By In 100 Greatest, Baseball

No. 33: George Brett

I’ve written a billion jillion shmillion stories about George Brett. If you want to read about the summer he almost hit. .400, there’s this. Also this. Stuff about George carrying the team, you can read this. I write about how much George hated the Yankees — that’s online somewhere. There are many, many, many more — about his father, about his fear, about his clutch-hitting, about his duels with Gossage, about … For this, let me just write a personal story.

Some years ago, I played in the Kansas City Royals fantasy camp. It was a birthday present from my wife — Lord, now that I think of it, that might have been for my 40th birthday. Could it have been that long ago? I don’t want to look it up.*

*I looked it up. It was even long ago than I remembered — it was 2004. I was 37. I’m going to cry.

That camp remains one of my favorite experiences. I carry dozens of memories with me. I think of what it was like to be coached on defense by Frank White. I remember Paul Splittorff watching me throw one pitch — just one pitch — and saying, “You will throw your arm out and be in a lot of pain by the end of camp.” (I did and was). I think of Kevin Seitzer coaching me as a hitter and being as excited as I was when I rifled a single off Mark Gubicza.

I remember Mike Boddicker asking me if I could throw strikes. “I can’t pitch,” I told him. He said, “I know that. I asked if you could throw strikes.” Bod then told the story about how Rod Carew once said to reporters that his wife took out better garbage than Boddicker threw. Bod said another time he threw a pitch and heard Kirby Puckett shout mid-swing: “THROW IT LIKE A MAN!” None of it kept Boddicker from winning 134 big league games, leading the league in ERA one year and shutouts another.

I remember a beautiful exchange between longtime utility man Greg Pryor and longtime pitcher Al Fitzmorris. Pryor was handing out the camp award for best pitcher, and he began by saying, “This is hard for me because I’ve always hated pitchers.”

To which Fitz replied: “That’s funny. Pitchers have always loved you.”

I remember Bret Saberhagen pitching. I managed a hit off Saberhagen too, but it was a cheapie, and anyway he was obviously trying lay one in there. Anyway, that’s not my favorite Saberhagen memory. He was probably 39 years old when he pitched in that camp. There were still some competitive juices flowing. I know this because someone on our team dug in against him. The hitter was a charmer named Larry. In the few days we were together, we learned: Larry liked to live enthusiastically. On Saberhagen’s first pitch, Larry fouled it back and then angrily hit the bat the way Bryce Harper might when he JUST misses.

On the next pitch, he was caught looking and he turned and complained loudly to the umpire.

Now, to this day Sabes would probably deny it — but I’m pretty sure he got ticked off. Like I say, however, he was just 39 then and, with a couple of health breaks, he would have still be pitching in the big leagues. He was a two-time Cy Young winner laying pitches in to a bunch of police officers and people in construction and factory workers and a sportswriter. He really didn’t need to deal with some guy showing him up. And so, he unleashed one. We would discuss for days after how fast he threw that pitch — it was probably mid-80s, but it could have been high 80s, it could have broken 90, hell, to us it looked to be 200 mph.

It was beautiful. There were really only two problems. One was that the catcher was a retired electrician and not Bob Boone. So while he would claim later to have seen the ball just fine, he didn’t actually lift up his arms to catch it and the ball zoomed straight into the umpire’s shoulder, making exactly the sort of sound you are imagining now.

The second problem was that not too long after the umpire shouted “OW!” Larry finally swung the bat. Why was that a problem?

“I was on it!” Larry shouted on the way back to the dugout, and he meant it.
More than anything, I remember what it was like being around George Brett. I have obviously spent a lot of time around George through the years, but nothing was quite like that time in fantasy camp. It’s strange, if you think about it. Obviously, we were not ballplayers. But it seems the mere act of putting on a uniform in the clubhouse, playing ball, getting hurt (we all got hurt), drinking with the players after the game made us ballplayers, or at least close enough that George dropped the slight guard that is up around reporters. We were, for a moment, teammates.

