Bringing 'em all back home has always been at the heart of baseball's treasure trove of lore. And when it comes to cards, icons bearing images of both career and single-season RBI leaders are usually among the most coveted.
The all-time career leader in this stat category is Hank Aaron with 2,297 RBIs. But the guys chasing him aren't too shabby either -- Babe Ruth (2,204), Lou Gehrig (1,990), Ty Cobb (1,960), Stan Musial (1,951), Jimmie Foxx (1,921), Eddie Murray (1,916), Willie Mays (1,903), Mel Ott (1,861), and Carl Yastrzemski (1,844) round out the top ten. Of the top twenty all-time RBI leaders, only #16 Tony Perez (1,652) is still not enshrined in the Hall of Fame -- and that seems like an oversight. (Perez cards retain lofty values -- especially to Reds fans.)
Among active players, 38-year-old Cal Ripken, Jr. is ranked thirtieth in RBIs lifetime (1,514), but surprisingly, only three others are challenging the all-time leaders for RBI prowess -- Harold Baines (1,480), Joe Carter (1,445), and Chili Davis (1,294). Of this group, only Ripken is a cinch future Hall member.
Getting one hundred RBIs or more in a season has always been considered a notable achievement. But when it comes to runs batted in, there was never a more valuable performer than Ripkin "consecutive games" prototype and Yankee immortal Lou Gehrig. Playing for well-balanced, often pennant-winning teams, several of his single-season tallies are amazing in the hindsight of posterity. Gehrig knocked in an American League record 184 in 1931, 175 in 1927, 174 in 1930, 165 in 1934, and 142 in 1928 (all league-leading years). In all but his rookie year when the "Iron Horse" played a full season and didn't lead the league -- his RBI numbers were 107 (1926), 126 (1929), 151 (1932), 139 (1933), 119 (1935), 152 (1936), 159 (1937) and 114 in 1938. Next to Gehrig, RBI stats for Lou's Yankee teammate Ruth were almost as impressive. Baseball's "Sultan of Swat" drove in 171 in 1921, 164 in 1927, and 163 in 1931. Ruth led the American League six times in RBIs (to Gehrig's five) and like Gehrig, had 13 seasons with 100 or more RBIs. Hank Greenberg, Jimmy Foxx, Hal Trosky, Al Simmons, Chuck Klein, Joe DiMaggio, and Hack Wilson also had prodigious RBI years during the 1930s.
Especially Wilson. Robert Lewis "Hack" Wilson's watershed year was 1930 when he hit 56 homers and drove in 191 runs -- the all-time Major League record. (The Cubs star had previously led the National League with 159 RBIs in 1929.) But after his biggest season, Wilson's only other campaign of note was in 1932 when he drove in 123 runs for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In fact, the hard-drinking Hack's relatively brief career ended when he was 34, and he died a tragic alcoholic in 1948 -- coincidentally the same year as Babe Ruth.