No. 60: Brooks Robinson

About 25 years after we moved from Cleveland, I came back to our old house. It was way smaller than I remembered. That’s obvious. Everyone says that about where they grew up. It did seem extreme in this case, though. The whole house looks roughly the size of the cereal boxes at Costco. I walked around it and looked at the backyard. That too was was smaller than I remembered too, and I expected that too.

Only … no. Not really. Maybe I expected the backyard to look small. But I did not expect it to look THAT small. I mean if our backyard was a parking lot, it would have a “Compact Cars Only” sign. It was a half-bath of a backyard, a mass-market paperback of a backyard, a travel-size toothpaste box of a backyard. As I gazed over the chain link fence — which in my memory had been absurdly high but now came up barely to my waist — I could barely even calculate how we could have played baseball games back there. I’m not even sure how you could get more than three people into that backyard. Bunts would soar over the fence.

But we did play baseball games back there, countless baseball games, and in those games I was one of two people: Duane Kuiper or Brooks Robinson. I was Kuiper because he was the second baseman of the Cleveland Indians, my Cleveland Indians, and so he was living the greatest life I could imagine.

I was Brooks Robinson because my father loved him.

My parents came to America just a couple years before I was born, and though he will disagree I think baseball has always been a bit of a mystery to my father. He had grown up playing soccer and was good enough to play on semi-professional teams. He taught me how to trap a soccer ball before he taught me how to get under a pop-up. My suspicion is that if I had grown up now instead of then, I would have grown up playing soccer non-stop, day and night. This was no option in the 1970s in Cleveland. There were no youth soccer teams, at least none we knew about. I can never remember, even once, seeing anyone kicking a soccer ball except during gym class at school.

An American boy played baseball and so my father — who, more than anything, wanted for us to be American — learned the game.

How? I’ve asked him. He learned by watching baseball on television, by listening to it on the radio, by talking about it with friends at the factory where he worked. He picked it up by doing it, by playing catch, by hitting ground balls, by playing in company softball games. I remember seeing him in one of those softball games, and through the blurriness of memory I see him choking up high on the bat and moving his feet in the box and chopping DOWN on the ball. He was still fast then and he beat out the throw every time.

The rhythms of the game have never quite clicked with my father. He will watch a baseball game now and again to pass the time or to strike up conversation, but the sport doesn’t live inside him the way soccer and boxing and tennis do. He likes it but does not love it. But he sure did love Brooks Robinson.

Brooksie made sense to my father. I think back to that backyard, and the thousand games of catch we had, and how many times he made some sort of Brooksie reference.

“Diving for the ball isn’t the hard part. Think about how fast Brooks Robinson gets up and throws the ball.”

“Think about how Brooks Robinson throws. He doesn’t throw the ball hard. He throws it and the first baseman doesn’t have to move his glove.”

“Get in front of the ball and stay with it. Brooks Robinson will let bad hops hit him in the chest and then he picks it up and throws out the runner.”

Day after day, in that tiny backyard, my father would roll me ground balls and shout out lessons inspired by Brooks Robinson. Play the ball, don’t let it play you. Charge those slow ones. Move your feet. If I made a nice pickup he would shout, “Just like the Human Vacuum Cleaner!” If I let a ball go through, he would remind me that Brooks Robinson made errors too but never let them affect him on the next play.

Thinking back on it, I’m not sure how my father could have known so much about Brooks Robinson. I mean, we didn’t live in Baltimore. I can’t imagine that my father saw Brooks Robinson play live more than once or twice, if that.

But, I think there was something about Brooks Robinson that lives inside my Dad. This is what I mean when I say Robinson made sense to my father. I think all of us have a baseball player we would be like if we could multiply our talents and commitment exponentially. I feel sure that my father — had he grown up in Little Rock, Arkansas with a natural talent for the game and a father who taught him how to catch a red rubber ball before he learned how to walk — would have grown up to be Brooks Robinson.

* * *

Are great defensive players, in general, nice people? Bill James asked that question once and it really is striking how many great defenders were also notably good people. There’s Brooks Robinson, of course, one of the nicest men to ever play baseball. But there’s also Ozzie Smith and Honus Wagner, Bill Mazeroski and Frank White, Paul Blair and Andre Dawson, Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente, Buck O’Neil and Jim Kaat and Duane Kuiper — all of them renowned for their generosity. You can probably come up with dozens more.

Of course, you don’t HAVE to be a great defensive player to be nice. Jim Thome might the be the nicest player I know, and he couldn’t play defense at all. Mike Sweeney too. Boog Powell. Raul Ibanez. Willie McCovey. Stan Musial wasn’t a great defender. And there were some great defenders — Barry Bonds among them — who were not exactly cuddly. We are generalizing to make a point.

And Bill’s point, I think, is that there is something fundamentally unselfish about being a great defender. A child finds out about baseball. A new game. Interesting. What’s the first thing he or she wants to do? Get in the batter’s box. Hit the baseball. What’s the first dream? Hit the home run. Round the bases. Hear the crowd. Ted Williams would practice his swing between pitches while standing in the outfield. The Giambi brothers would fight to get into the batter’s box.

But there are some drawn to the field, where there is minimal credit and few cheers but where certain kinds of people can express themselves and help the team. There’s a story Brooks Robinson often tells that I love. He says that when he was young, he had a paper route with about 150 customers. Every day he would throw newspapers on those customer’s porches — that, he says, is how he developed the strength and accuracy of his arm. One of the customers on his route was Bill Dickey, the great Yankees catcher.

“I threw the paper just a little bit harder when I threw it to his house,” Robinson says.

That’s a beautiful story, isn’t it? Think of the image: A boy, throwing newspapers, day after day, imagining they are baseballs, imagining that he is in the major leagues and each successful throw is like the last out of the World Series. It’s such a short step of imagination to see that boy growing up into the greatest defensive third baseman who ever lived — maybe even the greatest defender at any position.

There’s something else about defense, the thing I think that spoke to my father. Defense is every day. Brooks Robinson was a startlingly sporadic offensive player. He had the misfortune of playing in the worst offensive era since they outlawed the spitter — his neutralized numbers are much better than his actual numbers — but even so his offense peaked and slumped. In 1964, he hit .317, slugged .521, banged 28 homers and won the MVP award. One year earlier, he hit ..251, slugged .365 and banged 11 homers.

He hit .290 or better four times. He hit .250 or worse four times. He hit 20-plus homers six times, but that meant he hit 19 homers or fewer eleven times. He could not run well, he did not walk much, he hit into a lot of double plays. Then again, he did hit .303 with some power in his six postseason series. He did the best he could.

But as a defender he came to be the best in the world, day after day, game after game, year after year. He was a great defender at 20. He was a great defender at 38. This is true by reputation (Robinson won the Gold Glove 15 consecutive years) but it’s also true by the numbers. Defensive WAR was not invented until many years after Robinson stopped playing, but it shows Robinson as a great defender every single year from 1959 to 1975. Defensive WAR can be cruelly unsentimental. It shows Clemente as a sporadic fielder, for instance, and can make no sense of Dave Winfield’s seven Gold Gloves or Derek Jeter’s five. But Defensive WAR rates Brooks Robinson exactly the way the eyes do.

And my guess at the reason is that Brooks Robinson was a great defender on every Tuesday in Cleveland on that rock infield; he was a great defender every warm Sunday day game at Fenway Park with that huge wall looming behind him; he was a great defender every Thursday in Minnesota, even when they played on a field only recently de-iced; he was a great defender every September Monday at Yankee Stadium in the heat of pennant races with those tough New Yorkers booing him, and he was a great defender every Friday night in Baltimore when there was a full house, and he was viewed as a deity, and fathers brought their sons and daughters just to see him dive.

