How Does One Define The Greatest Hitter Of All-Time?

Steven ResnickSenior Writer INovember 27, 2009

BOSTON, MA - CIRCA 1945:  (UNDATED FILE PHOTO)  Baseball legend Ted Williams (1919 - 2002) of the Boston Red Sox swings a bat at a ball during a pre-game practice as Walter 'Smokey' Baker, the 13-year-old son of Red Sox pitching coach Del Baker (1892 - 1973), watches circa 1945 in Boston, Massachusetts. Williams, 83-years-old, was pronounced dead July 5, 2002 at Citrus County Memorial Hospital in Florida. Williams died of an apparent heart attack.  (Photo by Getty Images)
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In terms of baseball and its history defining the greatest hitter of all-time is an extremely difficult task. The reason for this is that there are two types of hitters: One is a contact hitter and the other is a power hitter.

For a contact hitter there goal is to get on base anyway possible whether it's taking a walk, using their speed to get on with a bunt, splitting the gaps for a double or triple, and occasionally a home run.

There's a reason why Rickey Henderson is considered by many to be the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time. Yet, it would be hard to argue that he is the greatest hitter in baseball history.

For one the argument against Henderson is that his batting average for his 25 year career was just .279, he wasn't much of a hitter to find the gaps for a double or triple, but did possess very good power as a leadoff hitter, he finished his career with 3055 hits, and the most important trait Henderson had as a hitter was his ability to get on base via the walk, which he ranks second in MLB history.

Power hitter are generally looked at to provide drive in runs, so they're pretty much the exact opposite of a contact hitter. Instead of trying to get on anyway possible their thought process is to get that runner home either by hitting a home run, deep fly ball if the runner is on third, or drive them in with a double.

High strikeout numbers and low averages are expected from these hitters because of their purpose.

Barry Bonds will never be considered the greatest hitter in baseball history because of a few things such as the steroid controversies surrounding him, but beyond that he did not get to 3,000 hits finishing his career with 2935, and never had a season with over 200 hits.

Bonds though, has hit the most home runs in MLB history, has walked the most, and finished with a .298 batting average.

Pete Rose is baseball's all-time leader in hits with 4256, a great gap hitter, and was great and getting on base with a walk.  Rose though wasn't known for his power either and finished with a batting average of .303! 

What also is hard is comparing eras. Ty Cobb was also a great hitter, but during  that era of baseball home runs were not part of the game.

Cobb finished his career with a .366 average which is the best in baseball history, second in baseball history in hits, second in triples for his career, fourth in doubles for his career, and was great at drawing walks as well.

As mentioned before during his era home runs were not as prevalent, yet 11 out of his 24 seasons Cobb finished in the top 10 in home runs including once leading the league.

Ted Williams could arguably be considered the greatest hitter in baseball history because of his ability to hit for power, hit for a high average, and getting on base by taking a walk.

Williams ranks fourth in career walks, seventh in career batting average at .344, and 18th in home runs. What hurt Willliams though in his numbers was the fact that he missed four years while serving in World War II.

Another player that I don't think gets the recognition that he deserves, but Stan Musial was a great hitter as well. Musial ranks fourth in hits, third in doubles, 28th in home runs, and had a career batting average of .331

Hank Aaron I would also say was underrated as well. Most of times Aaron is associated with breaking the home run record of Babe Ruth, yet there was much more to Aaron then just home runs.

Aaron ranks second in home runs, third in hits, 10th in doubles, and 25th in walks.

I guess when trying to figure out who is the greatest hitter of all time it depends on the criteria that you look at. That's why when I came across an article on Bleacher Report titled "Better Hitter: Derek Jeter or Pete Rose?" by Perry Arnold, it really didn't make sense because there's really no argument that would put Jeter over the top of Rose or any of the hitters I have mentioned.

You would also have a hard time putting Jeter as a better hitter than some in his generation such as Bonds, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Jeff Bagwell, Tony Gwynn, and Manny Ramirez.

I would argue at the moment that there are four players who come out as the greatest hitter in baseball history and those players are Cobb, Musial, Rose, and Williams.

Yet, regardless of who you choose as the greatest hitter in baseball history it's hard to argue against any of them. If you were to ask me personally who was the greatest I think that Musial just sneaks ahead.