top of page

Reminiscing on 5 of the Most Exciting Players of All Time

Babe Ruth on the New York Yankees; CC by License 2.0

The word “exciting” is often very subjective when brought up in casual conversation. Many baseball fans have their own opinions on who the most exciting players in the game are, and there is no concrete way to determine how fun a player is in a comparative sense. While I have set out to create a list of baseball’s most exciting players using a combination of stats and the eye test, I still cannot come up with a way to make the term “exciting” objective. What I can do, however, is determine the most exciting stats and use them to come up with the five most exciting players that the game has ever seen.

To back up these stats, we must discuss the player’s style, personality, and overall character as it relates to his on-field production. It is widely believed that the home run is the most exciting outcome in baseball. Speed is also of great importance, as it is necessary for stretching a double into a triple, stealing bases, and making highlight plays in the field, all of which are inherently exciting. To measure speed, I used Statcast sprint speed for active players, while stolen base and defensive range stats were utilized for pre-Statcast players. Defensive runs saved is a good judge of the frequency at which a player makes exciting defensive plays, as the goal of saving a run is likely to cause a player to attempt to make an exciting play.

On the pitching side, dominance is the name of the game. The most dominant pitchers are also the most exciting, as few things can get a crowd more pumped up than a no-hitter or a clutch save. To measure exciting pitchers, I looked at velocity and control numbers as well as testimonials from hitters regarding their experiences facing the pitcher. After all, the most exciting pitchers are often the most frightening to face in the box. Also taken into account will be basic counting stats such as hits per 9 innings, strikeout percentage, and save percentage.

1. Shohei Ohtani

Watching Shohei Ohtani play baseball can only be described as the feeling a person would get if they saw a unicorn in a zoo; it is unbelievable to witness, and you want to take it all in because you may never see anything like it again. Ohtani is the world’s first six-tool baseball player, meaning hit for contact, hit for power, speed, defense, arm, and pitching. Someone who has mastered the game to such a complete level is, fairly easily, the most exciting player possible.

I probably do not need to elaborate with statistics, but I will anyway. In 2022, Ohtani placed top five in both MVP and Cy Young voting, which is not all that unusual except for the fact that his MVP case was as a two-way player, not just a pitcher. Ohtani has ranked in the top four percent of the league in average exit velocity and the top seven percent in max exit velocity every year of his career except for 2020. His Statcast sprint speed and barrel percentage have also consistently ranked highly across his six MLB seasons.

As a pitcher, Ohtani boasts a dazzling seven-pitch mix, mainly throwing an elite sweeper and a fastball that touches triple digits on a routine basis. In 2022, Ohtani’s sweeper was the second-best pitch in baseball, with a run value of 25. He simultaneously pounded fastballs in the box to the tune of a 14-run value, good for an appearance in the top 25. Needless to say, Ohtani is not only the greatest baseball player we have ever and will ever see, but his continued greatness has fans ecstatic to see what he will do next.

2. Barry Bonds

From breaking every home run record imaginable to refusing to allow video game companies to use his name and likeness, Barry Bonds is viewed by many as a mythological character in the history of baseball. Whether he really did take PEDs or simply began to eat a healthy, balanced breakfast, the fact remains that Bonds is one of the greatest players ever, if not the greatest. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire might have saved baseball in 1998 with their home-run chase that ended with McGwire setting the single-season home run record with 70 dingers. But Bonds vaulted it to the top of every household’s agenda in 2001 as he chased and broke McGwire’s single-season record. Bonds caught McGwire and added a few more to finish 2001 with 73 home runs, one of the most unbreakable records in baseball.

Bonds was so exciting that he managed to turn the most unexciting play in baseball, the intentional walk, into a spectacle. In 2004, Bonds walked a record 232 times, with 120 of them coming intentionally. In his 22-year career, Bonds was intentionally walked 688 times. In second place on the list is Albert Pujols, who retired in 2022 with 316 IBB, less than half as many as Bonds. Of course, Bonds holds the all-time career home run record with 762, but he also finished in the top six for career OPS+, bWAR, and RBI. There is not much to say about the legendary career of Barry Bonds that has not already been said, and he ranks as the second most exciting player of all time.

