In the history of Major League Baseball, there are currently 28 players who have had the fortune of racking up 3,000 or more total hits over the course of their respective careers. Before I go any further with this post, let me just take a second to point out what an amazingly elite club that is. In all the years of Major League Baseball — and whether you are of the opinion its history should begin in 1869 or 1876, either starting point was a long time ago — not even 30 players have been able to stick around and hit long enough to reach that mark.
Now that I’ve given all these 28 men their rightful due, it’s time to issue a caveat: reaching that magic number of hits does not at all make a player good at hitting. As impressive as it may be (and it is impressive, make no mistake) to reach safely via base hit at least 3,000 times in a career as a Major League baseball player, it’s actually quite possible to do so without being a particularly noteworthy hitter in any other aspect. Take, for instance, the following players.
For the purposes of this article, I found myself at the mercy of FanGraphs’ robust statistical database, as I so often do. I simply loaded the career leader boards, sorted by total hits, and glanced through the more revealing stats of the 28 players that finished at or beyond that hallowed mark. For those of you who are do not have an intimate relationship with FanGraphs, they use an excellent field-leveling statistic called wRC+ which attempts to normalize a player’s offensive production, eliminating variables like home park advantages and also taking into account different eras.
For example: in 1968, the same year Bob Gibson finished the season with a 1.12 ERA, Willie Mays produced a triple slash line of .289/.372/.488, good for an .860 OPS. In 1998, Vinny Castilla hit .319/.362/.589 with the Rockies, numbers that resulted in a .951 OPS. If you knew absolutely nothing about baseball, you might think Castilla’s season was better, I guess. At any rate, wRC+ sets the record straight: 161 (Mays) vs. 117 (Castilla). It wasn’t even close. By the way, 100 is exactly average, so both seasons for good, but obviously what Mays did in 1968 at Candlestick Park is better than what Castilla would have done in similar circumstances. I’ll be using this stat to sort my results.
Pete Rose (.784 OPS, .353 wOBA, 120 wRC+)
If you’re like me, you might have been tempted to give ol’ Charlie Hustle something of a free pass for his relatively low offensive output simply because he was a second baseman, and as such, didn’t need to hit as much to be useful. Too bad that by the time Rose finally retired he had logged far more innings at first than anywhere else on the field, followed next by left field. If the guy had simply retired at a semi-reasonable age, say 40, he could have quit with an .807 OPS and maybe kept himself off this list — which is certainly a blow to what remains of his Hall of Fame case, might I add. Instead he stuck around forever and destroyed his rate stats for the sake of his counting stats. Oh, and I guess he also had a gambling problem.
Craig Biggio (.796 OPS, .355 wOBA, 117 wRC+)
I’m pretty sure everyone that saw him play loved Biggio. He always managed to come across as a classy, team-first type that never did anything to offend anybody. Biggio also gets credit for spending the majority of his time at some of the hardest positions on the diamond, so I won’t be too tough on the guy. That said, he was really a below-average hitter from 2000 on, and he did benefit from the Crawford Boxes at the tail end of his career. Sorry Astro fans, but no matter how easy he was to root for, he’s still among the worst of the 3,000-hit club.
Robin Yount (.772 OPS, .344 wOBA, 115 wRC+)
Playing mostly shortstop and center field, what Robin Yount did offensively was pretty nifty compared to most of his counterparts. Compared to other members of the 3,000-hit club, his numbers don’t look so nifty anymore. Yount had a few outstanding seasons at the plate, several rock solid ones, and a lump of bad ones to start and end his career. His peak from 1980-1989 was very good (.305/.365/.485), but from a career standpoint he’s showing up dangerously close to rock bottom on this list.
Lou Brock (.753 OPS, .346 wOBA, 115 wRC+)
My personal nomination for the very worst hitter among the coveted 3,000-hit club, Lopin’ Lou (totally made up that nickname, but since he didn’t seem to have one it’ll have to do) earned his fame on the base paths, not at the plate. Even so, you’re bound to run into a Cardinal fan or a million that will try and tell you he also turned into quite the hitter as well, and that the Cubs are probably still sorry to this day. For one thing, he was really more of slightly above-average hitter, one who surpassed the .800 OPS mark in exactly two seasons (considering he played mostly left field, a position that demands production, that’s not very impressive) and for another, I think the Cubs have probably gotten over trading him away by now. They have other, more timely issues to concern themselves with.