By In Stuff

Baseball Vintages

Willie Mays turned 80 this year, and Mickey Mantle would have turned 80 last month, and that tells you that 1931 was one heck of a baseball year. I don’t know anything at all about wine, but for as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the concept of good and bad years for wine. I admit my fascination is mostly built from scenes in movies where snooty rich men try to impress women (and end up annoying the heck out of everyone) by ordering a bottle of wine from 1961 rather than 1962.

Thing is, if we look back on baseball vintages, we see that there really is a big difference between different years. Look at 1931:

January 31, 1931: Ernie Banks was born in Dallas, Texas.

May 6, 1931: Willie Mays was born in Westfield, Alabama.

October 13, 1931: Eddie Mathews was born in Texarkana, Texas

October 20, 1931: Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma

October 23, 1931: Jim Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky

What a year. And how about that 11-day span in October, 1931? How rare is it to have three Hall of Famers born within 11 days of each other? Think of this: Not a single Hall of Fame baseball player was born in 1932 OR 1933.

I would say that 1931 is the greatest birth year in baseball history, the best vintage. You could certainly argue for 1887 when Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander were born. Babe Ruth alone made 1895 a great year, and a handful of men born in 1903, led by Lou Gehrig and Cool Papa Bell, are in the Hall of Fame. Satchel Paige may or may not have been born in 1906. Hank Greenberg and Josh Gibson, among others, were born in 1911. Ted Williams and Bob Feller, among others, were born in 1918. And so on.

But I think a year that gives us Mantle and Mays — not to mention Mr. Cub, one of the great third basemen ever and a U.S. Senator — is pretty close to unbeatable.

Of, course, this led me to wonder about MY birth year — 1967. The best baseball player born in my birth year was probably John Smoltz. I guess Trevor Hoffman would be in the mix. Omar Vizquel was probably the best every day player born in my year, though Kenny Lofton and Robin Ventura would be nominees. In other words, no, it’s not a particularly great vintage. I mean, it’s certainly not bad — Smoltz was a dominant pitcher at different times, Vizquel a wonderful player whose barehanded plays are among my favorite memories of the era — but it ain’t Mantle and Mays. A baseball bottle of wine in my year of birth would probably be on holiday sale in the wine section of Kroger for $9.99.

And looking at THAT led me to go through the past 80 years, find the best players born each year, and give the baseball vintage a grade. Go ahead and look for your birth year — it’s my thanks to you on this Thanksgiving. And, yes, beyond that, I definitely will think of turning this idea somehow into greeting cards that will make me a bajillionaire.*

*Why would I want to become a bajillionaire? I think it goes without saying: So I could sit around the house all day eating Fritos and wearing this.


Best player: Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle.

Other nominees: Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, Ken Boyer, Jim Bunning.

Vintage grade: A+

Comment: Best birth year in baseball history.


Best player: Maury Wills

Other nominees: Woodie Held, Johnny Podres, Ron Kline

Vintage grade: F+

Comment: There are no Fs, but this was a dry year.


Best player: Rocky Colavito

Other nominees: Billy O’Dell, Herb Score.

Vintage grade: D

Comment: This year desperately needed Herb Score to become an all-time great. He seemed well on his way before getting hit in the face with the Gil McDougald line drive. He struggled to recover and suffered subsequent arm troubles. The vintage never recovered either.


Best player: Hank Aaron

Other nominees: Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Luis Aparicio, Roger Maris.

Vintage grade: A

Comment: In some ways 1934 was every bit as good a year as 1931 — Aaron, Clemente, Kaline, what a vintage. But there was no great pitching this year; the best pitcher born in 1934 was probably Camilo Pascual.


Best player: Frank Robinson

Other nominees: Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax

Vintage grade: B+

Comment: I didn’t really know what to do with best player this year. Frank Robinson probably provided the most value, which is why I picked him, but Gibson and Koufax were both so dominant and so iconic. There aren’t many great pitching birth years. This year or 1944 are probably the best pitching years of the last 80 years when it comes to dominant pitches … well, 966 was awfully good too.


Best player: Harmon Killebrew

Other nominees: Frank Howard, Bill Mazeroski, Don Drysdale.

Vintage grade: B-

Comment: Good power year with Killer and Frank Howard.


Best player: Brooks Robinson

Other nominees: Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Mike Cuellar.

Vintage grade: C+

Comment: This will give you an idea about how separate the leagues used to be. Juan Marichal started 457 games, threw more than 3,500 innings and faced more than 14,000 batters in his remarkable career. Brooks Robinson played in 2,896 games, came to plate almost 12,000 times and faced more than 650 different pitchers. Robinson and Marichal were born the same year. They played at precisely the same time. They never faced each other.


