Baseball’s Leading Outfielders

This article was written by Bill Schroeder

This article was published in the 1979 Baseball Research Journal


In 1972 the Society for American Baseball Research, then little more than a year old, undertook a survey to determine the best fielders since 1900. This was for all positions, not just outfielders, which we are limiting ourselves to in this article. This fielding survey was not open to the full membership but was limited to those members who had special interest in fielding and to those outside of SABR who had seen enough of the oldtimers to make a reasonable determination.

Ballots came back from such authorities as Fred Lieb, Bob Broeg, Bill DeWitt, Ken Smith, Leonard Gettelson, Ernie Harwell, and George Sisler.  Obviously, these voters were relying primarily on their onsite observance of players rather than fielding records in the guides.

For the outfield they were requested to name the three best, regardless of position-right, left, or center. The response from the 24 voters was in this order: Tris Speaker was named on 19 ballots, Willie Mays 15, Joe DiMaggio 12, Roberto Clemente 11, Max Carey and Richie Ashburn 3 each, and Terry Moore and Al Kaline 2 each. Several others received one vote.

Most of us would not have a real problem with that selection which was announced in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal. Still, it made me wonder, for those of us who have not seen that much major league ball, what kind of an outfield could we come up with based exclusively on fielding statistics? Then the next question would be, what fielding records would we use?

Most of us agree that the fielding percentage is not very important in itself. However, what if we carried right along side the fielding percentage leader the leaders in putouts and assists? That is what we have attempted in this article and it seems to result in a pretty fair balance. It still does not differentiate among the outfielders by position, but as long as separate records are not kept, and there is considerable shifting from one outfield position to another anyway, we will go with the present system.

Most of the leaders in putouts are center-fielders, although there are a number of exceptions. Take, for example, Zack Wheat, left-fielder of the Dodgers in 1914; or Enos Slaughter, right-fielder of the Cardinals in 1939; or Ralph Kiner, left-fielder of the Pirates in 1947. In fact, it comes as some surprise to see that Kiner once led his league in putouts.

The listing of annual leaders in fielding average, putouts and assists shows that there never has been an outfielder who has led in all three categories in the same season. In fact, only ten players led in these three categories during their careers. They include Speaker, two fielding titles, seven putout titles, and three leading seasons in assists; Roy Thomas, who was 1-3-1, Ty Cobb, 1-1-1, Happy Felsch, 1-1-1, Sam West, 2-2-1, Enos Slaughter, 1-1-2, Joe DiMaggio, 1-1-1, Mike Kreevich, 2-1-1, Ken Berry, 3-1-1, and Amos Otis, 1-2-1. Otis joined the list in 1978 when he led in fielding average.

It might be best at this point to highlight the leaders in each of the three fielding categories. In fielding average, Amos Strunk led five times-in 1912, 1914, and 19l7 with the A’s; in 19l8 with the Red Sox; and in l920 with the A’s and White Sox. No other player has led more than three times.  Those with a trio of titles include: Rube Oldring, who was in the same A’s outfield with Strunk; Walt Judnich, who had only four seasons in the outfield with the Browns; Stan Musial, Gene Woodling, Jimmy Piersall, Tony Gonzalez, and Ken Berry. Berry had two seasons where he fielded 1.000. Mickey Stanley of the Tigers also had two “perfect” seasons in the outfield.

Danny Litwhiler was the first outfielder to play errorless ball over the course of a full season in 1942 with the Phils. This contrasts sharply with some of the league-leading marks in the early years. Jim Jackson of Baltimore led the AL in 1901 with a .971 mark. As recently as 1923, Whitey Witt of the Yankees led the AL with a .979 percentage. He led in spite of making eight errors that season.

