Ted Williams was arguably the greatest hitter of all time. Barry Bonds became the greatest hitter since Williams. Rickey Henderson was the greatest power-speed combo ever, unless you give that honor to Bonds. It’s easy to extract an image of them in play: Williams, with that beautiful uppercut swing, launching that home run in the 1941 All-Star Game, the last man to hit .400; Bonds, once the graceful two-way threat, already the best player in the game, turning into the beefy monster late in his career and putting up softball numbers; Henderson, in that crouch at home plate, annoying pitchers with his postage-stamp strike zone and then annoying them further by swiping second base ... and often third.
But Stan Musial? What’s your image of Stan the Man?
...As beloved as he was in St. Louis, however, Musial’s legacy had faded over time, picking up in attention only in recent years, it seemed. He wasn’t the last player to hit .400. He hadn’t played with the Yankees. He didn’t play center field like Willie Mays or become the home run king like Hank Aaron. Again: What label do you put on Musial?
How about ballplayer? I think you can make the argument that Musial is the greatest of the four; it’s a hard one to win (in part because Musial actually played a few more games at first base than left field, and also several seasons in right field). But that speaks not just to his versatility—he was athletic enough to play over 300 games in center field as well—but his obvious willingness to put the team first, not always something said about Williams, Bonds or Henderson. He once played more than 800 games in a row, and that durability, consistency and attitude provided a bonus you didn’t get at all times from the other three.
In terms of career wins above replacement, the four rank like this:
Bonds: 158.1 WAR
Musial: 123.4 WAR
Williams: 119.8 WAR
Henderson: 106.8 WAR