And George was always one hell of a teammates. He was funny, crass, competitive as hell. He told some of the greatest baseball stories I’ve ever heard about fights and near fights and pitchers he owned, pitchers who owned him. In my life, I’ve had five laughing fits that separate from the pack, the sort of breathless fits where you want to stop and don’t want to stop all at once. One was the Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap. One was at summer camp with a the non-stop repeating of the “Ping pong balls? I thought you said …” joke. One was at a Jerry Seinfeld concert. There might be more than five. But I can tell you one was just listening to George Brett tell the story of the Royals-Rangers fight.

He did more than joke, though. He talked about his fears. He broke down hitting philosophy in ways I never heard before or since (“You have to clear your mind entirely”). He talked about his father, and the love and fury that mixed.

Mostly, though, I remember the time he came over to scout me. I had this one moment of glory at camp. We were playing against Big John Mayberry’s team, and Big John was riding me pretty hard. Big John is, in his own way, even funnier than Brett. “Big Joe!” he kept shouting. “What do you say there Big Joe? Bring in the outfield, it’s just Big Joe! Come on, let’s see what you got there Big Joe!”

I’m realizing that might not look that funny in text, but the joke was Big John’s booming voice — Big Joe! — and how that sounded. It was like a cannonball going off.  I was trying hard not to laugh in the box, and then then pitcher threw a hanging something or other — just about all fantasy camp pitches hang; you pay your money you get your hanging pitches — and I actually turned on it. I’m not going to tell you it bounced over the fence. I’m not going to tell you it one hopped the fence or two hopped it or barely rolled to the warning track — I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I crushed it well enough that I got my standup double when I heard two of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard — Big John, with newfound respect, shouting: BIG JOE!”

So, the next time that I came up, that’s when George came to scout me. He walked all the way over from another field. “Hey,” he shouted as I stepped in. “I heard there’s some sort of hitter over here. Gotta check him out.”

I was a 37-year-old man at the time, a father of one with a second daughter on the way. I was a pretty successful sportswriter who had covered a dozen World Series and about as many Super Bowls and Masters, a few Olympics. I had written about just about all of the great American athletes of my time. I had paid (well, my wife had paid) a substantial fortune so that I could be here playing ball. Point is, I was an adult.

And yet, in that moment, with Brett behind me watching, I was 13 again. I was nervous in a way that I had not been since those younger days. George Brett was more than a baseball player. He was a bit of my childhood. If you’re as old as me, you will remember … Skylab jokes. Remember? Atari football. Remember? Gnip Gnop and the Three’s Company theme song and Roger Staubach and those little reinforcements you put around the holes in notebook paper and Evel Knievel action figures and Farrah posters and Conjunction Junction and, yes, George Brett. In that one moment, as I stood in the box, I didn’t see him as the subject of my stories or the semi-friend I had gotten to know or even the baseball player I watched give a speech in Cooperstown the day of his Hall of Fame induction. Instead, I saw the titanic figure of my childhood, the guy who homered off Goose, the man who leaped up to fight Nettles, the king who stood at second base with his arms in the air as his batting average topped .400.

I don’t remember the first few pitches of the at-bat, other than the nerves. I do remember the last pitch. It was a curveball. It was five feet outside. It might have been 10 feet outside. I took the pitch. The umpire called it strike three. I turned around and saw George Brett. “Really?” he asked. “That’s why I came over here?” And then he smiled, and as he jogged back to his own field I heard him yell, “Harder than it looks, ain’t it?”

58 Responses to No. 33: George Brett

  1. Geoff says:

    It’s a close battle in the Poz100 contest. Congrats to Invitro, who leads with 921 points so far, just ahead of AndyL (917) and DickAllen (914). Wisdom of Crowds lurks in 4th place, just 11 points out, and I’m proud to say that I’m sitting in 7th place, well within striking distance!

    Here’s what’s left, with 32 spots to go:

    R. Johnson
    W. Johnson
    F. Robinson
    A. Rodriguez

    Biggest snubs: Gary Carter, Phil Neikro, Pop Lloyd

    • Mike says:

      Already had Bob Gibson.