While Speaker led the American League seven seasons in putouts, two speedy center-fielders led the National League nine times each. They were Max Carey of Pittsburgh and Richie Ashburn of the Phillies. Ashburn has never received the credit he deserved for his domination in this department. Of the nine top marks in putouts in the majors, he holds six of them, as follows:

  • 1928: Taylor Douthit, Cardinals 547
  • 1951: Richie Ashburn, Phillies,   538
  • 1949: Richie Ashburn, Phillies   514
  • 1977: Chet Lemon, White Sox   512
  • 1948: Dom DiMaggio,Red Sox 503
  • 1956: Richie Ashburn, Phillies 503
  • 1957: Richie Ashburn, Phillies 502
  • 1953: Richie Ashburn, Phillies 496
  • 1958: Richie Ashburn, Phillies 495

After Ashburn, Carey, and Speaker, the putout leaders are Lloyd Waner, Sam Chapman, and Curt Flood, with four seasons each.

In outfield assists, a current player has topped the list most times. Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox has led a record seven seasons. This is a remarkable achievement considering that he has spent five years primarily as a first baseman. Roberto Clemente led five seasons, including once with 27.  This is the highest total in the majors in the past 40 years. Chuck Klein set the modern record with a spectacular 44 assists in 1930, one of three seasons he led. Leading four seasons were Max Carey, Tilly Walker, Johnny Callison, and Rusty Staub. Walker may have walked like a girl; hence the nickname Tilly, but he threw the ball with great strength and accuracy. What about the other great arms of baseball, like Bob Meusel, Carl Furillo, and Ken Wood? Well, Wood never got into enough games with the Browns to ever lead the league. Meusel led the AL twice while with the Yankees, and Furillo led the NL twice with the Dodgers.

How does this annual listing of three fielding department leaders square with SABR outfield selections in 1972? It comes out quite well, particularly in regard to Speaker, Carey, and Ashburn. As stated before, Speaker led twice in fielding average, seven times in putouts, and three times in assists.  Carey led nine times in putouts and four times in assists. Ashburn, in a shorter career than the other two, led nine times in putouts and three times in assists. Kaline led twice in fielding average and twice in assists. Moore led once in fielding average and twice in putouts. Joe DiMaggio, who did not play the full schedule with regularity because of injuries, led once in each of the three categories. In that respect he trailed both of his brothers, who also were excellent outfielders. Clemente, as mentioned before, led five times in assists.

On the other hand, Willie Mays, certainly the most colorful of the outfielders mentioned, does not fare particularly well in this listing. In his long career, which includes more games in the outfield than any other NL player, he led only once in putouts and once in assists. However, we must add that he did lead four times in doubleplays by an outfielder, which is a category we are not listing. He also goes unchallenged as the player losing his cap most often in his outfield dashes.

Listed below are the outfielders leading each season since 1901 in the American and National Leagues in the three categories of fielding average, putouts, and assists.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Year

Fielding Percent

 

Putouts

 

Assists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1901

W. Keeler, Bkn

.985

D. Green, Chi

312

J. Slagle, Phi-Bos

23

1902

W. Keeler, Bkn

.978

J. Sheckard, Bkn

284

G.Van Haltren, NY

30

     

H. Smoot, StL

284

P. Donovan, StL

30

1903

S. Mertes, NY

.973

C. Seymour, Cin

318

J. Sheckard, Bkn

36

     

R.Thomas, Phi

318

   

1904

S. Shannon, StL

.978

R. Thomas, Phi

321

J. Sebring, Pit-Cin

27

1905

S. Shannon, StL

.984

R. Thomas, Phi

373

J. Slagle, Chi

27

         

R. Thomas, Phi

27

1906

R. Thomas, Phi

.986

B. Maloney, Bkn

355

C. Dolan, Bos

26

1907

F. Clarke, Pit

.987

B. Maloney, Bkn

336

M. Mitchell, Cin

39

1908

W. Schulte, Chi

.994

F. Osborn, Phi

359

C. Seymour, NY

29

1909

F. Clarke, Pit

.987

F. Clarke, Pit

362

R. Murray, NY

30

1910

B. Collins, Bos

.977

D. Paskert, Cin

355

R. Murray, NY

26

     

B. Collins, Bos

355

   

1911

S. Magee, Phi

.981

R. Oakes, StL

364

J. Sheckard, Chi

32

1912

T. Leach, Pit-Chi

.978

M. Carey, Pit

369

J. Sheckard, Chi

26

         

