Nobody will ever top No. 42, Jackie Robinson, for the greatest MLB rookie season ever … for a lot of reasons. He broke baseball’s color barrier and became such a revered figure in the Black community and in baseball at large that no Major League Baseball player will ever wear No. 42 again.

You can change baseball, and you can change America.

And although America remains extremely divided among racial and political lines, there are those working to end the divisions … even if they are being drowned out by the arguers and fun-haters in the mainstream media.

The world has been through tough three-plus years since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and sports has kept us sane – even when it had to be played in empty stadiums and without crowds. This summer, the Tampa Bay Rays have been the class of baseball, and there is a new rookie crop benefitting from the major rules changes made by Rob Manfred. The games are now faster, stolen bases are up, and we might even have a .400 hitter if Luis Arraez can get back to doing what he was doing a week ago for the Miami Marlins.

By the time October arrives, we will know whether we have a rookie who can come close to cracking the list of .400 hitters, but it is not an easy list to crack. The closest Robinson ever came to .400 was a .375 average when he was playing in the Negro Leagues.

What was the best rookie season in MLB history?

Jackie Robinson. His MLB rookie campaign resonates beyond statistics, as he had to endure substantially more off the field than any other athlete in history. Robinson's courage, along with the courage of Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, changed baseball forever -- opening up opportunities to countless players from all walks of life. But Robinson certainly earned his Rookie of the Year Award, too, drawing twice as many walks as strikeouts, batting nearly .300 and leading the NL in steals for a pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers club.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest MLB Rookie seasons of all time

  1. Albert Pujols, 2001

Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Positions: First base, Left field, Third base
Rookie Stats: .329 batting average. 37 HRs, 130 RBIs. OPS: .918. WAR: 6.6.
Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2022), National League MVP (2005, 2008, 2009), NL Rookie of the Year (2001), Gold Glove Award (2006, 2010), Comeback Player of the Year (2022)

The slugger from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, had 703 career home runs and 2,218 RBIs along with 3,384 hits while playing for the Cardinals, Angels and Dodgers. Can you believe that Albert Pujols was not picked until the 13th round of the 1999 draft? By June of his rookie campaign, he already had 20 homers, and his 130 RBIs are an NL rookie record.

  1. Jim Rice, 1975

Team: Boston Red Sox
Positions: Left field, Designated hitter
Rookie Stats: .309 batting average, 22 HRs, 102 RBIs. OPS: .841. WAR: 3.0
Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986), American League MVP (1978), Baseball Hall of Fame (2009)

Promoted from the minor leagues in 1975, Jim Rice finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting and third in MVP voting because he had the misfortune (or good fortune, depending upon your perspective) of playing his rookie season alongside a player further down this list. Still, he is a Red Sox legend whose No. 14 is retired by the only organization he ever played for.

  1. Dwight Gooden, 1984 Team: New York Mets
    Position: Pitcher
    Rookie Stats: 17-9 record, 2.60 ERA, 276 strikeouts
    Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1984, 1985, 1986, 1988), National League Cy Young Award (1985), NL Rookie of the Year (1984)

The right-hander from Tampa, Fla, jumped from Single-A to the majors at age 19 because he could throw a fastball 98 mph, and he had a dominant spring training. A fan section at Shea Stadium that called itself "The K Korner" would hang up cards with a red "K" after each of Dwight Gooden’s strikeouts. On July 10, 1984, he became the youngest player ever to appear in an All-Star Game.

  1. Pete Alonso, 2019

Team: New York Mets
Position: First base
Rookie Stats: 53 HRs, 120 RBIs. OPS: .941. WAR: 5.5
Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (2019, 2022), National League Rookie of the Year (2019)

A native of Tampa, Fla., like Dwight Gooden, Pete Alonso became the first player in MLB history since 1900 with 11 extra-base hits in his first 10 career games, and he hit his 26th home run on June 22, breaking the National League record for most home runs by a rookie before the All-Star break. The NL rookie home run record later fell on Aug. 18 when he hit his 40th, breaking Cody Bellinger’s record.

  1. Mark McGwire, 1987

Team: Oakland Athletics
Position: First base
Rookie Stats: 49 HRs, 18 RBIs. OPS: .987. WAR: 4.1
Career Honors & Awards: All-Star Game (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000), American League Rookie of the Year (1987), Gold Glove Award (1990)

He has not made it to the Hall of Fame because of baseball’s steroids scandal, but there is no taking away from the excitement Mark McGwire brought to baseball when he was in his prime, especially in the late 1990s when he hit 70 and 65 home runs in consecutive seasons. Aaron Judge eventually broke his rookie HR record, but McGuire’s power numbers at age 23 were behemothian. His .618 slugging percentage led the majors, and his 344 total bases were second-most in the AL.