      Maybe The Kid doesn’t get snubbed after all (though top 32 seems like a helluva stretch; I mean, higher than Yogi???)

      • Mike says:

        Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd . . . then the commenter remembers JOSH Gibson.

        And invokes Emily Latella, sating “Never mind.”

    • BobDD says:

      Gibson, Bench and Berra are the only catchers out of 100? Wonder if Poz will tweak some adjustments in this list for the book. Yup! Got to.

  2. MikeN says:

    >five laughing fits that separate from the pack,

    Perhaps readers here can understand this one. Working on a team project that involved data analysis methods.
    We chose to do ours on baseball, using team stats to try and predict playoff participants. After downloading data from retrosheet, we split up and tried different methods, like neural networks, principle components, etc.
    After a while one guy says he had a very good result with <5% error. I suspected that he had used the name of the team as part of the data, and that the Yankees were screwing things up. He insisted know, and we looked and it turned out he had not used name, but just the standard stats like era, runs scored, hits, home runs, triples, doubles, and so on, and also the last columns of wins, losses, and finish in division. We were laughing hilariously while he had no idea why.

  3. Rich says:

    I don’t think the problem was that the band wasn’t into it. I think the problem was that we had a 15 inch monolith in danger of being crushed by a dwarf!
    Perhaps we could fix the choreography.
    What do you mean?
    So they won’t trod upon it.
    I don’t think that’s the issue!

  4. shagster says:

    Glad to see the return of the list. Was waiting for the writing. Reward! Now this is a Joe Posnanski story. Awesome. He’s picking up his writing chops and the list, folks. Grab the popcorn (or more often, coffee). Thank you, Joe. Imagine a few of us look for your writing as often as others glance at that autographed ball sitting on their mantle to make sure it’s there.

  5. Nick says:

    “It was beautiful. There were really only two problems. One was that the catcher was a retired electrician and not Bob Boone. So while he would claim later to have seen the ball just fine, he didn’t actually lift up his arms to catch it and the ball zoomed straight into the umpire’s shoulder, making exactly the sort of sound you are imagining now.

    The second problem was that not too long after the umpire shouted “OW! Larry finally swung the bat.”

    Poetry, simply poetry….

    • Anon says:

      I thought the list of 70’s references was just absolutely perfect and poetry itself:

      “If you’re as old as me, you will remember … Skylab jokes. Remember? Atari football. Remember? Gnip Gnop and the Three’s Company theme song and Roger Staubach and those little reinforcements you put around the holes in notebook paper and Evel Knievel action figures and Farrah posters and Conjunction Junction and, yes, George Brett. “

      • Lester says:

        But for the notebook paper reinforcements, you also have to remember the proper name (at least in the Navy): paper assholes.

  6. Dale says:

    One of the best weeks of my life was Indians fantasy camp. What a blast to play ball AND hang out with guys you grew up watching. Still remember getting the stink eye from Len Barker after lining one up the middle off him in BP.

  7. Karl Weber says:

    About twenty years ago I discovered that George Brett and I were both born on the same date (May 15, 1953). For a while it made me mildly jealous to think about the fact that he had accomplished so much more in his life than I had. However, I consoled myself with the thought that, after all, baseball careers are heavily front-loaded in comparison with the average lifespan, so I had plenty of time to catch up. Now that George Brett and I are both 62, almost 63, I have concluded that he will ALWAYS have accomplished much more than me in his life, and I have decided I am fine with that.

  8. All you need to know about George Brett: In 9 post-season series, he went 337/397/627. The homer he hit on a high heater from Goose Gossage in the 1980 Championship Series would still be traveling if it hadn’t collided with the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.

    Not many humans could turn on a Gossage fastball like that, but Brett owned Gossage. In the infamous Pine Tar game, it was a similar homer off Gossage with 2 outs in the 9th that led Billy Martin to have Brett’s bat inspected for excessive pine tar. I remember watching the curious scene of the umps measuring the bat against the width of the plate, and then calling Brett out, as he charged out of the dugout like a bull on angel dust. It is the maddest I have ever seen a professional athlete get. The Royals got their revenge when the call was overturned by the league office, but I think the most fitting aspect was that the Yankees season went into free fall after the incident, undoubtedly due to Bad Karma.

