10 Best Major League Baseball Players of the 1980s
When it comes to Major League Baseball, the 1980s was a decade that is often forgotten when considering the history of America’s Pastime. There were a number of events that Major League Baseball would be happy for people to forget, however, including the 1981 labor stoppage and the problems with cocaine throughout the league. On the other hand, however, the decade did have its bright spots, including one of the greatest postseasons in the history of the league in 1986.
The 1980s was also a time of transition for Major League Baseball. Unlike the 1990s and 2000s where power was king, in the 1980s, the power behind the players was noticeably missing. Throughout the decade, there were only 13 players to meet 40 home runs in the entire season, which was the lowest since the days before Babe Ruth hit the scene.
Though the 1980s were often shadowed over when looking at the history of baseball, there were a number of outstanding players who came out onto the scene. The days of Albert Belle and Alex Rodriquez were well in the future, and the players of the 1980s simply were not part of the daily press cycle as players are today. These superstars stayed away from the limelight, and instead, kept their heads in the game.
Though there were hundreds of ball players in the 1980s across the whole of the major leagues, here were the 10 best major league baseball players of the 1980s:
10. Keith Hernandez
Though most people today recognize Keith Hernandez as a commentator for Mets baseball, he was an excellent player back in the 1980s. Hernandez was a first baseman who spent most of his career playing for the Cardinals and the Mets. He was chosen as an All-Star five time, and was chosen as the National League MVP in 1979. As he came into the 1980s, he was part of two World Series, one in 1982 with the Cardinals and one in 1986 with the Mets. In addition to these awards, Hernandez also received the Gold Glove award for 11 consecutive seasons, which is the most in baseball history by any first baseman.
Hernandez entered professional baseball in 1971, when he was chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals in the draft. He played in the minors for a couple of years, and then worked his way up to play in the majors in 1974. Throughout the early 1980s, Hernandez was one of the top National League stars and was a .300 hitter. However, Hernandez did not always get along with the management of the Cardinals, and was traded to the Mets in 1983. Though the Mets were a losing team when Hernandez joined, the 1984 season proved much better, in part to his skill as a player, and by 1986, the team was a World Series winner.
Hernandez spent the rest of the 1980s with the Mets, and when his contract was not renewed in 1989 due to a fall in stats, Hernandez signed to the Cleveland Indians for one year in 1990. He retired when the contract was up.
9. Will Clark
“Will the Thrill” Clark was another notable figure of 1980s Major League Baseball, and is best known for his career with the San Francisco Giants.
Clark started his career as part of the U.S. baseball scene thanks to him being a part of the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team. He played for Mississippi State in 1985, and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants later that year. In his major league debut on April 8, 1986, Clark hit a home run off of hall of fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, and got his second MLB home run a few days later. However, this glory would be short lived, as Clark received an elbow injury, which caused him to miss almost 50 games in his first season.
Fortunately, things improved, and over the next six seasons with the Giants, Clark became known as the top first baseman of the National League. From 1988 to 1992, Clark served as the first baseman for the All-Star team, and he became the first player on the Giants to have more than 90 runs in consecutive seasons. It is said that 1989 was the best season of Clark’s career, and he batted .333 and had 111 RBIs. Later that year, the Giants defeated the Cubs in the National Championship Series, and when on to the World Series where they were swept by the Oakland A’s.
Clark left the Giants in 1993, and also played for the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals before retiring in 2000.
8. Rod Carew
Rod Carew played both first and second base throughout his Major League Baseball career, and also was a coach. By the 1980s, Carew was already a well-known player, as he had already had an illustrious career through the 1970s. Though he was not known for his ability to hit homers, he was an extremely efficient contact hitter, and is part of both the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Throughout the 1970s, Carew played with the Twins, but in 1979, Carew was traded to the Angels. Throughout the early 1980s, Carew was able to keep up a batting average of .339, but in 1982, broke his hand, but played through it and still achieved a .319 average. In 1982, he went to the playoffs with the Angels, and though the team lost, Carew played in all five games. In 1985, Carew had his 3,000th base hit, which was fitting, as that was his last year playing for the pros. However, this was not his choice, as it was later found that several owners got together to keep Carew and other players from signing with teams. When it was discovered, Carew was awarded almost $800,000.
After his playing career, Carew went on to coach for both the Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers. He has two retired numbers from the Twins and Angels, and Carew was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
7. Dennis Eckersley
Dennis Eckersley, known as “Eck,” is the first pitcher on this top 10 list. Throughout his career, which began in the 1970s, he played for a number of teams including the Indians, Red Sox, Cubs, Athletics and Cardinals. Though he found success as a starter, he gained much more fame as a closer, and became the first pitcher in the history of the MLB to have both a season with 20 wins, and a season with 50 saves.
Eck played for the Indians throughout the 1970s, and then was traded to the Red Sox in 1978 where he spent the first years of the 1980s. Though he played well for the first two years with the team, the rest of his time with the Red Sox was littered with poor performance, and he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1984.
Eck’s poor playing streak continued in the first year with the Cubs, but in 1985, everything turned around for him, and he posted a winning record with two shutouts. Eck was traded again in 1987 to Oakland, and this is where his closing skills became well known. In 1987, he was able to save 16 games, and in 1988, he made 45 saves and helped the team sweep the Red Sox in the 1988 American League playoffs. Though they lost the World Series in 1988, Eck was instrumental in the team’s win against the Giants in the 1989 World Series.
Eckersley was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, and he currently works as a broadcast studio analyst for the Red Sox on the New England Sports Network.
6. Gary Carter
Gary Carter, known as “Kid,” was a catcher in the MLB for 21 years. Primarily he played for the Expos and the Mets, and was an 11-time All-Star. Carter was known for his outstanding hitting and defense skills, and he was a major contributor to the World Series win the Mets achieved in 1986.
As the 1980s hit, Carter was playing for the Expos, and he started in his first All Star Game. He hit two home runs, and was declared the MVP of the game. He remained with the Expos throughout the early 1980s, and he was a fan favorite. By 1984, Carter was leading the league in RBIs, and he had a .294 batting average. That wasn’t enough to keep him on the team, however, and he was traded to the Mets at the end of the season.
In his first game with the Mets in 1985, he hit a home run in the 10th inning, giving the Mets a win over the Cardinals on Opening Day, and he and Keith Hernandez led the Mets to a winning season, but they missed the playoffs by three games. The next year, 1986, would be very different, however, and the Mets won the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.
By 1987, Carter had 291 home runs in his career, and 299 home runs by May of 1988. He hit his 300th homer at Wrigley Field.
Carter retired from baseball in 1992, after returning to the Expos, and in 2003, he became part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Carter passed away from brain cancer in 2012 at the age of 57.