Hitting comes and goes, even for the best hitters. You get your three or four or five at-bats and hope to make the most of them. Some days you do. Some days you don’t. There’s always the next at-bat. But great defense comes any moment, and it means being constantly ready, being absorbed in the game on every pitch, making the running play in the hole when your team is down 8-1 in the eighth, and diving on the dirt for a backhand stop in September when your body feels like a pulsing bruise, and leaving those errors behind (Robinson made 263 of them) and starting the double play that gets your pitcher out of the jam. Every day. That was Brooks Robinson.

That is my father. I never remember my Dad calling in sick. I never remember him leaving the house late. The factory was 100 degrees, and the knitting machines clanged and rattled like mechanical headaches, and his boss was a jerk, and there was no realistic hope of a promotion (promotion to what?) or substantial raise. Dad smoked Kents by the pack, and he ate baloney sandwiches on rye, and he found small ways to express himself in his work, and he came home exhausted and covered in oil and dust. I didn’t understand. I was a kid. He would collapse on the couch, and I would jump on him and say, “Come on, Dad, come on, let’s go, come on, let’s play catch,” and he would look up, and his eyes begged “Just let me sleep for 10 minutes,” but I couldn’t read eyes, and he would slowly, very slowly, pull himself up, groaning with each inch, and then he would go have a glass of seltzer, and he would put on a baseball cap two sizes too small and get the cheap plastic glove, the one that looked like it had come with a plastic bat and wiffle ball, and he would walk back with me to that tiny back yard. And he would roll me ground balls until the sun set. He would not speak at first. Then he would.

“That’s it! That’s how Brooks Robinson does it!”

One day, not too long ago, I talked with Brooks Robinson. He was every bit as wonderful as you would expect. He speaks with an Arkansas twang. My father speaks with a muddled Eastern European accent. Funny, Brooks Robinson still sounds like Dad.

87 thoughts on “No. 60: Brooks Robinson

    1. E Money

      My father was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and loved all the old Colts and Orioles. But his favorite players were Brooks and Frank Robinson (I know this because he named his cats “Brooks” and “Frank” over my mother’s strenuous objections). Gun to his head, he would admit Brooks was his absolute favorite.

      He passed away from ALS in 2003 and, suffice to say, reading this caused the dust to get in mine eyes. Thanks, Joe.

      Reply
  1. Mark

    Just like my dad. I don’t know how he could play ball after working on a farm all day. I’m a baseball fan first and foremost because of him.

    Reply
  2. Cathead

    It is no coincidence that those great Oriole teams from 1964 – 1984 (only one losing season during that period) had both great pitching and great defense. Paul Blair, Mark Belanger, and of course, Brooks, may have been the best defenders at their respective positions all time; plus they had Gold Gloves Davey Johnson or Bobby Grich at 2nd. The pitching (Palmer, McNally, Cuellar) and defense fed off each other..

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    1. bellweather22

      Brooks was 3rd All-Time in dWAR. Belanger was 2nd…..Ozzie was 1st. It must have been damn near impossible to hit the ball through the left side of the Orioles infield. Soft tossers like Mike Cuellar really benefited from the defense Weaver was putting on the lineup card every game.

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    1. Gordon Hewetson

      Glad you mentioned the peculiar batting helmet. Never seen it before or since. What possible advantage could an abbreviated bill bring? Graig Nettles, a humble and funny man, often credits Brooks Robinson as the greatest defensive third baseman.

      Reply
  3. Rick R

    I didn’t see Brooks play in his prime, but caught him when he was still winning Gold Gloves, and frankly, I never got it about his defense. Ozzie Smith I could see, Keith Hernandez I could see, Paul Blair I could see, Johnny Bench I could see, hell, Graig Nettles I could see, but Brooks Robinson? He didn’t have a great arm, he wasn’t fast, and he made errors. I remember him booting a ball in an All-Star game that was a routine play. He had the quick first step you need at third base, and he had good technique fielding bunts, always throwing off the right foot, but this legend of him as some defensive marvel never registered with me. He was a good fielding third baseman, nothing more, and at the plate, he rarely put up the kind of numbers you like at the position. To me, Brooks Robinson is a charter member of the All-Overrated Team, and I would never put him on my list of the best ballplayers of all time. But reading the story, I am glad that he’s on Joe’s list.

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    1. Cathead

      You missed something special if you did not see him in his prime. Take some time to watch highlights of the 1970 Wolrd Series. It was Brooks at his best both offensively and defensively. One of those rare series dominated by one player.

      Reply
    2. doncoffin64

      WAR is not a perfect measure of anything, but it’s useful. BRobby, according to Baseball Reference, totaled 38.8 dWAR in his career, including 2.5 in his last full season, at age 38. As a comparison, Nettles has 20.9, and his last season of more than 1 dWAR was at age 34. One problem in trying to assess Robinson’s defense from visuals (for me) is that I almost never saw him play. Throughout most of his career, there was 1 baseball game per week on national television, and the Orioles were not exactly a featured team. So mostly what I have to go by are the numbers, and they definitely make him look good.

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    3. tmohr

      As great a defensive player as Nettles was, Robinson was better, and not only by modern metrics. Nettles made 19.8 errors per 162 games, Robinson 14.8; Robinson’s fielding % was ten points higher.

      As for those modern metrics, BB-Ref has Robinson with 16.5 defensive runs per 162 games, Nettles 9.0. Robinson’s 293 defensive runs are most of any player in baseball history.

      Shorter – Robinson was every bit as good with the glove as all those awards suggest.

      Reply
      1. NevadaMark

        Agreed. One of my favorite players. But I have to ask: how in the heck did Graig Nettles set the single season major league record for most assists in a season in 1971? Did the Indians have all left handed pitchers or something?

        Reply
        1. bellweather22

          No, but the Indians itching staff that year were ranked last in most of the major pitching categories. Remember, the majority hitters are right handed regardless of the pitcher. Action at 3rd base indicates that the pitchers were likely yielding a lot of shots down the line. Nettles, an excellent third baseman, was flagging down quite a few of them.

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    4. Pete

      How often did you see Brooks play? I was fortunate to have seen him over his entire career. The entire baseball world saw his magic in the 1970 World Series. That was when he was guaranteed a spot at Cooperstown.

      Reply
      1. bellweather22

        I had Angels season tickets back in the day, so I saw him several times a year. It was kind of annoying, for an opposing fan, how he sucked up everything hit anywhere in his zip code. ….. And Belanger got everything Robinson didn’t get….It wasn’t just the ability to dive left or right, he’d range a couple of steps beyond that to snag balls. Definitely we’re not talking the garden variety diving stop you see on SportsCenter every night. The 1970 World Series definitely introduced the world to the type of plays that he would make. Impossible plays.

        My Dad and I went to a game in the early 70s, expecting the usual crazy plays….. And darned if Robinson didn’t let a routine ball go right through his legs. It was shocking. The guy was actually human. My Dad just laughed and said, “well now I’ve seen everything”. Just because he made an error on an easy chance. Looking back, it was definitely one of his last 3-4 years. We never saw an error like that from him in his prime.

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    5. Carl

      Rick,

      It depends on when you saw him. Considering you mention Hernandez, Bench, Nettles and Blair, I suspect you saw the post 1975 Robinson, By 1975, his defense was below league average and in 1976 and 1977 he was a part-time player. Before that, he had superior range, getting to more balls than any other 3B. Check BR and you’ll see his RF/( and RF/G exceeded the league average for 14 seasons in a row, Also, check out the highlights of the 1970 WS.