Best player: Willie McCovey

Other nominees: Billy Williams, Tony Oliva, Gaylord Perry, Jim Kaat.

Vintage grade: B

Comment: Heck of a year for sweet-swinging left-handed hitters, eh? Here’s one for you: Willie McCovey hit home runs off 12 different Hall of Famer pitchers and was obviously one of the greatest home run hitters in baseball history. But, stunningly, he never hit one in 35 plate appearances off Robin Roberts, who was famous for allowing home runs — he is one of only two pitchers in baseball history to give up more than 500 home runs over a career.* How strange is that? But it gets even stranger: McCovey did hit .452 with THREE TRIPLES off Roberts.

*The other is Jamie Moyer who, old as he is, never faced. McCovey.


Best player: Carl Yastrzemski

Other nominees: Lou Brock, Phil Niekro, Rico Carty, Milt Pappas.

Vintage Grade: B

Comment: Two 3,000-hit guys … I include Carty because he was one of my favorite players when I was growing up and he’s also the only National Leaguer between Musial and Gwynn to hit better than .365 in a season. Yeah, that’s kind of a made-up stat but, as mentioned, he was one of my favorite players growing up.


Best player: Willie Stargell

Other nominees: Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Luis Tiant, Mickey Lolich.

Vintage grade: C+

Comment: A year for Hall of Fame snubs … Torre will get in soon enough, I suspect.


Best player: Pete Rose

Other nominees: Bill Freehan, Boog Powell, Tim McCarver, Wilbur Wood.

Vintage grade: C

Comment: And no Hall of Famers in this vintage yet. I am on record saying I think Pete Rose should be on the Hall of Fame ballot, but I honestly don’t think that will ever happen and even if it does I don’t see any emerging scenario for Pete Rose to get into the Hall of Fame.


Best player: Ferguson Jenkins

Other nominees: Dick Allen, Jimmy Wynn, Tony Perez, Jerry Koosman.

Vintage grade: C-

Comment: First year on the list where a pitcher was a pretty clear choice as best player.


Best player: Joe Morgan

Other nominees: Roy White, Tommy John, Rico Petrocelli, John Hiller, Mike Marshall.

Vintage grade: D+

Comment: Mike Marshall pitched in ONE HUNDRED AND SIX GAMES in 1974. That is all.


Best player: Tom Seaver

Other nominees: Steve Carlton, Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Joe Niekro, Denny McClain.

Vintage grade: B

Comment: Ten different pitchers born in 1944 won 100-plus games in the big leagues. I suspected that was a record. Turns out, it is not. But with Seaver and Carlton, this ranks as one of the great pitcher vintages ever.


Best player: Rod Carew

Other nominees: Reggie Smith, Davey Lopes, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer.

Vintage Grade: B+

Comment: Rod Carew had an astonishing 164 games where he hit three or more singles. As you might guess only Pete Rose (187) had more. Over the last 25 years, the hitters with most three single games are exactly who you might expect:

1. Ichiro Suzuki (132)

2. Derek Jeter (122)

3. Tony Gwynn (110)

4. Luis Castillo (109)

5. Ivan Rodriguez (97)


Best player: Reggie Jackson

Other nominees: Bobby Bonds, Larry Dierker, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers.

Vintage Grade: C+

Comment: Three more Hall of Famers — and it’s interesting that all there played a huge role in the Oakland A’s dominance of the early 1970s.


Best player: Johnny Bench or Nolan Ryan

Other nominees: Carlton Fisk, Darrell Evans, Thurman Munson, Steve Stone.

Vintage Grade: A

Comment: What a great year for catchers. I think the best player is a toss-up — one of the greatest catchers in baseball history and perhaps the most remarkable pitcher of all time. Most people would probably go with Ryan.


Best player: Ron Cey or Steve Garvey

Other nominees: Toby Harrah, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Charlie Hough.

Vintage Grade: D-

Comment: As mentioned, there are no Fs … but this one is a bit too close close. A few good players, but no great ones. I had no idea who to put as best player, so I decided to put the two Dodgers teammates up there and let LA fans choose between them. Concepcion also has a case.


Best player: Mike Schmidt

Other nominees: Bobby Grich, Ted Simmons, Rick Reuschel, Steve Rogers, Vida Blue.

Vintage Grade: B-

Comment: An underrated year — Grich, Simmons and even Reuschel have Hall of Fame cases. Vida Blue was well on his way to the Hall before his career was derailed.


Best player: Ron Guidry

Other nominees: Brian Downing, Doug DeCinces, Frank White, Duane Kuiper, Jon Matlack, J.R. Richard.

Vintage Grade: D

Comment: A grand year for minor stars — TWELVE pitchers born in 1950 went on to win 100 games — though I like to think of it as the year of the Kuip.