G. Cravath, Phi

26

1913

T. Leach, Chi

.990

M. Carey, Pit

363

M. Carey, Pit

28

1914

0. Wilson, StL

.983

Z. Wheat, Bkn

331

0. Wilson, StL

34

         

G. Cravath, Phi

34

1915

0. Wilson, StL

.984

H. Myers, Bkn

352

G. Cravath, Phi

28

1916

M. Flack, Chi

.991

M. Carey, Pit

419

M. Carey, Pit

32

1917

D. Paskert, Phi

.984

M. Carey, Pit

440

C. Stengel, Bkn

30

1918

G. Neale, Cin

.981

M. Carey Pit

359

M. Carey, Pit

25

1919

G. Burns, NY

.990

H. Myers, Bkn

358

R. Youngs, NY

23

1920

B. Southworth, Pit

.991

E. Roush, Cin

410

R. Youngs, NY

26

         

C. Heathcote, StL

26

1921

M. Flack, Chi

.989

M. Carey, Pit

431

C. Williams, Phi

29

1922

Z. Wheat, Bkn

.991

M. Carey, Pit

449

R. Youngs, NY

28

1923

P. Duncan, Cin

.993

M. Carey, Pit

450

M. Carey, Pit

28

1924

G. Harper, Cin-Phi

.986

M. Carey, Pit

428

J. Statz, Chi

22

1925

C. Walker, Cin

.983

E. Brown, Bkn

449

J. Welsh, Bos

27

1926

C. Heathcote, Chi

.985

T. Douthit, StL

440

J. Welsh, Bos

23

1927

D. Spaicling, Phi

.992

H. Wilson, Chi

400

F. Leach, Pit

26

1928

R. Bressler, Bkn

.985

T. Douthit, StL

547

D. Sothern, Phi

19

1929

E. Allen, Cin

.988

L. Waner, Pit

450

M. Ott, NY

26

1930

W. Roettger, NY

.992

T. Douthit, StL

425

C. Klein, Phi

44

1931

R. Worthington, Bos

.988

L. Waner, Pit

484

P. Waner, Pit

28

1932

W. Berger, Bos

.993

L. Waner, Pit

426

C. Klein, Phi

29

1933

H. Rice, Cin

.991

C. Fullis, Phi

410

C. Klein: Phi

21

1934

L. Koenecke, Bkn

.994

L. Waner, Pit

405

B. Boyle, Bkn

20

1935

M. Ott, NY

.990

W. Berger, Bos

458

E. Allen, Phi

26

1936

J. Cooney, Bkn

.994

T. Moore, StL

418

G.Moore,Bos

32

1937

J Medwick, StL

.988

H. Martin, Phi

353

G. Moore, Bos

21

         

V. DiMaggio, Bos

21

1938

G. Rosen, Bkn

.989

H. Craft, Cin

436

V. DiMaggio, Bos

19

         

G. Rosen, Bkn

19

1939

T. Moore, StL

.994

E. Slaughter, StL

348

E. Slaughter, StL

18

             

1940

H. Craft, Cin

.997

T. Moore, StL

383

M. West, Bos

16

1941

J. Cooney, Bos

.996

D. Litwhiler, Phi

393

D. Walker, Bkn

19

         

M. Ott, NY

19

1942

D. Litwhiler, Phi

1.000

V. DiMaggio, Pit

383

V. DiMaggio, Pit

20

1943

D. Litwhiler, Phi-St

.996

V. DiMaggio, Pit

457

C. Workman, Bos

22

1944

J. Hopp, StL

.997

B. Adams, Phi

449

A. Pafko, Chi

24

         

R. Northey, Phi

24

1945

A. Pafko, Chi

.995

C. Gilenwater, Bos

451

C. Gillenwater, Bos

24

1946

S. Gordon, NY

.995

J. Wyrostek, Phi

388

E. Slaughter, Sti

23

1947

B. Nicholson, Chi

.990

R. Kiner, Pit

390

W. Marshall, NY

19

1948

J. Heath, Bos

.991

W. Lockman, NY

388

W. Marshall, NY

16

1949

S. Musial, StL

.991

R. Ashburn, Phi

514

D. Ennis, Phi

16

         