  1. Fred Lynn, 1975

Team: Boston Red Sox
Position: Center field
Rookie Stats: .331 batting average, 21 HRs, 105 RBIs, OPS: .967. WAR: 7.4
Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983), American League MVP (1975), AL Rookie of the Year (1975), Gold Glove Award (1975, 1978, 1979, 1980)

The first MLB rookie ever to win the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP Award in the same season, Fred Lynn he led the AL in doubles (47) and runs scored (105). The Chicago native finished second behind Rod Carew in the batting race and used his speed to play stellar defense in the vast center field at Fenway Park. Ironically, he was originally drafted by Boston’s rivals, the New York Yankees, but he attended college, re-entered the draft, and was selected by Boston, where he played from 1974 to 1980 before spending time with four other teams.

  1. Larry Jansen, 1947

Team: New York Giants
Position: Pitcher
Rookie Stats: 21-5 record, 3.16 ERA
Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1950, 1951)

A native of Verboort, Ore., Larry Jansen broke into the majors as a 27-year-old rookie after sitting out World War II to work on his family’s dairy farm. He also worked in an Oregon hardware store during the offseason because of the low salaries paid to major-leaguers at the time. If not for Jackie Robinson making his debut for Brooklyn in the same year, Jansen would have been named the National League Rookie of the Year. The Giants signed him after he had 30 victories and a 1.47 ERA for the Triple-A San Francisco Seals.

  1. Aaron Judge, 2017

Team: New York Yankees
Rookie Stats: 52 HRs, 114 RBIs
Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (2017, 2018, 2021, 2022), American League MVP (2022), AL Rookie of the Year (2017)

Aaron Judge, a native of Sacramento, Calif., is one of the most popular players ever to don the Yankees pinstripes. He’s a prodigious power hitter who broke the AL record for home runs in 2022 by hitting 62 -- a record be could break this season as he sits at +800 on the Betway board for the AL MVP award. The 6-foot-7 Judge broke the rookie home run record while also leading the AL in runs and walks. He was so popular nationally that he garnered nearly 4.5 million votes to be an All-Star starter, more than any other MLB player.

  1. Ichiro Suzuki, 2001 Team: Seattle Mariners
    Position: Outfield
    Rookie Stats: .350 batting average. 242 hits, 56 stolen bases. OPS: .838. WAR: 7.7.
    Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, Golden Glove Award (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), American League MVP (2001), AL Rookie of the Year (2001)

A superstar in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki made the move to the major leagues after being a seven-time All-Star for the Orix Blue Wave. He did not miss a beat when he joined Seattle and brought his unique blend of hitting to all fields, hitting with power, and stealing bases while hitting for a high average. His 242 hits broke Lloyd Waner’s rookie record, and he became the first player since Jackie Robinson in 1949 to lead the majors in batting average and stolen bases. As a rookie for Seattle, he became the first player since Fred Lynn to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year award in the same season, and he opened the door for more Japanese players to jump to the majors.

  1. Jackie Robinson, 1947

Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
Second base (Note: played first base as rookie)
Rookie Stats: .297 batting average, 12 HRs, 48 RBIs, 49 stolen bases. OPS: 8.10. WAR: 10.1
Career Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954), National League MVP (1949), MLB Rookie of the Year (1947), Baseball Hall of Fame (1962)

Other players on this list had more impressive rookie stats, but that is not what we are looking at in putting Jackie Robinson No. 1 on this list. By breaking baseball’s color barrier, Robinson opened the door to black athletes – enabling them to compete on the same level and in the same competitions as their white counterparts. He also played an outsized role in the move toward equal rights for people of all races and nationalities – a topic that continues to be at the forefront of the national conversation more than 75 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him. Robinson endured racial taunts and had to stay in a separate hotel from his teammates while becoming an icon not only for Black Americans but for all Americans who seek a harmonious existence regardless of race or national origin.

Parameters of Rankings:

This was not an easy list to compile, and in baseball it is difficult to compare different eras because, although the rules of the game have not changed that much, the power and proficiency of modern-day players is extraordinary compared to what was considered exceptional when our grandparents and great-grandparents were growing up. Also, we have awarded higher rankings to barrier breakers and those who won multiple awards as rookies, along with those who increased the popularity of this sport. Baseball is America’s national pastime, but it is nowhere near as popular as it once was. That is a natural progression as tastes change, but history never changes, and we hope this list does justice to the accomplishments of these great players.

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