Best player: Bert Blyleven

Other nominees: Dwight Evans, Buddy Bell, Dave Winfield, Dave Parker, Goose Gossage.

Vintage grade: B

Comment: Three Hall of Famers, and you might not have knowns that Dewey and Buddy both have higher career WARs than Dave Winfield.


Best player: Fred Lynn

Other nominees: Darrell Porter, Roy Smalley, John Denny, Mike Krukow.

Vintage grade: D-

Comment: An astonishingly poor vintage, there really aren’t even any “could have beens” in this group except for Lynn, who would be in the Hall of Fame, I think, had he played his entire career in Boston.


Best player: George Brett

Other nominees: Jim Rice, Keith Hernandez, Bruce Sutter, Dan Quisenberry, Frank Tanana.

Vintage grade: A-

Comment: After a slugging few years, things pick up considerably — three Hall of Famers. This year produced the two dominant closers of the early 1980s in Sutter and Quiz.


Best player: Ozzie Smith

Other nominees: Gary Carter, Willie Randolph, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, John Tudor.

Vintage grade: A

Comment: An excellent year — four Hall of Famers and Randolph has a real HOF case. You could certainly put Carter above Ozzie on the list if you like.


Best player: Robin Yount

Other nominees: Jack Clark, Chet Lemon, Willie Wilson, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris.

Vintage grade: C+

Comment: Here’s a little fun fact for you: Yount won two MVPs. He did not finish in the Top 10 in the MVP balloting any other year.


Best player: Eddie Murray

Other nominees: Paul Molitor, Dale Murphy, Bob Welch, Rick Sutcliffe.

Vintage grade: B-

Comment: We have now gone five years without a Hall of Fame starting pitcher being born.


Best player: Lou Whitaker

Other nominees: Brett Butler, Kirk Gibson, Dave Stieb, Lee Smith, Doug Jones.

Vintage grade: D-

Comment: Whitaker should have received a lot more Hall of Fame consideration but still it’s an unimpressive vintage. Six straight years without a Hall of Fame starting pitcher.


Best player: Rickey Henderson

Other nominees: Wade Boggs, Alan Trammell, Julio Franco, Orel Hershiser, Bruce Hurst.

Vintage grade: B+

Comment: Two first-ballot Hall of Famers — along with Trammell, who I think should be getting a lot more consideration — saves another soft pitching vintage. Seven straight years.


Best player: Tim Raines or Ryne Sandberg

Other nominees: Harold Baines, George Bell, Tony Phillips, Mike Morgan, Oil Can Boyd,

Vintage grade: C+

Comment: I know most people would just put Sandberg as best player instinctively, but I believe Raines was very bit as good or better over a career.


Best player: Cal Ripken

Other nominees: Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett, Andy Van Slyke, Joe Carter, Mark Langston, Frank Viola, Fernando Valenzuela

Vintage grade: A-

Comment: Lots of good players led by the iconic player of the time, but we’re now at nine straight years without a Hall of Fame starting pitcher.


Best player: Don Mattingly

Other nominees: Andres Galarraga, John Kruk, Jimmy Key, Kevin Gross

Vintage grade: F+

Comment: I think this and 1932 are the two worst vintages of the last 80 years. Mattingly was a fabulous player, but his career was short. And he’s by far the best player in the class. We have now gone 10 straight years without a Hall of Fame starting pitcher … but we’re about to enter a golden age of starting pitchers.


Best player: Roger Clemens

Other nominees: Darryl Strawberry, Wally Joyner, Eric Davis, Kevin Mitchell, Chuck Finley, Jamie Moyer.

Vintage grade: C+

Comment: We’ve reached a time where Hall of Fame caliber players — like Clemens — are not yet on the ballot. Nobody knows what will happen when Clemens reaches the ballot, but on paper and on the field he has a case as the greatest pitcher of all time. The hitting class was filled with promised and ended in disappointment.


Best player: Randy Johnson

Other nominees: Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Lenny Dykstra, David Cone.

Vintage grade: B

Comment: Some great hitting and the Big Unit. And you have a financial scandal to boot. Here’s a year that tells the story of our times.


Best player: Barry Bonds

Other nominees: Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark, Jose Canseco, Bret Saberhagen, Dwight Gooden.

Vintage grade: A-

Comment: We are now seeing the Selig Era come into focus.


Best player: Craig Biggio

Other nominees: Matt Williams, Steve Finley, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter.

Vintage grade: D

Comment: I don’t think I realized that Biggio was 2 1/2 years older than Bagwell. I always pegged them as the same age.


Best player: Greg Maddux

Other nominees: Tom Glavine, Larry Walker, David Justice, Albert Belle, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield.

Vintage grade: A-

Comment: It’s like the Braves of the 1990s simply held the rights to 1966 and 1967 babies.


