader – regardless of how ethically that record was obtained. Similar to Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds’ career numbers will always be marked with an asterisk in the eyes of the baseball world because of steroid controversies. But when a player redefines what was previously thought possible by ripping 73 home runs, it is impossible not to recognize. Bonds did just that in 2001, setting the single-season home run record while still hitting for an average of .328 and knocking in 137 RBIs. Barry Bonds struck such fear into the hearts of pitchers, it’s incredible he even had 73 hittable pitches that season, as he was walked a league-high 177 times. Needless to say, when Bonds did get a pitch in the strike zone more often than not, he hit it a long, long way
2. Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox (1941)
.406 AVG, 185 H, 135 R, 33 2B, 37 HR, 120 RBI, .553 OBP, .735 SLG
To hit .400 in today’s modern era of baseball is a near-impossible feat. Even the greatest hitters fall a healthy 70 points short of the lofty mark. Only one player has surpassed the .400 mark in the last 89 years, and that player is Ted Williams, quite possibly the greatest hitter to ever live.
Williams had many, many great hitting seasons as a hitter both before and after he left baseball after being drafted to fight in WWII as a naval aviator. His best season, however, was in 1941. On the last day of the 1941 season, Williams’ average stood at .39955, which would have rounded to an even .400. The Red Sox had a double-header that day and Williams was asked if he’d like to sit the games out in order to preserve his average. Williams’ response? “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line” He would go on to hit 6-8 that day, raising his average to .406 for the season.
1. Babe Ruth, New York Yankees (1921)
.378 AVG, 204 H, 177 R, 44 2B, 59 HR, 168 RBI, .512 OBP, .846 SLG
No player epitomizes the art of putting a bat to a ball more than Babe Ruth. Nicknamed “The Sultan of Swat” and “The Great Bamino,” Ruth powered his way to the very crest of the baseball world with his hefty swing at the start of the live-ball era. He is most famous – among Red Sox fans at least – for the perceived curse he put on Boston, ever since the team sold him to the Yankees after Ruth had won three world championships in four years with Boston. But while his 86-year hex came to an end in 2004, his historic offensive numbers still reign supreme.
In 1921, Ruth had – by all accounts – the greatest offensive season baseball has ever seen. That year, Ruth set the home run record with 59, and would go on to break the mark years later. He also hit .378 and led the league with 168 RBI. To date, Ruth’s 177 runs scored and 457 total bases in 1921 still stand as tops ever. While Ruth had many incredible seasons, many of which would have made this list, his 1921 season was, and still is, the greatest offensive season in baseball history.