3. Babe Ruth

In the early years of Major League Baseball, known as the Dead Ball Era, the home run was seen as a novelty, not an efficient way to score runs and win games. In 1920, one man put an end to this entire approach to the game. After showing a spark of power at the plate for the Boston Red Sox in 1919, Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees in the most infamous transaction in baseball history for $125,000. Adjusted for inflation, the Yankees paid just $2.3 million for one of the greatest players in all of baseball. To put that number in perspective, New York paid their 2022 first-round pick, Spencer Jones, a signing bonus of just under $2.9 million.

Ruth’s case as one of the most exciting players has two main points. First, he revolutionized hitting so much that nobody had ever seen anything like it at the time. He became a household name in the early 1920s based almost solely on the fact that he played the game like nobody else. With a career slash line of .342/.474/.690, Ruth checked all of the boxes of an elite pure hitter. He also, however, was not only the first dominant power hitter, but arguably the most dominant power hitter ever. Ruth led the league in home runs 12 times, and still owns the career records for slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+.

Secondly, he was one of the most eccentric players ever. He has six nicknames listed on Baseball Reference, but he could have easily had more. The stories that we all heard as kids about his character off the field are arguably just as legendary as his play on the field, and they paint him as a folkloric character in baseball’s history. One hundred years have passed since the Babe broke out, but he is still one of the most talked about players in the history of the sport.

4. Rickey Henderson

The all-time career leader in stolen bases and runs scored, Rickey Henderson was a walking highlight reel for 25 years. His unique play style was based on his otherworldly speed, but he was a true five-tool player. Over his career, Henderson racked up 3,055 hits, 297 home runs, and an absurd 1,406 stolen bases, almost 500 more than the second-place Lou Brock. Within his first three full seasons in Major League Baseball, Henderson broke both Ty Cobb’s American League single-season steals record with 100 and Brock’s MLB single-season record with 130 steals. As the ultimate leadoff hitter, Henderson made sure that the first inning was always must-see baseball.

In the outfield, Henderson racked up 84 total zone runs above average, playing a very consistent left field and dabbling in center field as well. Off the field, Rickey was one of the most charismatic figures in the game, with a cockiness that only he could get away with. Rickey’s legendary career saw him appear in four different decades for nine teams, but he brought back the excitement of baseball in the city of Oakland for multiple generations of Athletics fans.

5. Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr.’s accolades are plentiful, but the excitement around him comes from his most iconic moments. Griffey vitalized baseball in the Pacific Northwest from the day he debuted until the day he retired. When you tell the story of Ken Griffey, Jr., you have to tell of his infamous nickname, “The Kid,” and his smooth left-handed swing. You have to tell of the iconic moments from his early career, like when he stole a fly ball from his father, who was playing beside him in Seattle’s outfield, or when Griffey Jr. and Sr. became the only father-son duo to hit back-to-back home runs. As you move into his prime, you talk about the backward hat Home Run Derby or either of the other two Derbies in which he emerged victorious.

The Kid was not just an accolade machine, however. Over his 22 seasons in the MLB, he accumulated a staggering 83.8 bWAR, with three seasons of 8.8 bWAR or higher. Griffey was a clear-cut five-tool superstar, which made him a joy to watch day in and day out. From 1993 to 1997, his athletic prime, Griffey was worth 59 total zone fielding runs above average, putting him on par with the primes of Willie Mays and Mike Trout in center field. With 10 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and an MVP, Ken Griffey, Jr. is not only one of the most accomplished players ever, but he is also one of the most exciting.

Honorable Mentions: Mariano Rivera, Nolan Ryan, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Bo Jackson, Sammy Sosa, Randy Johnson, Mike Trout, Ozzie Smith, Zack Greinke, Alfonso Soriano, Elly De La Cruz

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page