H. Sauer, Chi

16

1950

W. Westlake, Pit

.991

R. Ashburn, Phi

405

C. Furillo, Bkn

18

1951

W. Marshall, Bos

1.000

R. Ashburn, Phi

538

C. Furillo, Bkn

24

1952

S. Gordon, Bos

.996

R. Ashburn, Phi

428

R. Ashburn, Phi

23

1953

E. Slaughter, StL

.996

R. Ashburn, Phi

496

R. Ashburn, Phi

18

1954

S. Musial, StL

.990

R. Ashburn, Phi

483

D. Mueller, NY

14

         

B. Bruton, Mil

14

         

F. Thomas, Pit

14

1955

E. Miksis, Chi

.989

B. Bruton, Mu

412

W. Mays, NY

23

1956

J. Brandt, StL-NY

.990

R. Ashburn, Phi

503

W. Moryn, Chi

18

1957

K. Boyer, StL

.996

R. Ashburn, Phi

502

R. Ashburn, Phi

18

1958

G. Bell, Cin

.996

R. Ashburn, Phi

495

R. Clemente, Pit

22

1959

G.Bell,Cin

.996

V.Pinson,Cin

423

H.Anderson,Phi

17

1960

C. Flood, StL

.993

V. Pinson, Cin

401

R. Clemente, Pit

19

1961

S. Musial, StL

.994

V. Pinson, Cin

391

R. Clemente, Pit

27

1962

T. Gonzalez, Phi

1.000

W. Mays, SF

429

J. Callison, Phi

24

1963

D. Demeter, Phi

1.000

C. Flood, StL

401

J. Callison, Phi

26

1964

T. Gonzalez, Phi

.996

W. Davis, LA

400

J. Callison, Phi

19

1965

V. Pinson, Cin

.992

J. Wynn, Hou

382

J. Callison, Phi

21

1966

C. Flood, StL

1.000

C. Flood, StL

391

R. Clemente, Pit

17

1967

T. Gonzalez, Phi

.993

J. Wynn, Hou

364

R. Clemente, Pit

17

1968

J. Callison, Phi

1.000

C. Flood, StL

386

P. Rose, Cin

20

         

J. Wynn, Hou

20

1969

V. Pinson, StL

.996

C. Flood, StL

362

R. Staub, Mon

16

     

B. Tolan, Cin

362

   

1970

P. Rose, Cin

.997

T. Agee, NY

374

W. Stargell, Pit

16

1971

B. Bonds, SF

.994

W. Davis, LA

404

R. Staub, Mon

20

1972

R. Monday, Chi

.996

B. Tolan, Cin

401

P. Rose, Cin

15

         

B. Carbo, StL

15

         

W. Montanez, Phi

15

1973

G. Luzinski, Phi

.993

D. Baker, At!

390

K. Singleton, Mon

20

1974

P. Rose, Gin

.997

C. Cedeno, Hou

446

R. Staub, NY

19

1975

V. Joshua, SF

.993

C. Geronimo, Cin

408

R. Staub, NY

15

1976

G. Foster, Cin

.994

G. Maddox, Phi

441

D. Winfield, SD

15

1977

C. Cedeno, Hou

.997

D. Parker, Pit

389

D. Parker, Pit

26

1978

B. McBride, Phil

.996

G. Maddox, Phi

440

W. Cromartie, Mon

24

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Year

Fielding Percent

 

Putouts

 

Assists

 

1901

J. Jackson, Bal

.971

O. Pickering, Cle

315

J. Barrett, Det

31

1902

H. Bay, Cle

.973

J. Barrett, Det

326

S. Mertes, Chi

26

1903

F. Jones, Chi

.985

F. Jones, Chi

324

J. Barrett, Det

19

         

D. Holmes, Was-Chi

19

1904

H.Bay,Cle

.987

J. Barrett, Det

339

J. Barrett, Det

29

1905

S. Crawford, Det

.988

F. Jones, Chi

337

C. Jones, Was

24

         