Best player: John Smoltz

Other nominees: Kenny Lofton, Robin Ventura, Omar Vizquel, Trevor Hoffman, Kevin Appier, Jim Abbott.

Vintage grade: B

Comment: My year.


Best player: Frank Thomas or Jeff Bagwell

Other nominees: Robbie Alomar, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Mike Piazza, John Olerud, Bernie Williams, Mike Mussina.

Vintage Grade: A

Comment: An amazing year — there are EIGHT offensive players with a WAR of 50 or higher, and eight pitchers after Mussina who won at least 100 games.


Best player: Ken Griffey or Mariano Rivera

Other nominees: Juan Gonzalez, Jose Valentin, Alex Fernandez, Troy Percival.

Vintage Grade: B+

Comment: Two of the most beloved and celebrated players of the time … and put together they don’t have as many MVPs as Juan Gonzalez.


Best player: Jim Thome

Other nominees: Jim Edmonds, Javy Lopez, Wilson Alvarez, Jon Lieber.

Vintage Grade: C-

Comment: Thome is 110 strikeouts away from Reggie Jackson’s remarkable all-time mark of 2,597.


Best player: Pedro Martinez

Other nominees: Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Billy Wagner.

Vintage Grade: B

Comment: With Justin Verlander winning the MVP this year, it’s fun to look back at Pedro’s 1999 and 2000 seasons and wonder how in the heck he didn’t win one of those years.


Best player: Chipper Jones

Other nominees: MannyBManny, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Andy Pettitte.

Vintage Grade: B-

Comment: I’m really interested to see what will happen when Manny Ramirez becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. A lot of people say, “he won’t get any support.” Other says, “He will get in within three years.” But truth is, nobody really knows what will happen.


Best player: Ichiro Suzuki

Other nominees: Todd Helton, Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra, Bartolo Colon, Derek Lowe.

Vintage Grade: C

Comment: I think it will be tough for Ichiro to get to 3,000 hits — he’s almost 600 short still and he’s 38 and was a well-below subpar hitter in 2010 — but the fact he’s even a POSSIBILITY for 3,000 hits despite starting in the big leagues at 28 tells you just what a hits machine he has been. He’ll got into the Hall of Fame first ballot. Damon, meanwhile, might get 3,000 hits and NOT get into the Hall of Fame.


Best player: Derek Jeter

Other nominees: Bobby Abreu, Miguel Tejada, Kevin Millwood, Joe Nathan.

Vintage Grade: B-

Comment: Speaking of hit machines.


Best player: Alex Rodriguez

Other nominees: Vlad Guerrero, Scott Rolen, David Ortiz, Torii Hunter. Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter.

Vintage grade: B+

Comment: There’s a marvelous collection of third basemen — Ron Santo, Ken Boyer, Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Darrell Evans, Robin Ventura, Ron Cey — who had terrific careers but aren’t in the Hall of Fame. It’s almost like third base could have it’s own “Hall of Very Good” wing. I think Rolen will probably be the best player in that wing.


Best player: Lance Berkman

Other nominees: Troy Glaus, Michael Young, Javier Vazquez, Eric Gagne.

Vintage grade: C

Comment: I think Michael Young has a much better chance of reaching 3,000 hits than, say, Alex Rodriguez has of breaking the home run record. In fact, I expect that if he stays in Texas, he probably will get to 3,000 hits.


Best player: Roy Halladay

Other nominees: Carlos Beltran, Andruw Jones, Roy Oswalt, Kerry Wood, A.J. Burnett.

Vintage grade: B-

Comment: The whole genesis of this project came from a sentence in the new Bill James Handbook, where he was talking about how Halladay and Wood were born in the same year and they were first round picks in the same draft but nobody — and I mean NOBODY — would have even thought of trading Wood in 1998 or 2000 or 2001. At that time, a trade like that would have been considered absolute madness — people might have rioted in the streets of Chicago. And yet, if the Cubs had made that trade they would have been making one of the greatest trades in baseball history. It just goes to show you how you never really know in baseball.


Best player: Chase Utley

Other nominees: Jimmy Rollins, Victor Martinez, Barry Zito, Cliff Lee.

Vintage grade: C

Comment: Utley is one of those players who is always turns out to be older than I remember. I guess the reason is I forget that Utley was a late bloomer … Even though he was a high first round pick in 2000, he did not play his first full season in the big leagues until he was 26. He will be 33 when the 2012 season begins. and injuries plus age make you wonder if he will ever again be a great player. I hope he is. but I suspect Cliff Lee might end up being on top of this list.


Best player: Johan Santana

Other nominees: Adrian Beltre, Kevin Youkilis, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Webb.

Vintage Grade: Inc.