    • John Leavy says:

      I happen to believe that if the manager who pointed out Brett’s illegal use of pine tar had been Earl Weaver instead of Billy Martin, Lee MacPhail would have upheld the original decision, and everyone to this day would be talking about that crafty Earl, and how nobody could put anything past him.

      • Cuban X Senators says:

        You happen to be delusional.
        Earl protested many, many games, & the League Office I’m sure saw Earl as a big pain in their ass.

        • Earl Weaver was despised by umpires and league officials. You are very right. Weaver and Martin were in the same category. Both had bad tempers that they’d flash regularly & also got tossed by umpires regularly.

          • Cuban X Senators says:

            Well, that and Earl studied the rulebook just as much as as a new umpire, and he scouted it for wrinkles that umps just could not anticipate.

            Part of that was to attempt to put his team in better position to win — but part of it too was to create the opportunity to say that he was smarter than an ump or a League President. No one likes to hear that — especially those that fancy themselves in authority.

    • Brad says:

      Crazy rule about the pine tar, a relic left over from the old days, prior to lights being installed on ballparks. MLB was trying to keep the balls as white as they could so batters could still see the ball in the twilight. Pine tar, unlike steroids, does not make a batted ball go further. MLB for some reason, never saw fit to repeal the rule and Martin tucked it away in his mind for an occasion where he may use it. “Like a bull on angel dust” – classic line!

  9. Well, here goes. Joe, if you read this ….

    George Brett once visited Las Vegas and a dear friend of mine who was the sports editor of a local paper–we later worked together there, but I hadn’t started there yet when this happened–was a diehard Royals fan. He interviewed Brett and asked what he did in the off-season. Brett replied with a poem that began, “Fish and hunt, and look for,” and you may fill in the rest.

    Our paper … printed it. The switchboard exploded.

  10. vertov says:

    Speaking as a Cubs fan, I just loved to watch Brett hit. He reminds me so much of this category I have in my mind – not necessarily the greatest players – but the players I most enjoyed watching. Brett hitting, Seaver pitching. Pete Maravich. Clemente, hitting and fielding. Gale Sayers. Again, not saying they were the greatest. But, maybe, the prettiest. Loved watching them. Brett with that lean-back stance, bat almost parrelel to the ground. One look and you knew the man was there to hit.

    • invitro says:

      Which one doesn’t belong? Maravich probably did more damage to his teams by shooting the basketball than any player ever, as he was a very, very poor shooter and took very, very, VERY many shots. He shot 44% in both college and the NBA. Very pretty, if you think bricks are pretty.

      • Ed says:

        Oh come on. That’s asinine.

        Allen Iverson shot 42.5% for his career. By that logic, Iverson was a much worse player than Maravich, and he almost singlehandedly carried a team to the NBA finals. Isiah Thomas is one of the greatest PGs ever and he shot 45%. Among contemporaries of Maravich, Havlicek shot 44%. Rick Barry shot 45%. You’re making it sound like Maravich shot 35%. It’s also not like the teams he was on were loaded with talent.

        Is Maravich overrated by some (just like Iverson)? Yeah. But to say he did more damage to his team by shooting the basketball than anyone ever and that he was a very very poor shooter just makes you sound silly.

        • Maravich was a high volume shooter with range. If there was a three point line in his day, his stats would be far more respectable. Keep in mind that Maravich played point guard for the High School Varsity team that won the state championship….. when he was an eighth grader. He may not have had the greatest pro career, but he was pretty darned good.

          • invitro says:

            Every NBA player ever was at least pretty darned good. Shooting three-point shots when they’re worth two points is stupid and makes you a bad player, not a good one. Being on a HS state champ as an 8th grader is a whole lot of “who cares” compared to NBA players and true Hall of Famers.