B. Koehler, StL

24

1906

F. Jones, Chi

.988

C. Stahl, Bos

344

H. Niles, StL

34

1907

E. Hahn, Chi

.990

C. Hemphill, StL

320

J. Birmingham, Cle

33

1908

D. Sullivan, Bos-Cle

.982

M. McIntyre, Det

329

T.Cobb,Det

23

1909

B. Ganley, Was-Phi

.982

T. Speaker, Bos

319

T. Speaker, Bos

35

1910

R. Oldring, Phi

.978

T. Speaker, Bos

337

H. Hooper, Bos

30

         

C. Milan, Was

30

1911

R. Oldring, Phi

.979

T.Cobb,Det

376

C. Milan, Was

33

1912

A. Strunk, Phi

.990

B.Shotton,StL

381

T. Speaker, Bos

35

1913

B.Cree,NY

.988

T. Speaker, Bos

374

T. Speaker, Bos

30

1914

A.Strunk,Phi

.987

T. Speaker, Bos

423

T. Walker, StL

30

1915

R. Oldring, Phi

.982

T. Speaker, Bos

378

T. Walker, StL

27

1916

H. Felsch, Chi

.981

C. Milan, Was

372

C. Milan, Was

27

1917

A. Strunk, Phi

.986

H. Felsch, Chi

440

P. Bodie, Phi

32

1918

A. Strunk, Bos

.988

T. Speaker, Cle

352

R. Demmitt, StL

25

         

T. Walker, Phi

25

1919

B. Ruth, Bos

.992

T. Speaker, Cle

375

H. Felsch, Chi

32

1920

A. Strunk, Phi-Chi

.985

S. Rice, Was

454

B. Veach, Det

26

         

T. Walker, Phi

26

1921

T. Speaker, Cle

.984

B.Veach,Det

384

B. Meusel, NY

28

         

J. Tobin, StL

28

1922

T. Speaker, Cle

.983

S. Rice, Was

385

B. Meusel, NY

24

1923

W. Witt, NY

.979

J. Mostil, Chi

422

I. Flagstead, Bos

33

1924

T. Cobb, Det

.986

B. Jacobson, StL

488

H. Heilmann, Det

31

1925

J. Mostil, Chi

.985

A. Simmons, Phi

447

G. Goslin, Was

24

         

I. Flagstead, Bos

24

1926

B.Falk,Chi

.992

J. Mostil, Chi

440

S. Rice, Was

25

         

G. Goslin, Was

25

1927

I. Flagstead, Bos

.986

E. Combs, NY

411

H. Rice, StL

26

1928

S. West, Was

.996

E. Combs, NY

424

C. Jamieson, Cle

22

1929

F. Schulte, StL

.989

E. Averill, Cle

388

S. West, Was

25

         

R. Johnson, Det

25

1930

A. Simmons, Phi

.990

T. Oliver, Bos

477

S. Jolley, Chi

17

1931

T.Oliver,Bos

.993

T. Oliver, Bos

433

R. Johnson, Det

25

1932

J.Vosmik,Cle

.989

S. West, Was

450

G.Goslin,StL

16

1933

D. Porter, Cle

.996

F. Schulte, Was

433

B.Chapman,NY

24

1934

S. Byrd, NY

.988

E. Averill, Cle

410

B. Johnson, Phi

17

1935

S. West, StL

.989

S. West, StL

449

B. Chapman, NY

25

1936

A. Simmons, Det

.986

D. Cramer, Bos

443

J. DiMaggio, NY

22

1937

M.Kreevich,Chi

.988

J. DiMaggio, NY

413

B. Bell., Sti

22

1938

P.Fox,Det

.994

D. Cramer, Bos

417

B. Johnson, Phi

21

1939

G. Selkirk, NY

.989

B. McCosky, Det

428

M.Kreevich,Chi

18

1940

W. Judnich, StL

.989

M. Kreevich, Chi

428

D. DiMaggio, Bos

16

1941

M. Kreevich, Chi

.994

S.Chapman,Phi

416

G.Case,Was

21

         