Comment: Now, we’re going to start putting “incomplete” on the vintages because we just don’t know. A nice combination of hitting and pitching, though I don’t know yet who the Hall of Famer is in this group. Are you as surprises as I am that Beltre, Howard, Dunn and Webb were all born in the same year? Quite a different ride for each of those guys.


Best player: Albert Pujols

Other nominees: Mark Teixeira, Matt Holliday, Jose Bautista, CC Sabathia, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Mark Prior.

Vintage Grade: A

Comment: We don’t need an Incomplete on this one — you already have a guaranteed Hall of Famer (Albert), a pitcher who could win 300 (Sabathia), and Jose Bautista has emerged as perhaps the best player in the AL. Here’s another supposition: What if someone had told the Cubs in 2001 that they would be better off in the long run you would be better off if they traded Mark Prior for Dan Haren. They would have brought the guys out with the nets.


Best player: TBD

Other nominees: Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, Justin Morneau, Carl Crawford, Carlos Zambrano, Jake Peavy, Adam Wainwright.

Vintage Grade: Inc.

Comment: Too early to make any real predictions here. Hamilton might have the best future, though Granderson was terrific in 2011.


Best player: Adrian Gonzalez

Other nominees: David Wright, Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Grady Sizemore, Ian Kinsler, Jered Weaver, K-Rod.

Vintage Grade: Inc

Comment: Again, it’s too early, but I’ll go to Adrian Gonzalez as the best player. Robbie Cano is an obvious consideration. Grady Sizemore looked like he was a candidate for best player in baseball … now, because of injuries, he seems five years older than everyone else on the list.


Best player: TBD

Nominees: Miggy Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels.

Vintage Grade: Incomplete but exciting

Comment: Was waiting to get to this year — look at the players born in 1983. Obviously they won’t all keep playing at the amazing level they have shown but this really does have a chance to be the best vintage year since Mantle and Mays. You have incredible pitching just starting with Verlander, and absurdly great hitting with Miggy and Mauer and Pedroia and Braun and Votto and Ellsbury. An absolutely amazing class.


Best player: Matt Kemp

Nominees: Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester.

Vintage grade: Inc.

Comment: Not quite as great as 1983, but still exciting — I only put Kemp on the top because I thought he got jobbed for MVP. Truth is there are four or five guys already you could put in the Best Player slot. Baseball really has entered a brilliant new era of stars.


Best player: TBD

Nominees: Evan Longoria, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Jones, David Price, John Danks

Comment: The Rays might have the best hitter and pitcher in this vintage.


Best player: Felix Hernandez

Nominees: Pablo Sandoval, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Wieters, Jair Jurrjens, Yovani Gallardo

Comment: Way too early to choose the best player, but I’ll put King Felix up there as an early leader.


Best player: TBD

Nominees: Justin Upton, Alex Avila, Buster Posey, Daniel Hudson, Mat Latos, Jeremy Hellickson.

Comment: I hope Buster Posey comes back from his injury the same as he was … one of my favorite players to watch.


Best player: Clayton Kershaw

Nominees: Elvis Andrus, Trevor Cahill, Neftali Feliz

Comment: Like with King Felix, I’ll put Kershaw at the top and see if any of the kids can knock him off the perch.


Best player: TBD

Nominees: Mike Stanton, Jason Heyward, Eric Hosmer, Madison Bumgarner.

Comment: From July 19 on, Eric Hosmer hit .325 and slugged .502. Is there anything better in baseball than a promising young player?

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41 Responses to Baseball Vintages

  1. springer says:

    Born in 1986 and already with 7 big league seasons under his belt? Puts Felix Hernandez in a really good light. Lincecum was born two years earlier and has two fewer seasons played.

    The other thing that jumped out at me was that Gooden and Bonds were born the same year. Without their various troubles, you could imagine both of those guys still contributing in 2011.

  2. PB says:

    Brooks Robinson and Marichal would have faced each other in All-Star Games, at least. A quick check shows that Marichal pitched the first 3 innings in 1965, and Robinson started and batted second. I’m sure they faced each other times as well, but that was the easiest to find.

  3. Joe says:

    It surprises me that Halladay and Carpenter are so close in age. Carpenter seems so much like the old war horse and Halladay more machine than man. How good would Toronto have been…
    Dark Side of the Mood

  4. I prefer the 1976 vintage of Miguel Tejada to the 1974 one, mostly on account of its better body and balance.

  5. bluwood says:

    I think it’s appropriate that you put both Thomas and Bagwell as the best players born in 1968 – because they were born on the EXACT SAME DAY. To me that is so cool.

  6. bluwood says:

    springer, that was a joke, right? They’d both be 47 this year…

  7. Really? 1943 gets a D+? Joe Morgans 1974-76 alone is at least C material.

  8. Schlom says:

    I’m glad I never had Joe as a teacher, a year with Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax is just a B+?