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    6. bob magee (@bobmagee15)

      career DP’s = 618 assists = 6205 putouts = 2697

      Nettles #2 = 470 Nettles #2 = 5279 Jcollins #2 = 2372

      4 players with 400 or more assists in a season – Brooks and Nettles 2x, Schmidt and Harlond Clift

      410 assists at age 37

      Nettles made more than 30 errors more than Brooks over career.

      Reply
  4. SBMcManus

    Wonderful article. Robinson’s history of MVP voting is also a fascinating illustration of the historical obsession with RBIs.

    He got plenty of MVP support at age 23 (63% MVP share) when he had 88 RBI and 4.1 WAR. The next year: 3.5 WAR but 61 RBI and MVP support plummets to 1%.

    Age 27 great season: WAR 8.0, RBI 118, MVP share 96%. Three years later at age 30: WAR 7.7 but RBI only 77, MVP share 0%! Age 31: WAR 8.4, but RBI only 75, MVP share 3%.

    Fast forward to age 33. WAR just 3.9 but those RBIs popped up to 94, MVP share back up to 22%! Next year: WAR up to 6.0 and RBIs 92, MVP Shares 49% (this one make some more sense).

    It’s really funny to see in the numbers. Even when the overwhelming non-RBI value of a player was staring the voters in the face, even when they were almost universally exclaiming on the tremendous defensive skill and value he provided, they just could NOT get over the obsession with driving in runs as a main determinant of MVP value. Team performance probably influenced a lot of the big swings as well.

    Of course I am not suggesting this is some great insight. Lots of other people have made similar observations about different players, MVP votes in particular years, etc. I still find it interesting.

    Reply
  5. invitro

    “This was no option in the 1970s in Cleveland. There were no youth soccer teams, at least none we knew about. I can never remember, even once, seeing anyone kicking a soccer ball except during gym class at school.”

    I’m about three years younger than Joe. I grew up in a small town in the southeast, and youth soccer was absolutely everywhere. Everyone played soccer. It was almost required. It lasted almost all year; there was a spring league, a summer league, and a fall league. I played baseball, which I loved, and basketball, which befuddled me, and soccer, because that’s what all kids did. I think I was on a youth soccer team from age 8 to age 15, even though I never really liked it and I was surely horrible at it.

    Maybe youth soccer in the 1970s was a city-to-city thing. I think my town’s league was founded by an Italian pro and was renowned as one of the foremost youth leagues in the US. I wish I either liked it more or was better at it.

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    1. KHAZAD

      I am a little less than two years older than Joe, and grew up in the midwest. I think we played soccer in gym in junior high, when we had some sort of program where we played different sports all year long, but they had to teach us the rules because none of the kids knew anything about it, other than the fact that Pele was a soccer player. There were no leagues. There were no soccer fields at parks. Soccer was not only behind baseball, football, and basketball, it was also behind hockey, tennis, golf, racquetball, handball, (there were actually handball courts at local parks ) kickball, wiffle ball, croquet, lawn darts, dodgeball, tetherball, frisbee golf, badminton, and jai alai.

      It was not even an option, not something kids either knew about or thought of, and if someone had a soccer ball, they probably used it to play kickball. Sometime about 1981 or so, we got an indoor soccer team in the MISL, with a pretty good marketing team, and it was only then that youth soccer leagues started happening. Prior to that it was a wasteland. I remember around 1982 when my best friend’s little brother was playing in a youth soccer league, we both thought it was weird that such a thing even existed.

      Anyway, my experience with Soccer not even being thought about seems to be similar to Joe’s.

      Reply
      1. dshorwich

        I’m a year older than Joe, and I played soccer in the DC suburbs in the early ’70s, and in the NY suburbs from the mid-’70s onward. I don’t remember much about my earliest experiences, but there was certainly plenty of youth soccer in the NY area at the time.

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    2. Chris M

      My guess is that soccer initially took root on the coasts, and slowly moved inward. Heck, even today I think soccer is a LOT more popular on the coasts than it is in middle America.

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      1. perry534

        Well, St. Louis has always been a soccer hotbed — pretty much the whole US team that beat England in the 1950 World Cup was from St. Louis. And while Joe knows a lot more about Cleveland than I do — I’m from near Columbus — my freshman roommate at Ohio State in 1973 was from Cleveland, and he grew up playing soccer. Said that Cleveland was full of soccer leagues. Maybe Joe just didn’t grow up in the right neighborhood

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  6. Wilbur

    About 50 years ago I read an article about Brooks in some youth sports magazine. He said that, contrary to nearly every other player, he looked for the curve ball and adjusted to the fast ball. I still don’t understand how anyone could hit that way.

    Living roughly equidistant between St. Louis and Chicago, we rarely saw any American League games, just when they were on the Game of the Week. But I got an eyeful in that ’70 World Series; what they said about this SOB was true.

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  7. Blake Gray

    I grew up watching the Orioles, but Brooksie was already well past his prime when I started watching a lot of games. He could still pick it, but he didn’t hit anymore. He was famously nice, and publicly generous when Doug DeCinces took over the position, for which older fans never seemed to forgive DeCinces.

    My two Brooksie memories are of the old, stick-a-fork-in-him Brooksie. In ’77, his last year, he hit .149 and retired in mid-season. He hit one home run. That home run was a pinch-hit, extra-inning, three-run game winner that was one of the highlights of the whole season. The roar the crowd gave him, knowing it might never have another chance; the lengthy ovation. I was at the game and it wasn’t until I got home and saw the TV highlights that I saw the joy and moisture in his eyes. He also knew it was his last hurrah, and he was one of the rare players that got to celebrate it, even after he seemed done.

    But wait — it wasn’t really over. In the ’90s, I forget what year, I went to an old-timers game, Orioles against the rest. I wish I could remember the hitter who hit this: a right-handed hitter lashed a wicked liner down the third-base line. Brooksie dove to his right, instinctually, grabbed it, got up and threw him out. It was astounding. He was in his mid-50s at least, and did not look like he was in playing shape, but that was a major-league All-Star caliber play. I wish there was YouTube of it, it was so amazing, but like so many of Brooksie’s great plays, it lives on only in our memories and stories like these.

    Reply
  8. Michael Green

    A lovely article, and I think of the line that in Baltimore, they name children after Brooks Robinson. I’ve never heard a bad word about him, as a person or as a third baseman.

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  9. Geoff

    Awesome article, Joe…thanks for writing it!