          • Invitro, the “who cares” only means that you’re not a basketball fan. Maravich is a legend just like guys like World B Free and Connie Hawkins. They had crazy skils, and the fact that they weren’t HOFers, and sometimes were detriments to their teams, is irrelevant. Basketball wouldn’t be the same without these guys.

          • invitro says:

            bellweather22, you’re using the “you’re not a true fan” argument? Really?

        • invitro says:

          The Hawks were a very good team before Maravich. They won 56, 48, and 48 games in the three years before him, and then fell to 36, 36, and 48 in the first three years with him. And on average, they went one fewer round in the playoffs with Maravich. The Hawks actually do look loaded with talent to me, with Bridges, Hudson, Bellamy, and Hazzard.
          Before him, the Hawks were 6th in pts/g, and 1st in OffRtg, in the East, and had a 48.3 FG%. With him, they were 8th and 11th, and 46.5%. The player Maravich replaced was Joe Caldwell, who shot 50.7% in 1970 and was an All-Star. It’s obvious that replacing Caldwell with Maravich badly hurt the Hawks, and this is what I mean by doing damage to his teams. I suppose I was pretty stupid in overstating the damage he did, though.
          There is no point in comparing Iverson’s FG% with Maravich’s, because they played in vastly different leagues. If Iverson had the same stats in the early 1970’s, he’d have not been worthy of being an All-Star. And Iverson is overrated, but he did have one gigantic year in 2001.
          Isiah Thomas is not close to being one of the greatest PG’s ever, get serious. Havlicek and Barry are very overrated, too.
          Maravich’s closest comps are Michael Adams, Brian Taylor, Norm van Lier, and Fred Lewis. That seems about right to me. He looks like a below-average NBA starter, who might’ve been a good NBA starter if he hadn’t taken so many shots. It’s laughable that he’s in the Hall of Fame… and it’s solely because his daddy was his coach, and contemporary and current sports fans are too stupid to understand FG%.

          • Ed says:

            I’m pretty sure Maravich would have shot 50% or greater if he was taking less shots and/or taking them open in the flow of an offense. He’s pretty widely considering to have been an excellent shooter; it’s just that he took a lot of really long shots and contested ones because he dominated the ball. I think he would be a MUCH better player with the 3 point line than was without, because his efficiency would have been higher (and I totally agree with you that taking a bunch of long jumpers when they weren’t worth an additional point was stupid).

            So I don’t totally disagree with your points, I just think a significant portion of that blame should go on his NBA coaches. They obviously thought letting him shoot the way he did was what was best for the team/what they wanted him to do, or they should have pulled him out of the game and made him sit on the bench until he played the way they wanted him to play.

          • Kind of an odd analysis. Lou Hudson was a great player. Walt Bellamy was a great, but aging player by the time Maravich arrived, as was Bill Bridges… Bridges was famously traded to the Lakers the next year where he was the PF for the all time great 71-72 Lakers. Joe Caldwell took the money and the ABA the year Maravich arrived. So, basically you have a team with a couple of aging stars, one of whom (Bridges, who was never a scorer) was traded Maravich’s second year. The other, Bellamy, basically started his decline in Maravich’s second year. Walt Hazzard never lived up to the hype of his UCLA days. His NBA career was marginal. The team was in transition, and not in a good way. So, you had a legit star in Hudson, and all of Maravich’s talent, and an aging/mediocre team otherwise. So, it’s not hard to see where the emphasis would go. The team was really doomed to be a bad team. That had nothing to do with Maravich, who was a rookie player.

          • Excuse me. Bridges was traded one year later.

          • duffy01 says:

            Jordan had a 49.7% FG. Clearly much better, but it’s not like he lapped Maravich. And he was Jordon. Kobe is 44.8. I never ever heard anyone put Maravich up there with those guys. Not really sure how he is overrated.

      • MikeN says:

        That assumes that others on the team could have shot better.
        It is easy to get high percentage shots with 10 to 20 a game. At 40 shots, many players would see their percentages drop.