  9. Clashfan says:

    Corey, I suspect the dropoff after Morgan is why the grade is so low. I agree that Poz seems to be a tough grader for some of these.

  10. Dodger300 says:

    1947, Steve Stone is a popular guy, but he really can’t be considered as good, just average.

    His best ERA was 2.98 in 16 starts as a 24 year old, and his next best was 3.23 when he was wrongly awarded the Cy Young in 1980.

    Stone’s ERA was over four in seven of his eleven seasons. His career ERA ws 3.97.
    with an ERA+ of 98.

    Very average.

  11. Ooh, I don’t know about taking Ichiro over Todd Helton. Helton had an OPS greater than .950 from 1999-2005. Ichiro never did.

  12. It’s so great to have you back on baseball, Joe.

    1935 needs to be an A.

    Thanks for including Bill Freehan in 1941 and Steve Stone in 1947.

    1983 and 1984 are already A’s, no need for the Incomplete’s.

  13. KHAZAD says:

    Off topic, but…

    I know you had an AL MVP vote this year, and pre discussed it at length. Now that the vote is over, what did your ballot look like?

    In My personal opinion, Verlander did not have a good enough year to be in top 3 consideration. He probably would have been #5 on mine) and yet he ran away with it.

    What did you vote and what do you think of the results?

  14. NMark W says:

    I saw David Cone (born 1963) on MLB Network last evening as part of the discussion of 1995 Seattle-NYY playoff game #5. The guy was fantastic. I think he was almost in tears all over again describing the emotions and his complete exhaustion after throwing 147 pitches in 7.2 innings for Yanks that day. He and Lou Pinella (born ??) were a joy to listen to as they looked back over the events of that game. Lou was re-managing the game and he admitted that he was only going to use Randy Johnson in relief for one inning if he needed to – Then, he used him for 2 2/3. Fun show.

    Nice to have you back, Joe.

  15. NMark W says:

    Piniella was born in 1943 and I’d say he was omitted from Joe’s list if Rico Petrocelli is listed from the same year.

  16. CoolHead says:

    So I can only assume that the Hall of Fame starting pitcher droughts are a result of drafting, not birth year. I am curious, though, why elite, durable starters seem more cyclical than the hitters.

    Why is there no dominant starting pitcher of the 1980’s? The list starts and ends, in my mind, with Jack Morris and Dave Stieb, usually not in that order. How did not one single guy make his mark between 1978 and 1992? Anybody have any clue as to what was behind this oddity?

  17. davidpwcrowe says:

    Interesting – I would have thought there would be some correlation with the post war baby boom – either way – the effect of less competition or a bigger pool of players.

  18. NMark W says:

    Don Baylor (1949) should be listed for that year if I was choosing who to list. I’m not sure if I understand Joe’s listing criteria – or am I just a lover of big outfielders/DH’ers with lengthy careers who later became MLB managers like Piniella and Baylor?

  19. Chris M says:

    @Coolhead: Cocaine?

    But seriously – Gooden emerged in ’84, and while he had a significant drop off after his second season, he was still a damn good pitcher until the early 90’s when he fell off a cliff. Gooden’s stats for the 80s: 100-39, 2.64 ERA, 1168 K’s/1291 IP, 30.2 WAR.

    Clemens emerged a few years later, but he was also pretty darn dominant from ’86-’92.

    If you told me that I could have any pitcher from 1978-1992, those would be my first two choices easily over Morris and Stieb, even if I’d only be getting them for half the time.

  20. springer says:

    I wasn’t really joking, bluwood. Bonds, absent blacklisting, could quite possibly have been a DH at least part-time for a team such as the Mariners last season, assuming he’d wanted to keep playing this long. And pitchers, especially great ones, last a long time–Clemens, Ryan, hell, how about Paige? Moyer looks to making another go for next year.

    I wasn’t trying to say Gooden or Bonds would definitely be playing, just that they were both good enough at their best that even as husks of their former selves, you could imagine them still on a roster even this late. Which is doubly surprising, since Doc washed out so much earlier than Bonds that they seem like part of different generations now.

  21. tGP says:

    Notable oversight from my birth year (1988): Stephen Strasburg. Between him and Kershaw, the ’88 vintage could be ruling the NL for a long time to come.

  22. Dodger300,

    You do realize that Steve Stone surrendered the only MLB HR hit by a certain second baseman who was born in 1950, don’t you?

  23. ajnrules says:

    Hmm. Now I’m curious. What would the list look like if you go 20 years back and include the past 100 years? Let’s attempt to take a look.

