Top 6 Best MLB Center Fielders of All Time
In a game constricted to batter’s boxes and baselines, the outfield in baseball requires players to cover large amounts of ground. The captain of the outfield is the center fielder, who stands in the middle of three players and is tasked with defending the biggest part of the field. Being a good defender in the outfield demands exceptional athleticism, but the best to ever do it combine skills in the field with prowess at the plate. Below are some of the top center fielders the game has ever seen.
Who Are the Best MLB Center Fielders of All Time?
- Willie Mays
- Mickey Mantle
- Ty Cobb
- Ken Griffey Jr.
- Joe DiMaggio
- Mike Trout
1. Willie Mays
- 24-time All-Star (second-most in MLB history)
- All-time leader in home runs by a center fielder (660)
- Two-time MVP (1954 and 1965)
- National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (Class of 1979)
Willie Mays is not only seen as the best center fielder of all time but also as simply one of the greatest baseball players of all time. In an illustrious career that spanned 23 years, Mays racked up well over 3,000 hits while batting over .300. He was named to All-Star Games in 20 seasons, making a total of 24 appearances due to two games being played each season from 1959 to 1962. In addition to being a phenomenal hitter, Mays is also seen as one of the best defenders ever to play the sport. He is widely known for making one of the best defensive plays in history, “The Catch,” and won 12 Gold Glove awards during his career.
2. Mickey Mantle
- Most all-time home runs in World Series games (18)
- Three-time MVP (1956, 1957, 1962)
- One of three center fielders to hit at least 500 career home runs
- National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (Class of 1974)
Despite being diagnosed with a bone and tissue disease in high school, “The Mick” would go on to become one of the most famous Yankees and baseball players ever. Mantle was elected to All-Star Games in 16 of his 18 seasons and won seven World Series with the Yankees. In 1956, he took home the Triple Crown after leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average. He was also known to have a good eye at the plate, as he accumulated more walks than strikeouts over his 18-year career. He is seen by many as one the greatest, if not the greatest, switch-hitters in MLB history.
3. Ty Cobb
- Highest career batting average in MLB history (.366)
- Won the Triple Crown in 1909
- Second-most hits in MLB history (4,189)
- National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (Inaugural Class of 1936)
- Named to Major League All-Century Team (1900s)
Easily the most famous Detroit Tiger ever, Ty Cobb was a menace at the plate and on the basepaths. Though he never hit for much power, his ability to get on base was second-to-none. Cobb finished his career with 4,189 hits, behind only Pete Rose on the all-time list. He posted a batting average of over .400 three times during his career, one of only two hitters ever to do so. Known for his quick temper, Cobb was one of the most aggressive players of his era. He is credited with stealing home 54 times, far more than anyone else in the history of the sport.
4. Ken Griffey Jr.
- 630 career home runs
- Won ten consecutive Gold Glove Awards
- Named the Player’s Choice Player of the Decade in 1999
- National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (Class of 2016)
The son of former Major Leaguer Ken Griffey Sr., “Junior” made sure to leave his mark on the game as one of the league’s best center fielders. Nicknamed The Kid, Griffey Jr. played with an undeniable swagger that won over the affection of fans from across the country. He is widely credited with having helped save baseball in Seattle during his time as a Mariner, and his ability to dominate all aspects of the game was truly special. Ever the showman, Griffey Jr. won three Home Run Derbys during his career and has a highlight reel of defensive plays. Many say he had one of the smoothest swings the game has ever seen, but there was a power behind it that drove him to be one of the greats.
5. Joe DiMaggio
- Holds the record for the longest hitting streak in MLB history (56 games)
- Three-time American League MVP (1939, 1941, 1947)
- Nine-time World Series Champion
- National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (Class of 1955)
Beyond just “The Streak,” Joe DiMaggio was arguably the best MLB center fielder of the 1940s. Despite only playing 13 years, DiMaggio was able to clobber 361 home runs and over 2,000 hits, and he was named an All-Star in every season he played. DiMaggio took three years off from baseball during his prime to serve in World War Two but was able to maintain the same Hall of Fame level of play once he returned. Playing during a golden era of Yankees baseball, DiMaggio goes down as one of the greats for both the franchise and the sport as a whole.
6. Mike Trout
- 10-time All-Star
- Three-time American League MVP (2014, 2016, 2019)
- Nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner
Mike Trout is the most recent center fielder to become as much a legend as players like DiMaggio and Cobb. Trout has won three MVPs and nine Silver Slugger Awards. He burst onto the scene in 2011 with a number of flashy defensive plays, but he has since turned into one of the most complete hitters in the sport. He has even been named as an MLB All-Star a whopping ten times (2012-2019, 2021, 2022) and been awarded the Silver Slugger (2012-2016, 2018-2020, 2022). Often seen as the face of baseball for the past decade, there’s no doubt Trout is one of the best all-around players ever to touch the diamond.
- 1912 AL MVP
- Three-Time World Series Champion (1912, 1915, 1920)
- National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (Class of 1937)
Tris Speaker, also known as “the Gray Eagle,” was the second greatest center fielder during the MLB’s earlier years. For over two decades in the league, he played for five teams: the Boston Americans (1907), the Boston Red Sox (1908-1915), the Cleveland Indians (1916-1926), the Washington Senators (1927), and the Philadelphia A’s (1928). Though he was a legend for all five teams, his greatest success was with the Red Sox and Cleveland. With the Boston team, Speaker was named the American League’s MVP in 1912 and won two World Series (1912, 1915). With the Cleveland team, he won a third World Series in 1920. After retiring with major statistics like 3,514 hits and a .345 batting average, Speaker became a baseball team manager and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.
- Eight-time All-Star
- Two-time World Series Champion
- 1956 National League Home Run Leader
Duke Snider was a center fielder that played in the MLB for 18 seasons (1947-1964), 16 of which he played with the high-powered Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1937-1962). He won two World Series with the Dodgers, and was selected to the All-Star Game eight times in his career. Snider holds the Dodgers’ franchise record for home runs with 389. He had multiple seasons where he batted over .300, and finished his career with a .295 average. Snider was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Who is the greatest MLB center fielder of all time?
The greatest MLB center fielder of all time is Willie Mays. Not only has Mays hit the most home runs ever by a center fielder, but he was also an elite defender who possessed top-end speed. The “Say Hey Kid” will forever go down as one of the greats, and some even believe he is the greatest player ever in the history of the sport. His 24 All-Star appearances are also the most amongst all center fielders in MLB history.
What MLB center fielder hit the most career home runs?
Willie Mays hit the most career home runs by a center fielder with 660. The most home runs he hit in a season was 52 during the 1965 campaign, and he hit 40 or more home runs six times. He is widely regarded as one of the best power hitters to ever play the game despite not having the largest frame.
Who is the best center fielder in the MLB today?
The best center fielder in the game right now is Mike Trout. For many, he is seen as the best player in the sport regardless of position. Though he has never won a Gold Glove, Trout is respected as an elite defender and is also one of the most efficient base stealers in the game today. Trout has already won three MVPs in his career and could quite possibly have another decade of baseball left in him.