        • Ed says:

          Yeah, I wanted to mention that too, but felt like I’d said enough already. Maybe Maravich would have shot 50% taking 10 less shots a game, but if he was clearly the best player on the team, and other guys weren’t going to shoot well, then it still could have been in the team’s best interest for him to shoot 40 times a night rather than letting the other far worse players on the team take half of those shots. This is an extreme example, but if you put Michael Jordan in his prime on the current 76ers, you might want Jordan (or Steph Curry!) shooting 40-50 times a night even if his shooting percentage took a hit.

          • invitro says:

            Ed, I don’t believe you looked at the Hawks’ roster in 1970 and 1971. He was clearly not the best player on the team, he was clearly a much worse shooter than the player he replaced on the team, and worse than other players on the Hawks, and none of the other Hawks’ starters were even close to being far worse than Maravich.

          • Ed says:

            Sorry, I should have been clearer — I wasn’t saying that was Maravich’s actual situation. I was saying that someone taking a ton of shots every game isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there are a lot of factors that play into that determination.

    • Puckpaul11 says:

      not much appeal outside the hockey crowd, but i would include Alex Kovalev on that list of players who were not necessarily the best but whom i most enjoyed watching. he had a slight of hand when stick handling that would allow him to seemingly keep going straight with the puck while the players defending him lost their way. amazing hands. Super nice guy, too, who loves to work with kids. check out the videos on youtube where he sits on his knees at center ice and flips pucks onto the top of the net.

  11. Mark says:

    This list is great. Joe: it’s a pleasure to read your articles.
    Anyway, somehow it’s now very predictable who are going to be the 32 first players.
    More interesting, for me, it’s to make a case for some of the best players not included in the Baseball 100 list of Joe.
    Some of them are: Phil Niekro, Mike Piazza, Iván Rodríguez, Pop Lloyd, Gary Carter, Cap Anson, Carlton Fisk, Fergie Jenkins, Cristóbal Torriente, Alan Trammell, Martin Dihigo, Mike Mussina, Adrian Beltre, Mark McGwire, Carl Hubbell.
    I’d make a good argument for being better than some of the players on the 100 list for many of them, specially (biggest omisions for me): Niekro, Piazza, Anson, Dihigo and Hubbell.

    • Mark says:

      And I would also say Alberto Pujols is a lot better than number 47.

      • Geoff says:

        Pujols was picked as high as 12, but most people had him (as I did) in the 25-35 range.

      • invitro says:

        It is obvious that Joe was feeling embarrassed about putting Pujols in the top 25 players of all time, as he did shortly before starting his list, and overcompensated. I said this at the time.
        I’d like to know the facts behind claiming Dihigo is one of the top 100.
        It is probably unfair to pick on Joe about Beltre, as he’s had some pretty big seasons since Joe started this list years ago.

    • Scott says:

      I’d probably have some of those players on the backend of my list, but they aren’t that big of oversights. Although with Fisk and Carter, there won’t be many catchers on the list. Niekro is 10th all-time in pitcher WAR, higher than his contemporaries except for Tom Seaver, including Carlton, Perry, Ryan and Blyleven.

      But Adrian Beltre might be the most underrated player in baseball history. He’s probably the second best defensive third baseman (after Robinson); his WAR is 34th all-time for position players and 6th for third basemen and he isn’t done yet. He’s like to get his 3,000th hit next year and probably would have gotten to 500 home runs if he didn’t sign with Seattle.

    • Geoff says:

      I think Lloyd actually ends up on the list due to a tie creating one extra spot. I’m also surprised that Piazza and Carter didn’t make the list, and I’ve argued before that Niekro’s exclusion is pretty egregious. I think Trammell should probably be there, too. McGwire is #90. Beltre has moved up a lot in the two years he’s played since Joe started this project, and is now in a dead heat w/ Chipper. I’m sure he’d be in the top 60-70 now.