    Here are my choices the remaining 59 guys (alphabetically):

    Hank Aaron
    Pete Alexander
    Cap Anson
    Ernie Banks
    Johnny Bench
    Wade Boggs
    Barry Bonds
    George Brett
    Rod Carew
    Steve Carlton
    Gary Carter
    Oscar Charleston
    Roger Clemens
    Roberto Clemente
    Ty Cobb
    Eddie Collins
    Joe DiMaggio
    Jimmy Foxx
    Lou Gehrig
    Bob Gibson
    Josh Gibson
    Ken Griffey Jr.
    Lefty Grove
    Rickey Henderson
    Rogers Hornsby
    Chipper Jones
    Al Kaline
    Babe Ruth
    Randy Johnson
    Walter Johnson
    Al Kaline
    Nap Lajoie
    Greg Maddux
    Mickey Mantle
    Pedro Martinez
    Eddie Mathews
    Christy Mathewson
    Willie Mays
    Joe Morgan
    Stan Musial
    Mel Ott
    Albert Pujols
    Phil Niekro
    Mel Ott
    Satchel Paige
    Cal Ripken
    Frank Robinson
    Jackie Robinson
    Alex Rodriguez
    Ivan Rodriguez
    Pete Rose
    Mike Schmidt
    Tom Seaver
    Warren Spahn
    Tris Speaker
    Honus Wagner
    Ted Williams
    Carl Yastrzemski
    Cy Young

    Among the guys I’ve left off are Yogi/Piazza, Feller/Koufax, etc, not to mention a couple of other 19th century and negro league guys. Other than Pudge and Niekro (who ABSOLUTELY belongs on this list, maybe in the top 50), I can’t really see any of the guys above not making it, though I suppose you could make a case against Carew and Kaline for not having exceptional peaks. If you give Feller full credit for the (nearly) four years he missed due to WWII (which seems reasonable), he probably belongs somewhere in the next 10 slots; otherwise, he’s out. There’s no way Koufax belongs here, but the mythology around him is pretty strong, so who knows. Catchers seem woefully underrepresented, but I can’t see how you get Carter, Pudge, Yogi, and Piazza on here, although I think all of them are probably deserving of spots in the top 100. I’d certainly take any of them over a number of guys that have already been included.

    Any predictions?

    Reply
      1. Geoff

        Oops…my bad. I think you’re probably right about Feller, but that still leaves some really tough choices. It’s hard to imagine that at least one guy with a case as the second-greatest catcher of all-time won’t make this list.

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    1. DM

      Geoff,

      First of all, overall, I think your predictions will be fairly accurate, although I’m sure Joe will be good for a few surprises.

      The catchers are definitely shaping up to be very interesting. I’m thinking we have to consider Joe’s influences. Two of Joe’s biggest influences, clearly, are Buck O’Neil and Bill James. In addition, he also is closely intertwined with the Big Red Machine due to his book about them.. In James’ 2nd historical abstract, the #1 catcher was Josh Gibson, and Yogi Berra was #2 (#1 among major league catchers). I think that Joe respects James’ opinion so much that he would have Berra ahead of Campanella (who he’s already listed). I think your predictions of Carter and Pudge Rodriguez are interesting, though, because Joe also leans heavily on WAR, and they rate pretty high on that metric. I think his top 3 catchers, though, will be Gibson, Bench, and Berra. Kinda sad to not see a legend catcher like Mickey Cochrane not make it among the top 100, but I certainly understand why he doesn’t quite make the cut anymore.

      I think I understand your point on Koufax, although I don’t agree with the belief that he doesn’t belong. If Joe is a “career value” guy as opposed to a “peak value” guy, Koufax doesn’t stand a chance. His peak, though, is tough to beat, and he’s certainly one of the first players that comes to mind when you think of 1960′s baseball. Yes, the career is quite short, and there is disagreement about his place in history. Many people have him in their top 10 pitchers…..others would put him way down the list. I think he’s a very polarizing figure when it comes to all-time rankings. I suspect he’s on Joe’s list. I would anticipate both Koufax and Feller are still to come. I’m skeptical about Niekro. He’s another big WAR guy, of course, so Joe may go that way…..I just don’t think he’ll be there.

      Not sure who else would be a good candidate that you haven’t already mentioned. Reggie Jackson, maybe (speaking of polarizing players!), but I think top 60 is probably too high for Reggie, so I’m guessing no. Joe could go “old school” and throw George Davis in there. Ed Delahanty is another old-time legend who’s also a Cleveland native, so maybe Joe has a soft spot for him too. Derek Jeter? He’d probably make a lot of people’s lists, but I suspect Joe thinks he’s overrated.

      You also mentioned Cap Anson. Not sure he’ll be on Joe’s list. Definitely a huge and influential figure in the early years, but I’m not sure Joe would include him. The general loathsome image that accompanies him might be enough to discourage Joe, although he’s pretty good about putting things like that aside.

      Overall, I think you provided a good list.

      Reply
      1. Patrick Hogue

        My predictions to where Joe’s list will differ from Geoff’s:

        Already mentioned add Feller and Koufax for the duplicate Ott and Kaline.

        IN – Reggie – better than Murray and a couple other long career guys, plus all the Mr. October stuff. Reggie belongs, just barely

        OUT – Cap Anson – Joe could write a great story about Cap though… He hasn’t shown a lot of love to other 19th century guys. So Brouthers and Delahanty wont make it either.

        IN- Pop Lloyd and Turkey Stearnes and MAYBE Mule Suttles. Lloyd is normally ranked in the top 3 or 4 NLers and Stearnes led the NL in HRs 7 times and is the all time leader. Suttles is close to Steares.

        IN – Derek Jeter

        OUT – Ivan Rodriguez, Carter, Niekro, maybe Chipper. I like Carter and hopes he makes the list. At least as good as Berra in my mind.

        Most of the IN players are coming up soon but Lloyd will be at least top 40

        Reply
        1. Geoff

          Some interesting thoughts here…

          I can absolutely see Reggie making the list, as he was borderline for me.

          I think you’re generally right about the 19th century guys, which is why I excluded Davis, Brouthers, Keefe, etc., but I can’t really see how you can include Radbourn and not have Anson unless you’re docking Anson pretty heavily for being a racist.

          With all due respect, Jeter making the top 59 would be a joke. I know, I know, this is “not a list of players ranked by WAR,” but Jeter is ranked 10th by WAR and 12th in JAWS, where he slots in nicely between Trammell and Larkin. I might move him ahead of a couple of guys on the list, but if Jeter makes it there will be more than 10 (!) shortstops on the list (11 if Pop Lloyd makes it, too). Does it make any sense at all the 10-11 of the greatest 100 players in baseball history are shortstops?

          Meanwhile, the only catcher on the list so far is Campanella. Bench and Gibson are locks, but how on Earth can only three of the top 100 be catchers? Carter is 2nd in total WAR and 1st in WAR7. He might very well be the second greatest catcher in history, so can’t see him getting left off. I would also include Piazza and Berra (who James ranked 1st!), but I could imagine one or both left off.

          I certainly support including negro league players in a list like this, and I could see a strong case for any of the guys you’ve mentioned, but I’m not sure including all of them really makes sense. So far you have 4.5 (Irvin) negro league guys on the list, with another 3.5 absolute locks (Charleston, Gibson, Paige, Robinson). That’s a total of 7-8 guys. Add in Lloyd, Stearns, and Suttles, and now you’re saying that 11 of the top 100 guys were negro leaguers, which sounds awfully high to me. Depending on how you count, there will be ~15-16 white players from the negro league era (1920-1947), so you’d be saying that ~40-45% the best players from that era were black. Contrast that with the post-integration/pre-NFL/NBA explosion (say, 1947-1990) and you get ~25 white players and ~11 black players, which is ~30% of the total for the era. Obviously, there’s some flukiness to the number of great players of each race during a particular era, but we’re talking about pretty long periods of time, and I’d expect these things to even out. I think a reasonable assumption is that about 1/3 of the greatest players from 1920-1990 were black (or dark-skinned Latino, like Clemente), which means it’s unlikely that more than 8-9 negro league guys belong on the list.

          Reply
          1. Patrick Hogue

            Bill James included 12 Negro Leaguers; I could be wrong about the others but Pop Lloyd is a lock. I haven’t read Joe long enough to know his opinions about Jeter so I’m probably wrong about that one then. For me Jeter could make top 100 but not 60.