S. Chapman, Phi

21

1942

W. Judnich, SIL

.991

D. DiMaggio, Bos

439

D. DiMaggio, Bos

19

1943

M. Byrnes, StL

.997

T. Tucker, Chi

399

C.Laabs,StL

16

1944

T.Tucker,Chi

.991

J. Lindell, NY

468

S. Spence, Was

29

1945

D. Cramer, Det

.991

W. Moses, Chi

329

R. Cullenbine, Det

23

1946

W.Judnich,StL

.995

S. Spence, Was

412

B. Lewis,Was

16

1947

J. DiMaggio, NY

.997

S. Chapman, Phi

428

D. DiMaggio, Bos

19

1948

D.Mitchell,Cle

.991

D. DiMaggio, Bos

503

D. Philley, Clii

22

1949

D. Mitchell, Cle

.994

S. Chapman, Phi

450

D. Philley, Chi

16

         

D.Kokos,StL

16

1950

H. Evers, Det

.997

S. Chapman, Phi

428

I. Noren, Was

20

1951

J.Groth,Det

.993

I. Noren, Was

420

G. Zernial, Chi-Phi

18

1952

G. Woodling, NY

.996

J. Busby, Chi-Was

472

J. Jensen,Was

17

1953

G. Woodling, NY

.996

J. Busby, Was

482

D. Philley, Phi

18

         

J.Groth,StL

18

1954

J. Delsing, Det

.996

J. Busby, Was

491

M. Mantle, NY

20

1955

G. Woodling, Bal-Cle

.995

B. Tuttle, Det

442

I. Rivera, Chi

22

1956

J. Piersall, Bos

.991

J. Piersall, Bos

455

A. Kaline, Det

18

1957

C. Maxwell, Det

.997

J. Piersall, Bos

397

J.Jensen,Bos

16

1958

J.Busby,Bal

.995

H. Kuenn, Det

358

A. Kaline, Det

23

1959

M. Mantle, NY

.995

1. Landis, Chi

420

B. Tuttle, KC

17

1960

C. Maxwell, Det

.996

B. Tuttle, KC

381

B. Tuttle, KC

16

1961

J. Piersall, Cle

.991

B.Bruton,Det

410

R. Colavito, Det

16

1962

J. Piersall, Was

.997

B. Bruton, Det

394

C. Yastrzemski, Bos

15

1963

J. Landis, Chi

.993

D.Lock,Was

377

C. Yastrzemski, Bos

18

1964

T. Tresh, NY

.996

N. Mathews, KC

384

C. Yastrzemski, Bos

19

         

D.Lock,Was

19

1965

R. Colavito, Cle

1.000

K.Berry,Chi

331

M. Hershberger,KC

14

1966

A. Kaline, Det

.993

T. Agee, Chi

376

C. Yastrzemski, Bos

15

1967

T. Uhlaender, Min

.996

P. Blair, Bal

369

M. Hershberger, KC

17

1968

M. Stanley, Det

1.000

R. Smith, Bos

390

D. Unser, Was

22

 

K. Harrelson, Bos

1.000

       

1969

K. Berry, Chi

1.000

P. Blair, Bal

407

C. Yastrzemski, Bos

17

1970

M. Stanley, Del

1.000

A. Otis, KC

388

B. Murcer, NY

15

         

R. Smith, Bos

15

         

A. Otis, KC

15

1971

R. White, NY

1.000

A. Otis, KC

404

C. Yastrzemski, Bos

16

 

A. Kaline, Det

1.000

       

1972

K. Berry, Cal

1.000

B. Murcer, NY

382

C.May,Chi

13

         

K. Berry, Cal

13

1973

K. Berry, Cal

.997

B. North, Oak

429

P. Blair, Bal

14

         

B. Murcer, NY

14

         

B. North, Oak

14

1974

S. Brye, Mm

.997

K. Henderson, Chi

462

B. Murcer, NY

21

1975

P. Kelly, Chi

.991

B. North, Oak

420

L. Stanton, Cal

16

1976

D. Evans, Bos

.994

J. Beniquez, Tex

410

J. Beniquez, Tex

18

1977

Yastrzemski, Bos

1.000

C.Lemon,Chi

512

C. Yastrzemski, Bos

16

1978

A. Otis, KC

.995

R. Leflore, Det

440

S. Lezcano, Mil

18

 

*Assisted by John Schwartz

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