      There are cases for all of the guys you mention, but the rest of them don’t seem that glaring. The truth is that once you get past 75 or so, you’re really splitting hairs. The difference between #75 and #125, for example, is basically one Mike Trout season.

    • Patrick Bohn says:

      I’ve always thought the bottom of lists like this were always more interesting: Are we going to see [Player X] on the list at all?” just felt like something more fun to talk about than debating the order of the guys at the top we all know are there.

      YMMV of course

  12. Kuz says:

    32 to go and everyone’s forgetting Sid Finch. I know this comment is early, but I just couldn’t wait another two weeks.

  13. ebhaynz says:

    I certainly agree Brett should be high on Joe’s list. A lot of top 100 lists simply put Brett at #55 because his uniform was #5. He played “balls out” for most of his 20+ seasons and spent a lot of time on the injury list. He might have got another 200-300 hits but then I gotta be honest with myself “He wouldn’t have been George Brett then”.

    • invitro says:

      I’m curious… what are these lots of top 100 lists that put Brett at #55?

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Yes, but missing games has to be held against him. People complained about Ripken being “selfish” for playing every day, but you aren’t helping the team much if you are injured and can’t play. Playing “balls out” doesn’t help if you get hurt doing it. Don’t get me wrong, Brett was a great player but there is some value in playing more rather than less.

  14. Pat says:

    What are the chances Mike Schmidt comes next, just because Schmidt always comes next on the list after someone mentions George Brett?

  15. John Perricone says:

    You are so damn great, Joe. Keep it up.

  16. Infield Fly says:

    A brilliant piece. Hit me in my sweet spot. Big Joe!

  17. Herb Smith says:

    The biggest and most egregious omission is Fergie Jenkins. His career was exactly as valuable as Bob Gibson’s or Pedro Martinez’s, neither of whom you would even think of excluding from the top 100.

    • Geoff says:

      Jenkins was a great pitcher, and certainly could have been somewhere in the bottom part of this list, but he was not “exactly as valuable” as Pedro, who had a significantly higher peak or Gibson, who had both more career value (basically an extra Cy Young caliber season) and a much higher peak.

      Phil Neikro was significantly better than Jenkins, and is a much more notable omission. I remain convinced that’s he’s the most underrated great player in baseball history, although Adrian Beltre (who’s now neck and neck w/ Chipper Jones and might be one of the five greatest 3B ever) is making a case.

      • Geoff says:

        Other strong candidates for most underrated:

        Gary Carter
        Bobby Grich
        Lou Whitaker
        Scott Rolen
        Arky Vaughan
        Andruw Jones
        Kenny Lofton
        Carlos Beltran
        Larry Walker
        Mike Mussina
        Rick Reuschel
        Kevin Brown

  18. One more Ferguson Jenkins note: there is the perception that Fergie was a guy who just a “compiler” of sorts… sure he won 20 games every year, but he was never “great.” I’m very glad that the Wins Above Replacement metric exists, so that absurd notions like this can be proven definitively false.
    In fact in 1971, Jenkins put up a 12.0 WAR year. Since the 1927 season, when teammates Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig put up over 24 combined WAR (!) there have been exactly four (4) seasons in which ANY ballplayer has topped 12 Wins.
    According to Baseball Reference, those seasons were:
    Yaz in 1967, 12.4 WAR
    Carlton in ’72, 12.5
    Doc Gooden 1985, 13.2
    Clemens as a Blue Jay in’ 97, 12.2

    Jenkins had both longevity and a titanic peak.

    • Geoff says:

      I have never heard anyone describe Jenkins as a “compiler,” the way people often do with guys like Sutton and Kaat. Jenkins is obviously one of the best 150 greatest players and has a strong case for being in the top 100. But it’s silly to make the case that he has a “titanic” peak (he didn’t, unless you think Darren Erstad had a titanic peak) based on one season, and even more silly to compare him to Bob Gibson and Pedro Martinez. If Jenkins belongs in the top 100, it’s because he’s better than Mariano Rivera or Ichiro, or Schilling, not because he’s the equal of two of the best 15-20 pitchers of all time.

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