Nearly all athletes on the list of greatest rookies won their league’s rookie of the year award, though a handful did not. Ronnie Lott and Lawrence Taylor, who are both on this list, were drafted in 1981. Both were All-Pro in their rookie years, but Taylor edged out Lott for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Rookie of the Year award in baseball only dates back to 1947, so players like Ted Williams, who began their careers before then, had no such award to win. Wayne Gretzky was not eligible for the NHL’s rookie honor, the Calder Trophy, despite shattering the rookie scoring record. Gretzky’s team, the Edmonton Oilers, played in the World Hockey Association for a season before joining the NHL, so Gretzky’s first NHL season wasn’t his first year as a pro hockey player.
To determine the greatest rookies of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical statistics of the four major American sports leagues — NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA — on the Sports Reference family of sites. Players were considered if they won their league’s rookie of the year award or achieved another notable accomplishment in their first full season. Some MLB rookies are not in their first season. Baseball players can have up to 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on the active roster in the Major Leagues before their rookie eligibility is exhausted. Several MLB players on this list meet this criteria.