          2. Geoff

            True, but he also had Kirby Puckett in the top 100, (plus Biggio at 35!!!), and based his rankings on a bizarre formula that no one actually understands. It’s also worth noting that since the NHBA was published, A-Rod, Pujols, Ichiro, Cabrera, Randy Johnson (how the hell did he not make James’ list???), Schilling, and Rivera (if you’re feeling generous) have moved into the discussion, pushing out a bunch of guys.

            Again, I’m not saying Stearns, Suttles, and Lloyd (not to mention Torriente and Dihigo) aren’t among the top 100, but given what a statistical anomaly it would be for all of these guys to make the list (in addition to all the other locks), and the fact that the evidence supporting their candidacy is almost entirely anecdotal, I would have a difficult time ranking them that high. Ultimately, you’d have to believe that in 126 years of modern baseball history (since the mound was moved to 60’6″, greater than 10% of best 100 players came during a 28-year period from a minority that accounted for less than 10% of the total US population at the time. Is there any reason to think that this is a reasonable assumption?

          3. invitro

            “I think you’re generally right about the 19th century guys, which is why I excluded Davis, Brouthers, Keefe, etc., but I can’t really see how you can include Radbourn and not have Anson unless you’re docking Anson pretty heavily for being a racist.”

            James didn’t rank Anson at all, and ESPN had him #89. I would be borderline shocked to see Anson at this point.

            “Does it make any sense at all the 10-11 of the greatest 100 players in baseball history are shortstops?”

            I don’t know, why not? SS is a premium position. The Hall of Stats has 12 SS’s in its Top 100, and that’s going strictly by WAR.

            “but how on Earth can only three of the top 100 be catchers?”

            As with other stuff here, my predictions are only predictions, and not how things should be. Carter, Fisk, and IRod should probably all be in a Top 100, depending on how you figure catcher defense.

            “Add in Lloyd, Stearns, and Suttles, and now you’re saying that 11 of the top 100 guys were negro leaguers, which sounds awfully high to me.”

            Suttles may be too low (#43) on James’ list to make it here.

            “Ultimately, you’d have to believe that in 126 years of modern baseball history (since the mound was moved to 60’6″, greater than 10% of best 100 players came during a 28-year period from a minority that accounted for less than 10% of the total US population at the time. Is there any reason to think that this is a reasonable assumption?”

            You know, if you used numbers from basketball, you would get a percentage that seemed much, much more out-of-line.

            I used to think that the 2006 spate of Negro Leaguers added to the HoF made them way more overrepresented than they should be. But then I looked at demographics and it seems that their number is pretty much in line with the number of 1947-1970 blacks in the HoF.

            I think the assumption for baseball could be reasonable, if it were true that black kids of this era were more likely to play tons of baseball than white kids (as is very true for basketball going on 60+ years now). But I like your comparison with the 1947-1990 era, and that’s how to do the comparison. You might need to be more careful with the date of the NBA explosion, as blacks started dominating the NBA somewhere around 1963 (I mean in numbers, not just Chamberlain and Russell and Baylor).

            “True, but he also had Kirby Puckett in the top 100, (plus Biggio at 35!!!),”

            Barely… Puckett was #98. Biggio is #91 on ESPN’s list. Again, I’m not arguing for correctness of James’ or Joe’s list, but that Joe’s list matches James’ and ESPN’s lists very closely.

            I’m not sure if anyone is assuming that James’ list matches WAR, but it doesn’t, not really.

            I agree with you on what you say about Koufax, Niekro and Schilling on their relative merits, but for predicting Joe, I think it is absolutely certain that Koufax will be ranked here and Niekro won’t (and that Berra will be).

          4. Geoff

            “James didn’t rank Anson at all, and ESPN had him #89. I would be borderline shocked to see Anson at this point.”

            I think you (and others) are correct on Anson. There’s no way he’s making this list. I think if I was making my own list I might just exclude 19th century players, as there seems to be no coherent way to evaluate them. I suppose you can make a case that Anson was sort of a souped-up Rafael Palmeiro, in that he was never really the best player in baseball. But even if you do, how can *that* guy not be among the top-100? You can weight peak more heavily than career value all you want, but the fact is that if Anson had played a regular schedule (he was generally playing 50-60 games per year in his 20′s and averaged 96 games over his career), he’d have had close to 5,000 hits. Sure, the players weren’t nearly as good, but we don’t really hold that against early 20th century players. Cy Young was great when he was facing Anson early in his career, and he was still great late in his career when he was facing Cobb. It’s not like a light went on in 1893 and the level of play suddenly improved by 50%. If one believes the adjustments required to rank 19th century players are so great that Anson should be exluded, then the should also believe any “objective” ranking should be heavily weighted toward late 20th/early 21st century players. I think most of us realize that if Barry Bonds stepped into a batter’s box against Cy Young it would be a bloodbath, but we suspend disbelief because it’s a lost less fun to rank players if we just assume that everyone who played before 1980 basically sucked.

            “I don’t know, why not? SS is a premium position. The Hall of Stats has 12 SS’s in its Top 100, and that’s going strictly by WAR.”

            Fair enough. It does make sense that there would be more shortstops, as the very best baseball players tend to congregate there (or in CF). However, it’s pretty pretty clear that the statistical metrics we generally use are far too hard on catchers. It’s clear that no first baseman can have the defensive impact of an up-the-middle player, but given what we know about catcher defense, it just doesn’t seem plausible that in 130 years we’ve had only 2-3 catchers among the top 100 players.

            “As with other stuff here, my predictions are only predictions, and not how things should be. Carter, Fisk, and IRod should probably all be in a Top 100, depending on how you figure catcher defense.”

            Man, I wish we had better data on these guys. Piazza couldn’t throw for sh*t, but I’d love to really know how he stands up in other defensive areas.

            “You know, if you used numbers from basketball, you would get a percentage that seemed much, much more out-of-line.”

            I think you’re saying basketball is far more out-of-line with the overall US population. That’s true, but isn’t really the relevant consideration since what we really care about is the percentage of players of different races *within* a particular sport.

            “I used to think that the 2006 spate of Negro Leaguers added to the HoF made them way more overrepresented than they should be. But then I looked at demographics and it seems that their number is pretty much in line with the number of 1947-1970 blacks in the HoF.”

            Sure, but we’re talking about the top-100, but the HOF as a whole.

            “I think the assumption for baseball could be reasonable, if it were true that black kids of this era were more likely to play tons of baseball than white kids (as is very true for basketball going on 60+ years now). But I like your comparison with the 1947-1990 era, and that’s how to do the comparison.”

            Why would black kids in the 1910s/20s have been more likely to play tons of baseball than black kids in the 30′s/40′s?

            “You might need to be more careful with the date of the NBA explosion, as blacks started dominating the NBA somewhere around 1963 (I mean in numbers, not just Chamberlain and Russell and Baylor).”

            Black players started dominating the NBA (numbers-wise) in the early 1960′s, but my sense is that baseball wasn’t really losing athletes to other sports until the 1970s (meaning players who would have debuted in the 1980s/1990′s. I think it’s safe to say that if you were good enough to be a big league baseball player in 1965, you were almost certainly going to pursue that path.

            “Barely… Puckett was #98. Biggio is #91 on ESPN’s list. Again, I’m not arguing for correctness of James’ or Joe’s list, but that Joe’s list matches James’ and ESPN’s lists very closely.”

            I’d be a little disappointed if Joe was using James’ or ESPN’s list as a starting point, as doing that can have a strong anchoring effect. Much better to develop the list entirely independently.

            “I’m not sure if anyone is assuming that James’ list matches WAR, but it doesn’t, not really.”

