The best baseball players born on Jan. 31
5:00 AM UTC
Here’s a subjective ranking of the top five for Jan. 31, one of the strongest birthdays in baseball.
1) Ernie Banks (1931)
How do you pick a No. 1? There is a case to be made for any of the top three, but here’s the argument for Banks: His 14 All-Star Games in 11 seasons nearly matches the combined total of Nolan Ryan (eight) and Jackie Robinson (seven), and his seven-year peak bWAR of 52.1 tops those of the next two players on this list. So beloved on the North Side that he was known as Mr. Cub, Banks was the first back-to-back NL MVP winner (1958-59) and his five 40-homer seasons at shortstop are surpassed only by Alex Rodriguez’s six.
2) Jackie Robinson (1919)
Robinson is so much more than his stats, to the point that in 2008 the Hall of Fame unveiled a new plaque to acknowledge the history he made: “Displayed tremendous courage and poise in 1947 when he integrated the modern Major Leagues in the face of intense adversity.” He broke the color line in 1947, winning NL Rookie of the Year, and two years later was named NL MVP. His 10 seasons with the Dodgers included six World Series, winning it in 1955. In 1997, 50 years after his debut, MLB retired his number across the game and the BBWAA renamed the Rookie of the Year Award in his honor.
3) Nolan Ryan (1947)
“The Express” leads all Jan. 31 players in bWAR (81.3) in part because his 27 seasons in the Majors is the most by any pitcher in AL/NL history. He led his league in strikeouts 11 times – and in walks eight times. He also allowed the fewest hits per nine innings (among starters) 12 times, and he’s the career leader in all three categories with 5,714 K’s, 2,795 BB and 6.6 H/9. Ryan was the first player to suit up for MLB’s first four expansion teams (the Mets, Angels, Astros and Senators/Rangers), and he’s the only player to have his number retired by three teams for which he played (Angels, Astros and Rangers).
4) George Burns (1893)
The only other Jan. 31 player with a bWAR over 30 (35.1), Burns hit .307/.354/.429 from 1914-29 playing for the Tigers, A’s, Indians, Red Sox and Yankees. He twice led the Majors in hits, including his 1926 AL MVP season: 216 hits, a .358/.394/.494 line and 115 RBIs. Burns also hit 64 doubles that season, still tied for second all-time with Joe Medwick, three behind record-holder Earl Webb.
5) Josh Johnson (1984)
Johnson’s 915 career strikeouts are second among pitchers born on this day – but they’re just 16 percent of Ryan’s total. A two-time All-Star who spent eight of his nine seasons with the Marlins, Johnson is still near the top of Miami’s career lists for pitcher bWAR (25.8), ERA (3.15) and WHIP (1.23).
Others of note:
Tommy La Stella (1989)
La Stella broke in with Atlanta in 2014 and was traded to the Cubs before the ’15 season. A member of Chicago’s 2016 championship team, La Stella did not appear in that World Series. He was named an All-Star reserve in 2019 with the Angels, but broke his right leg a week before the game. Traded to the A’s in 2020, La Stella crossed the Bay to play for the Giants in 2021. He signed with the Mariners for the 2023 season.
Buck Ewing (1903)
Not to be confused with the Hall of Fame catcher from the 19th century, William Monroe Ewing was a backstop in the Negro Leagues with the Chicago American Giants, Columbus Buckeyes and Homestead Grays. In the late 1920s, he was the titular draw of Buck Ewing’s Stars, a barnstorming team of Black players based in Schenectady, N.Y. And in 1930, it was Ewing’s injury — the legend goes — that prompted the Grays to call an 18-year-old Josh Gibson out of the stands to fill in behind the plate.
Hank Aguirre (1931)
A left-hander who mostly pitched in relief for Cleveland and Detroit in the ’50s and ’60s, Aguirre’s AL-leading 2.21 ERA in 1962 (his lone All-Star season) is still the second-best single-season mark for the Tigers in the Expansion Era.
Want to see more baseball birthdays for Jan. 31? Find the complete list on Baseball Reference.