As athletes go, baseball players aren't exactly known for fitness. For decades, the sport's poster boy was Babe Ruth, a man famous for eating whatever he wanted, chasing whomever he wanted (sometimes naked, through a train), and having the relative build of Chris Christie. (Oh, and then inspiring the creation of a candy bar.)
But hey: Baseball isn’t bowling, you know? For every heavyweight like John Kruk or CC Sabathia, there’s a physical specimen like Ozzie Smith or David Wright. So despite its reputation, the sport favors the fast, strong, flexible and resilient, especially in the modern game. Plus, if you’re addicted to the weight room in the offseason, you have an even better chance of standing up to the sport’s brutal 162-game schedule through the blistering heat of July and August (even if you are being shuttled around on private jets and being paid ridiculous amounts of money to do so).
Here’s our look at the 10 fittest athletes in the history of the sport. And no, Prince Fielder didn't make the cut either.
A 10-time MLB All-Star and a folk hero in his home country of Japan, Ichiro is one of only three players to collect more than 4,000 professional hits. (He accrued 1,278 hits in the Japanese league before joining the Mariners.) At 42, he’s still on the 2016 active roster for the Miami Marlins, a testament to his career-long devotion to fitness. Suzuki practically lives in the gym, but you won’t find him lifting weights. Instead, up to four times per day he goes through a flexibility routine that requires eight specialized machines, targets often-overlooked joints and regions (like the scapula and pelvic areas), and emphasizes improved blood circulation. It’s one of the reasons he’s been on the disabled list just once in his MLB career.
Mike Trout, Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
At 24, the New Jersey native is already one of the greatest young players in the history of baseball. In four seasons in the bigs, Trout has been named AL MVP once and was runner-up the other three years. Even those difficult-to-please sabermetricians are in love with him; he led the majors in wins above replacement (WAR) in each of his first three seasons. But while he may be the next Mickey Mantle, he takes a lot better care of his body. Trout regularly completes 50-inch box jumps while holding weight plates, along with sprints and core work. During the offseason, he hits the gym 90 minutes a day, six days a week. And we all know he relies on a steady diet of Subway sandwiches, which can be pretty healthy provided you don’t load up your turkey foot-long with mayo.
Tyrus Raymond Cobb was not the nicest guy in the major leagues, but he was certainly one of the best. During his 24 seasons, the Georgia Peach amassed 4,191 hits, kept a startling .367 career batting average (still the highest ever) and set some 88 other MLB records. Tremendously athletic and aggressive, Cobb was famous for sliding into bases feet first, with his spikes up. His fitness came less in the form of super sets in the gym (there were no Equinoxes in 1905) and more in the way of self-denial. While peers like Babe Ruth gorged themselves on beer, hot dogs and women, Cobb practiced Tom Brady-esque self-discipline. No doubt this led to his impressive longevity: Cobb played 3,035 games, a record for nearly 50 years, and even served as player-coach for six seasons.
It’s safe to say that the Yankees wouldn’t have won five World Series from 1996 to 2009 without Derek Sanderson Jeter. The Bronx Bombers’ all-time career leader in hits, doubles, games played, stolen bases, and at-bats, Jeter played 20 seasons and managed a lifetime average of .310 while accumulating five Golden Glove awards and 14 All-Star appearances. But he was as diligent in the weight room as he was on the diamond. Jeter did everything from squats and deadlifts to box jumps and yoga in order to keep his body healthy enough to play well into his 40s.
How good of an athlete was Gibson? The muscular 6’2” gym rat averaged more than 20 points per game on the Creighton basketball team, and before reporting to the Cardinals, he played for a time with the Harlem Globetrotters, where he earned the nickname “Bullet” and became famous for his reverse dunks. His roommate, Meadowlark Lemon, once said that Gibson was a better basketball player than a baseball player, which is almost hard to believe, because on the mound he was spectacular. The hard-throwing righty was twice named World Series MVP, and in 1968 he won both the NL Cy Young Award and the NL MVP. Which wasn’t accomplished again until 2014.
At 6’4” and 225 pounds, Ripken transformed the shortstop position from a place for little guys who hit singles (at best) to a spot for big, powerful athletes. He was Rookie of the Year in 1982, MVP in 1983 and 1991, and he amassed 3,184 hits and 431 home runs during his 21 seasons, all with the O’s. But Ripkin's greatest achievement is arguably his record 2,632 consecutive games played—something you don’t do unless you’re in pretty unbelievable shape. Ultracompetitive, he grew up playing soccer and often played pickup basketball in the offseason to stay fit. According to many, he was super strong, especially in his hands, and his pain tolerance was second to none.
One of a handful of athletes to be named an All-Star in two major sports, Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson was a physical freak on the baseball diamond. When he wasn’t cracking bats over his knee, he was gunning down base runners and scaling walls. As legend has it, the Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t a big fan of lifting weights in the gym, but he could still bench press 350 pounds with ease when called upon. Instead, he kept fit with water aerobics and stretching. Aided by a wildly successful advertising campaign from Nike, Jackson was also known as one of the original cross-trainers. If it wasn’t for a hip injury in 1991, Jackson might’ve claimed a couple of AL MVP trophies too.
Highly Questionable host Dan Le Batard has called Stanton the strongest hitter in the history of baseball, and it’s hard to argue with him. Stat geeks point to Stanton’s “hard hit percentages” (the percentage of time he makes hard contact with the baseball) and his “exit velocity” (the speed of the baseball off his bat) to support such claims. Bottom line: The guy has a lot of power. The 26-year-old smashed 181 home runs (some as far as 490 feet) in his first five seasons, and his passion for heaving up large piles of iron in the gym—particularly in the winter months—will only make him stronger and more frightening to pitchers.
Although not a big athlete by today’s standards at 5’11” and 175 pounds, Clemente displayed great arm strength from right field and terrific bat speed at the plate. The 15-time All-Star was the NL MVP in 1966, a four-time NL batting champ, and a Gold Glove winner an astonishing 12 times (still tied for the most ever). His earliest “conditioning sessions” entailed working alongside his father in Puerto Rico, loading and unloading trucks with sugar crops. He was also the first Latin American to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, finishing with exactly 3,000 hits and a lifetime batting average of .317.
The 2015 NL MVP might be the most polarizing and outspoken player in the game today, but he’s also one of the hardest working. Just 23, Harper kills it in the weight room during the season and throughout the offseason, and as a result, he’s totally ripped and freakishly athletic for his size (6’2”, 230 pounds). The son of a Las Vegas ironworker, Harper attributes his drive to the lessons he learned watching his father. “I wanted to come out and I wanted to work hard because he worked hard,” Harper said in an MLB video. “He did it for over 25 years.”