            In James’ case, I’m pretty sure he was relying heavily on win shares, since WAR didn’t exist in 2002.

            “I agree with you on what you say about Koufax, Niekro and Schilling on their relative merits, but for predicting Joe, I think it is absolutely certain that Koufax will be ranked here and Niekro won’t (and that Berra will be).”

            Niekro is by far the biggest revelation I’ve had since I started digging into this. It really is remarkable how underrated he is. I think it’s interesting to contrast him with Blyleven. Niekro didn’t exactly sail into Cooperstown, but it was immediately obvious that he’d get in, and it only took five years. I think if Blyleven had followed the same path there’s almost no way he’d be as highly regarded as he now is. The fact that it took 14 years for him to get elected provided plenty of time for everyone to look closely at his career using modern analytical tools, which made it clear how great he was. Niekro got in because he won 300 games, and everyone forgot about him about minutes after his induction. Had he won 298 games, I think he’d have taken a lot longer to get in, and would be far more highly regarded now as a result.

        2. invitro

          My current predictions are almost exactly the same as Mr. Hogue’s. I have Berra instead of Kaline (and Jones in and Suttles out), and that’s it. My list of players I’m not sure about is: Stearnes, Kaline, Suttles, Piazza, IRod, and maybe Jeter.

          Joe’s list so far looks almost exactly like an average of James’ and ESPN’s lists. I don’t see career WAR, peak WAR, or playoff performance as mattering at all, although I’d like to be proven wrong.

          Here are the disputed players with their James and ESPN rankings:
          Jackson 57 (James) 57 (ESPN)
          Anson – 89
          Lloyd 27 -
          Stearnes 25 -
          Suttles 43 -
          Jeter – 33
          IRodriguez – 72
          Carter 110 87
          Niekro – 100
          Jones – 50
          Berra 41 58
          Piazza 79 79
          Kaline 90 47
          Feller 56 61
          Koufax 51 44
          Carew 64 55
          Fisk 97 77
          Trout – -

          (and some that are in)
          Radbourn – -
          Nichols 47 83

          My picks for the next ten are #59 Jackson, #58 Carew, then Boggs, Feller, Banks, Clemente, Jones, Carlton, Berra, and #50 Koufax.

          Reply
      2. Geoff

        I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but my issue with Koufax isn’t really peak vs. career, it’s that his peak simply wasn’t great enough to justify ignoring the fact that it represents the ENTIRE value of his career. Lot’s of people have written about this, but his peak is probably about the 8-10th best of all-time, not on a level with Pedro, Maddux, and a few others. Heck, you could argue that Kevin Brown’s peak was as high as Koufax’s. Koufax’s numbers are really pretty, but they’re in large part a function of the context in which they were achieved.

        I actually tend to weight peak more than I do career value, which is why I think Koufax belongs in the HOF, but of the ~70 guys in the HOF for their pitching, he’s a lot closer to the bottom than he is to the top.

        Reply
        1. DM

          Geoff,

          Yes, you probably are beating a dead horse, and we seem to be spending a lot of time discussing Koufax under Brooks Robinson’s entry, and that does feel wrong. :)

          However, in your original post, you made the statement that “There’s no way Koufax belongs here, but the mythology around him is pretty strong, so who knows.”. I think that statement’s a little over the top. There is absolutely no reason why Koufax can’t make anyone’s top 100 (or even top 50). None at all. Career length is not a prerequisite. I may be wrong, but I strongly suspect that Koufax will be listed somewhere in the remaining selections, as he would in many people’s rankings.

          I’m also a little puzzled by your insistence that you actually weigh peak performance more than career value, and then in the same post make the point that Koufax’s peak wasn’t great enough to ignore the fact that it represents essentially his whole career, and that it was in the range of 8-10th best of all time. Assuming that’s even accurate…8-10th best peak of all time isn’t good enough for you? You seem pretty hard to please. What would it take to be great enough to “ignore” it? Would he have to have the hands down greatest peak of all time in order for you to consider him worthy?

          Also, yes, his stats from his peak period are “pretty”, and yes they are affected by time and place, as are everyone’s. Yes, he had some advantages in generating those 5 straight ERA crowns. But, even when you adjust for time and place, which is what I understand ERA+ specifically does, his adjusted ERA from ’61-66 figures ranked him 5th, 4th, 2nd, 1st, 3rd, and 1st (respectively) in those years. So, maybe only 2 of those 5 ERA crowns were truly representative of being the “best” at preventing runs, but I think that’s an awfully impressive run no matter how you slice it. He was a dominant pitcher during that time. That’s what got everyone’s attention, and why he’s so highly regarded.

          Also, saying that Koufax is more towards the bottom of the Hall of Fame pitchers is a very questionable statement as well. Based on what? I’m sure that’s true if you’re measuring by WAR. Obviously, he doesn’t stand a chance. If you use other measurements, if you put it all in perspective, he stacks up quite well. Again, short careers don’t preclude you from making a list like the one Joe is presenting.

          If Koufax ends up making this list, as I think he will, it won’t be a joke or a shame or anything of that nature. I think he belongs.

          Sorry Brooks….didn’t mean to detract from your entry! :)

          Reply
          1. Geoff

            Okay, I admit it…I’ve been waiting for someone to aggressively defend Koufax. I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner. :-)

            I don’t think the statement I made in my original post is over the top at all. Just to be clear, I don’t have a strong objection to Koufax making the top 100 (though he probably wouldn’t make mine), and I’d certainly take him over Mariano Rivera (to name one guy already on the list). But right now we’re talking about the top 59 players in history, and frankly, including him here would mean weighting 2-3 year peak almost to the exclusion of any other factors.

            I didn’t say that career length was “a prerequisite,” but I don’t think it makes sense to completely ignore it. By my count, there are 16 pitchers remaining to be ranked on Joe’s list. With the exception of Phil Neikro, every single one of them is widely considered to be an inner-circle HOFer. Here’s the list:

            Pete Alexander
            Steve Carlton
            Roger Clemens
            Bob Feller
            Bob Gibson
            Lefty Grove
            Randy Johnson
            Walter Johnson
            Greg Maddux
            Pedro Martinez
            Christy Mathewson
            Phil Niekro
            Satchel Paige
            Tom Seaver
            Warren Spahn
            Cy Young

            Every single one of these guys, except Pedro, pitched FOREVER, and Pedro’s still pitched for longer than Koufax did while having a significantly more impressive peak. I know, you probably think it’s crazy that I’m ranking Neikro above The Left Arm of God, but do me a favor: go to Neikro’s B-R page, cover up the W-L records, and look at what he did from 1974-1979. Then consider the fact that you’re only looking at 1/3 of Neikro’s career innings. Unless you think the ONLY measure of greatness is 2-3 year peak value, there’s essentially no rational argument for Koufax over Neikro. James’ exclusion of Neikro from his top 100 is probably crazier than his Biggio ranking, if that’s even possible.

            Still not convinced? Look at the pitchers Joe’s already ranked. Joe has Robin Roberts ranked 91st, which sounds about right to me. Over his best six consecutive seasons (1950-1955) Roberts averaged 7.8 WAR, which happens to be exactly the same number Koufax averaged from 1961-1966. I happen to think Koufax was slightly more impressive because his two best seasons were a little better than Roberts’ best, but it’s close. Now consider the fact that Roberts pitched another 13 seasons, including many that were good/very good and one that was outstanding (1958). How about Curt Schilling? He had a 4-year stretch where he averaged 7.8 WAR, and another, non-overlapping 4-year stretch in which he averaged 5.5 WAR. Oh, and he pitched 20 years while putting up the best K/BB ratio in baseball history. You can argue Koufax is better than these guys, but it’s certainly not obvious. Even if you make some sort of “One game to win” argument, it’s pretty tough to go against Schilling and his bloody sock.