    Best Player: Harvey Kuenn or Bob Friend
    Other notables: Bill Skowron, Del Crandell, Dick Groat, Vern Law, Bob Turley
    Predicted Grade: F+

    Best Player: Curt Simmons
    Other notables: Elston Howard, Don Larsen, Frank Thomas, Jimmy Piersall
    Predicted Grade: F+

    Best Player: Whitey Ford
    Other notables: Gil McDougald, Junior Gilliam, Joe Nuxhall, Pete Runnels
    Predicted Grade: D+

    Best Player: Richie Ashburn
    Other notables: Nellie Fox, Billy Pierce, Joe Adcock, Vic Power
    Predicted Grade: C

    Best Player: Robin Roberts
    Other notables: Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Eddie Yost, Lew Burdette
    Predicted Grade: C+

    Best Player: Yogi Berra
    Other notables: Minnie Minoso(?), Vic Wertz, Harvey Haddix, Del Ennis
    Predicted Grade: C+

    Best Player: Gil Hodges
    Other notables: Ted Kluzewski, Al Rosen, Sherm Lollar
    Predicted Grade: F+

    Best Player: Larry Doby
    Other notables: Red Schoendienst, Bobby Thomson, Ray Boone, Mike Garcia
    Predicted Grade: D+

    Best Player: Ralph Kiner
    Other notables: Hoyt Wilhelm, Alvin Dark, George Kell, Carl Furillo, Hank Bauer
    Predicted Grade: C-

    Best Player: Warren Spahn
    Other notables: Roy Campanella, Hal Newhouser, Andy Pafko, Howie Pollet
    Predicted Grade: B-

    Best Player: Stan Musial
    Other notables: Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Vern Stephens
    Predicted Grade: B

    Best Player: Jackie Robinson
    Other notables: Monte Irvin, Johnny Pesky, Pete Reiser, Vic Raschi
    Predicted Grade: C

    Best Player: Ted Williams
    Other notables: Bob Feller, Pee Wee Reese, Bobby Doerr, Mickey Vernon, Ed Lopat
    Predicted Grade: A

    Best Player: Lou Boudreau
    Other notables: Phil Rizzuto, Dom Dimaggio, Sal Maglie, Virgil Trucks, Johnny Sain, Allie Reynolds
    Predicted Grade: C+

    Best Player: Enos Slaughter
    Other notables: Bob Elliott, Phil Cavarretta, Murry Dickson, Preacher Roe, Ken Keltner
    Predicted Grade: D+

    Best Player: Joe Gordon
    Other notables: Dizzy Trout, Jeff Heath, Walker Cooper, Max Lanier
    Predicted Grade: D-

    Best Player: Joe DiMaggio
    Other notables: Harry Brecheen, Bill Nicholson, Johnny Vander Meer
    Predicted Grade: D+

    Best Player: Johnny Mize
    Other notables: Tommy Henrich, Rudy York, Cecil Travis, Mort Cooper
    Predicted Grade: D+

    Best Player: Arky Vaughan
    Other notables: Augie Galan, Harlond Clift, Hal Trotsky
    Predicted Grade: D

    Best Player: Hank Greenberg
    Other notables: Joe Medwick, Frank McCormick, Van Lingo Mungo
    Predicted Grade: C+

  24. Michael says:

    What a great list and a great discussion! But, Joe, there’s some controversy about Ruth: he may have been born in 1894. IF we went back that far … Anyway, I think Joe grades on a curve.

  25. Gary says:

    This is a fun game my brothers and I did as kids. We were well aware then, even while those players were still active, how great a birth year 1931 was. All of those Hall of Famer were less than a year older than our mom, which blew our minds because mom was OLD! Now I’m looking for the birth years of my own children. I’ll add this to the 1985 mix – my son was born that year and he pitched a perfect game in high school. That makes it an A year in my book.

  26. steve says:

    Your rating of 1949 might well be the first, so who underrated it?

  27. Mark N says:

    > “With Justin Verlander winning the MVP this year, it’s fun to look back at Pedro’s 1999 and 2000 seasons and wonder how in the heck he didn’t win one of those years.”

    “Fun” is not the word I’d use as a Boston fan :I

  28. Tampa Mike says:

    I was born in ’80, that’s an impressive haul.

    I think Pete Rose will eventually get in the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think it will be until after he dies.

  29. Rich C says:

    I apologize if someone else has already pointed this out, but according the the Bill James Career Assessments tool (The Favorite Toy) Michale Young has a 29% chance of reaching 3000 hits, while ARod has a 23% chance of breaking the HR record. And ARod’s change is substantially impacted by his injury last year: I doubt that Young gets to 3000.

  30. davidinnyc says:

    Cool list, though my birth year (1950) only gets a D.

    Along these lines — and I love this stuff, even though I know this is just “statistically normal deviation”, not the work of the gods or something — how about the year 1912 for golf:

    Ben Hogan
    Sam Snead
    Byron Nelson

    Now that’s a vintage year!