            The general perception out there is that, at his best, there was no one better than Koufax. But the fact is that is peak fits in nicely among the top tier of HOF pitchers, but doesn’t stand out once to make the proper adjustments to account for context. I’m not sure what you mean when you ask if the 8-10th best peak “isn’t good enough for me;” if you mean, is that enough to exclude him from the top 60 players of all-time, I guess the answer is “yes.” That’s doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a worthy HOFer, or that I think he doesn’t have a strong top-100 case, though. Like I said, he’s a hell of a lot better than Mariano Rivera, and I’d probably take him over Nolan Ryan, too. To answer your question, there is no point at which I’d ignore career length entirely, but yes, if he had “hands down (the) greatest peak of all time” I’d consider him worthy of a top 60 ranking.

            You wrote, “..even when you adjust for time and place, which is what I understand ERA+ specifically does, his adjusted ERA from ’61-66 figures ranked him 5th, 4th, 2nd, 1st, 3rd, and 1st (respectively) in those years. So, maybe only 2 of those 5 ERA crowns were truly representative of being the “best” at preventing runs, but I think that’s an awfully impressive run no matter how you slice it.” This is exactly my point. Koufax has a pretty good case, along with a couple of other guys, as the best pitcher in baseball from 1961-1966, but it wasn’t like he blew away the field. How is that any more impressive than what, say, Roy Halladay did from 2002-2011? Are you arguing that Halladay belongs on the list, too? Take a look at Kevin Brown’s 1995-2000. Or maybe Dave Steib’s 1980-1985. If Koufax is one of the best 15 pitchers ever, how the heck are those guys not in the HOF?

            I’m not sure what’s “questionable” about saying that Koufax is more toward the bottom of HOF pitchers. I’m not saying he’s Catfish Hunter or Jesse Haines, but I do think he’s much more Amos Rusie than he is Lefty Grove. You complain that Koufax “doesn’t stand a chance” when you use WAR, but what other “measurements” are you suggesting? Unadjusted ERA? Left-handedness? My dad’s wistful recollections? Other than focusing solely on 2-3 year peak, what metrics could you use to get Koufax into the top 15-16 pitchers?

          2. invitro

            “Other than focusing solely on 2-3 year peak, what metrics could you use to get Koufax into the top 15-16 pitchers?”

            For 4-year (consecutive) peak WAR, I am seeing Koufax at #9. And #15 for 5-year peak. So what if we start with one of those. Then look at his playoff stats, which are superb (0.95 ERA in 8 games; I don’t know how much to park-adjust that). Make the top 4 years count 50%, playoffs count 30%, and the other years count 20%. That might do it.

            I don’t know yet how I might rank players, but I think I might base it on probability added to chance of making the playoffs, and then advancing. So I would naturally value peak and playoff performance very highly. I would count the 5th-last years more than 20%, though. I don’t know if I’d have him in my top 100. I think it would be close.

    2. Hov34

      Carew not an “exeptional peak”??? Really? One of the most dominate hitters of the weak hitting 70′s? Led the AL in Avg. 6 out of 7 years. How is that not an “exeptional peak?

      Reply
      1. bellweather22

        If you hit over .350 five times and over .330 nine times, that’s consistency not peak. J/k btw. I had season tickets when he was with the Angels. I was actually not a fan. My perception then was that he was an indifferent fielder, didn’t hustle, and was frequently missing games for minor ailments…. And, of course, the lack of clutchiness. I realize, looking back, that I can still say most of this was true….except obviously the clutchiness which is not born out by any real stats. But to be fair, he was with the Angels during the latter part of his career, so missing games may have just been his aging… And maybe the lack of hustle was because of age and injury too. But still, during his time with the Angels, I found him frustrating to watch.

        Reply
        1. Guest

          Hmmm, but wouldn’t you say the reason that Carew hit over .330 nines times was simply because he played in so many games and racked up so many ABs and that if any other similar player played in all those games and had all those ABs of course they’d have the same numbers as Carew and therefore Carew is terribly overrated? Your comments used to be so clutch in your use of longevitiness, I’m not sure how to explain this current slump.

          Reply
      2. Geoff

        Settle down, hoss. Everyone on this list was in the top 1% of baseball players ever, so they all had “exceptional” peaks, by most measures. However, you judge people relative to their peers, and right now we’re talking about the greatest 59 players of all-time, which is a tough nut to crack. Carew had five MVP-caliber seasons, (1973-1977), including one (’77) that’s borderline historic. Contrast that with Joe Morgan, who also had five MVP-type seasons (’72-’76), but three that were about equal to Carew’s best (’72-74″), and another two (’75-’76)that were other-worldly.

        Reply
    3. Chris M

      If Ivan Rodriguez is ranked ahead of Piazza, let alone top 60 while Piazza isn’t top 100, I might never read Joe’s work again.

      Reply
      1. Geoff

        This really comes down to how you feel about defensive metrics, but considering Pudge is about 9 WAR ahead of Piazza, I wouldn’t go too crazy about seeing him ranked higher.

        Reply
        1. Chris M

          I don’t really trust defensive metrics at all for catchers, but even if I did, Pudge is worth 9 more WAR than Piazza in large part because he played 600 more games and had 3,000 more plate appearances. If you go by Wins Above Average (a better tool for judging the elite against each other, IMO), Piazza was actually better than Pudge, 35.5 to 33. And Piazza’s defense may have been severely underrated by the stats available while he was playing. See this article (http://www.billjamesonline.com/should_mike_piazza_be_in_the_hall_of_fame_/)

          Personally, I think Piazza was the best catcher of all time. I’d take him ahead of Bench and I wouldn’t even think that hard about it. I’m admittedly biased as a Mets fan, but to get his kind of offense from that position just gives you such a leg up on the competition that I’m willing to sacrifice defense for it (and again, I think Piazza is severely underrated defensively).

          Reply
  10. Phil

    Wouldn’t know who to eliminate from that list, but when this started, I predicted on a message board that Trout would check in at #30 or thereabouts.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      I think that’s a pretty big reach…he’s played TWO full seasons. I love Trout as much as the next guy, but I don’t think he has a prayer of making this list.

      Reply
      1. Spencer

        @geoff

        Agreed, the way it’s shaking up there’s no way trout makes it.

        After 2 seasons I don’t really have a problem with that, he’ll make plenty of these lists down the line.

        Ranking him #30 is coconuts..

        Reply
        1. Phil

          I may well end up being totally wrong, but here’s why I think so:

          – this series has been as much about great stories as it has been about a dry and correct ranking of players; Trout is a great story

          – along the same lines, Joe has (I assume) been choosing players he wanted to write about; Joe has written some of the best stuff out there on Trout the last couple of years

          – anytime you draw up a list like this, I think there’s a part of you that wants to provoke discussion; some list-makers let that get out of hand, and end up with lists that are nothing but provocation, and that’s not very interesting, but occasional picks like Oh and Trout keep things lively

          – this is, I would guess, a one-time deal on Joe’s part; he’ll never get another chance to list Trout

          – finally, if you look at peak value in the very narrowest sense, two seasons instead of five or seven, it wouldn’t be an indefensible pick; there’d be lots of yowling, but if the question is “Who were the best 100 people ever to play baseball,” I think you can make a case for Trout, and I’m sure Joe would make a good one

          We’ll see.

          Reply
          1. Phil

            The difference is, Chris, we already know where Gooden’s career went from there; that’s a closed book. With Trout, you have some license to project whatever kind of career you want.

            Anyway, that’s all I’ll say. No point arguing about a hypothetical that may never come to pass.

          2. adam

            I don’t think Trout is on the list. Remember Joe’s comment on the Thomas/Bagwell post that he wished he had used the tie in one other place? I’m thinking he wishes he had put him in a tie with Miggy at 90-whatever that was.

            In any case, ranking active legendary, or players that appear on their way to becoming legendary, is basically impossible. For example, Bill Simmons in his basketball book (2009) ranked then 24-year old LeBron James at #20. I’m looking at it right now and it starts off with “A dopy ranking for obvious reasons”.

            If that ranking were done now the only question is how would LeBron compare to Magic and Bird. (FWIW the top five was Jordan, Russell, Kareem, Magic, Bird).

          3. Geoff

            I think a good rule of thumb is that players should all be ranked as if their careers were over. I disagree with the notion that including Trout would mean you should include Dwight Gooden, but if you had made this list in 1986 and included Gooden, or done the same with Pete Reiser, Fred Lynn, Cesar Cendeno, etc, etc., you’d look pretty silly now.

            It is fun to note that after two seasons, JAWS already has Trout as the 117th best CF ever, and he’s about half a season away from moving into the top 1,000 players ever, which would put him in the top 5%. Pretty amazing.

          4. Phil

            All I meant by not getting another chance to rank Trout was that this strikes me as the kind of project you’d do once and not revisit (how many Top 100-caliber players come along every decade…five?). Wasn’t hinting ominously about Joe’s future!

          5. Chris M

            The difference between Trout and Gooden is that Gooden played an additional 15 or so years and was a pretty decent pitcher for the majority of that time and had what probably would have been looked at as a borderline HOF career if his 1984 and 85 seasons had come later in his career instead of right at the beginning, setting up everything that came later as a disappointment.

            Trout has had maybe the best first two full seasons of a career of any player ever, I’ll give him that. But what if his career goes the way of Al Rosen? Would anyone in January, 1955 have believed that Rosen didn’t belong high up on a Top 100 list or that he wouldn’t easily make the Hall of Fame, let alone that he’d be out of baseball 2 years later?

      1. bellweather22

        Maybe. The road is littered with sure thing HOFers. Don Mattingly and Steve Garvey come to mind…. Along with the aforementioned Dwight Gooden. Two years don’t make a career.

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  11. franklb

    Joe, this is a great piece. Thank you. I’ve read enough of your work to say that this isn’t one of your best, but I only say that because you set an incredibly high standard as a storyteller, and this meets, or maybe slightly exceeds, your extraordinary norm.

    I have a “B. Robinson 5″ jersey (I don’t have to say that it’s an Orioles jersey, do I). In 2010, a friend and I traveled from California to Ohio for various reasons, including a Reds game. I wore my Brooks jersey on the plane, because we were headed to the ballpark after we landed. I asked my friend if he knew why I was wearing the jersey. He didn’t. I said he would.

    At Great American Ballpark, at least half a dozen guys my age or older pointed at my jersey and said, almost to a man, “He KILLED us in that Series!” Yes, 40 years later.

    That was Brooks.

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  12. whitesox67

    I loved the point about the personalities of strong defensive players specifically how Robinson’s values were consonant with those of your hard working father.

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  13. Ty Sellers

    This article alone warrants a book out of this series. For more than a century baseball has been a link between fathers and sons and you illustrated your bond perfectly. I may have teared up.

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  14. Herb Smith

    In a long line of Joe’s superb stories about baseball and life, this one was the best. It got a little dusty in here.

    Bill James once said that very few players are “beloved.” I think he mentioned Gil Hodges or Al Kaline. Brooks is obviously one of those players.

    My own father is very similar to Joe’s dad. Honest, humble, hard-working, never missed a day of work…it’s no coincidence that he also greatly admired Brooks Robinson.

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  15. John Gale

    Speaking of Feller, as a downtrodden Cleveland Indians fan, I was thinking that he’ll probably be the only player on this list (if he makes it) that played his entire career in Cleveland. Obviously, Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie will make it, but both spent significant parts of their careers with other teams. So I was looking at the other Indians Hall of Famers and came across Lou Boudreau.

    Now, I don’t think Boudreau should be in the top 100 or anything (and he didn’t play his entire career in Cleveland either, though he only played a couple years at the end of his career elsewhere). I do think he is a worthy Hall of Famer, though. And his 1948 season is absolutely amazing. He hit .355/.453/.534 with 199 hits, 116 runs, 106 RBI, 98 walks, 18 homers, 9 (!) strikeouts and an OPS+ of 165. Combined with excellent defense at shortstop, he had a WAR of 10.4, which is in the top 40 WAR seasons (for position players) in baseball history.

    But the really amazing thing is that Boudreau was also the team’s player-manager (as he had been since 1942). And he was on the hot seat the entire season, as owner Bill Veeck nearly replaced Boudreau as manager in the off season. All he did was lead his team to the league’s best record (tied with the Red Sox, which necessitated the first-ever one-game tiebreaker in the AL–Boudreau went 4-for-4 with two homers) and the World Series. He also won the MVP, and I had to think that no one has ever had a season like that.

    I looked through all the 8+ WAR seasons, and the only other player-manager to win the World Series in the same year he had at least 8 WAR is Speaker in 1920. The MVP didn’t exist back then, but he wouldn’t have won it anyway (that was the year Babe Ruth hit 54 homers) players. Rogers Hornsby won a World Series as a player-manager in 1926, but he had an unusually weak season by his standards (the only season from 1919-1929 that he didn’t lead the league in OPS+). Boudreau’s incredible 1948 season is unprecedented.

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  16. John Leavy

    In his prime, Brooks Robinson WAS as great a defender as advertised. With him at 3rd and the equally brilliant Mark Belanger at short, the left side of the Orioles’ infield was close to impregnable (and as a Yankee fan, it pains me to say that).

    That said, I agree that Brooks, like Jim Kaat, got a lot more Gold Gloves than he deserved, and for the same reason. Voters just get used to handing the Gold Gloves to the same guys every year without thinking about it. It reached a point where people voted for Brooks and Kaat reflexively, since “everybody knew” Brooks was the best 3rd baseman in baseball.

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  17. Don_Rocko

    This is my favourite of the ’100′ series so far.
    The thing that makes Joe such a great writer is the way he can always humanize the subject of the article – he draws from his own experiences to give what otherwise might be a simple ‘sports story’ heart and inspiration that belies its subject matter.
    This post was a perfect example of that. I loved it. Thanks, Joe.

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  18. Chris H

    They are all my favorite. But this piece brought up so many thoughts and memories it’s hard to know where to begin.

    The play “Angels in America” begins with a rabbi delivering a eulogy for an ancient woman he doesn’t know. And he says, “I do not know her and yet I know her. She was not a person but a whole kind of person, the ones who crossed the ocean, who brought with us to America
    the villages of Russia and Lithuania …”

    Your description of you father reminded me of that. Your dad was, maybe, a different type of person, but a whole kind of person. Mine was, too, in a very different way. And we can never be them, of course, and the types of person they were – like the type of heroic figure Brooks Robinson was – can never quite exist again. There’s a beautiful sadness in that, even as new types of person, as heroic in their own ways, are living among us without our quite seeing it.

    Anyway, just lovely. And I’m a bit ashamed to have read it at work.

    Chris.

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