  31. Dinky says:


    In 1946, “all there” should be “all three”.

    In 1951, no “s” ending “known”.

    In 1953, “After a slugging few years” is probably not what you meant. Perhaps “After a few weak slugging year”?

    In 1959 “Raines was very bit” s/b “every bit”.

    In 1962, “filled with promised” s/b promise.

    In 1975, “it’s own” s/b “its own”.

    Thanks for the column, Joe. I hope you appreciate (or at least don’t mind) my typo finding; as I’ve said before, SI’s editors have let some stuff through, and I’d prefer my favorite sportswriter (just edging out Oscar Madison) had the cleanest copy possible.

  32. Dinky says:

    Now to my thoughts:

    This LAFan picks Concepcion slightly ahead of Garvey for best player in 1948. If Garvey had a mediocre arm instead of perhaps the worst arm ever, I’d put him ahead of Concepcion, but Garvey never walked, which is a huge negative to me.

    In 1951, I’d pick Winfield as best player, even though I’m a huge Blylefan. Is WAR park adjusted? I bet if Winfield played in Fenway (not even consigning Dewey to Yankee Stadium) he’d have a better WAR than Evans or Bell. And San Diego, while not as much a pitcher’s park as Petco, was still a significant detriment back there (the two parks where Winfield played most of his career).

    1958, I believe that had Julio Franco not left for more money abroad and played in the USA the four seasons he missed, he’d have reached 3,000 MLB hits and probably set a precedent for first batter with 3,000 hits not in the HOF. Still, 111 OPS+ is pretty good slugging for a guy who played so much in the middle infield, and he had good range factor numbers both at SS and 2B, which just highlights that Grich (one of the most reliable fielders ever at 2B, OPS+ of 125) deserves to be in the HOF. Funny that Franco made so many errors at SS, so few at 1B. Must have had a weak arm.

    I think 1970’s C- was generous. D+ at best.

    I’d have added Andre Ethier to 1982. I think Miguel Cabrera will be the best player of 1983, and it’s already pretty clear, unless he dies in a DUI.

    It’s amazing about baseball that 1984 right now looks like it has four guys who will cruise into the HOF, and zero who are locks or even likely without approximately doubling their careers so far. I was going to complain about Kemp as best player until I read your comment, and laughed. Okay, good reason, and my vote right now would be Lincecum.

    I hope Justin Upton continues his upward trajectory, because I have a baseball signed by him 😉

  33. Dinky says:

    Matthew Schlichting, Helton’s stats were remarkably padded by playing in pre-humidor Denver, and Ichiro’s are suppressed by playing so many years in Japan, and then playing in Safeco. Add in Ichiro’s being one of the best base stealers around, averaging 38 SB/year at better than an 80% success rate (Helton’s one of the worst, barely above 50%, just above 2 SB/year), and being one of the best defensive outfielders of his era, and I agree with Joe that Ichiro is the better of the two. I’m pretty sure that Joe went with WAR/year to compare the two, and Ichiro’s about a full WAR/year ahead of Helton. I have objections to WAR, but not in this case. Admittedly, if 2011 was a true year for both and both keep on playing, Helton may pass Ichiro, but this was Ichiro’s first year with an OPS+ under 100; Helton has had two in the past four years.

    Colorado is unfair to all Rockies pitchers and non-Rockies hitters, the most extreme park in baseball since I guess the old Philadelphia Athletics park in the 1930s. It’s even more extreme than Fenway or Ebbetts (hitters) or early Dodger Stadium, Petco, or Safeco (favoring pitcher). Maybe Municipal Stadium in Cleveland deserves consideration as a pitcher’s park as well. Colorado gave Larry Walker (OPS+ 178) the MVP over Mike Piazza (OPS+ 185) even though Piazza was a catcher on a playoff contender (2 games out of first). I wonder how Jon Heyman voted in that one. Actually, Heyman may have an anti-Dodger bias. Perhaps he never forgave them for leaving Brooklyn.

  34. Yuniesky Betacourt was born in 1982. Not sure why he’s not on the list. And I’m a little ashamed that Albert Pujols is my age. I think we know who has had a better career path. But, technically, we’re both unemployed, so that’s something.

  35. Bad Poet says:

    steve said:

    Your rating of 1949 might well be the first, so who underrated it?
    November 28, 2011 2:16 AM

    @steve, I think what Joe was trying to say is that the year 1949 has several underrated players in it, not that the vintage itself is underrated.

  36. JohnG says:

    Miss you Joe, come back to the Blog if you’re ready and able.

  37. hha.though my birth year (1997) only gets a A.

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  38. Nathan W says:

    As a 1978, I am holding out for news that Albert Pujols is actually 2 years older than he claims, moving my birth year to a solid A!

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